Carbon River Road At Mount Rainier National Park Being Transformed Into A Trail

Rather than continue to battle Mother Nature, which repeatedly has washed out sections of the Carbon River Road in Mount Rainier National Park, the Park Service has decided to turn the road into a trail. NPS photo, map.

Rather than continue battling storms that frequently washout the Carbon River Road in the northwestern corner of Mount Rainier National Park, the National Park Service has redesignated the road as a trail for hikers and cyclists.

The road has been closed to vehicles the past four years, since a vigorous storm pounded the park in November 2006.

Just the other day Chris Lehnertz, Pacific West Region director for the Park Service, issued a decision and a Finding of No Significant Impact for the redesignation.

Mount Rainier officials say efforts will be made to retain intact sections of the historic road and the trails connecting these sections will be improved to better accommodate bicycle use. The Ipsut Creek Campground will be converted for use by backcountry campers. When funding becomes available, a new auto campground is planned on properties in the expanded park boundary area, away from the threat of flooding.

Part of that expanded boundary is expected to include 440 acres acquired by the Trust for Public Land for the park.

Superintendent Dave Uberuaga acknowledged the difficulty of the decision to turn the road into a trail, but emphasized the opportunity it presents.

“Carbon River is an incredibly special area of the park for me and many others. We think it will become a destination for bicyclists and hikers when they learn what the area has to offer," he said in a prepared release. "Using a bicycle to get to Ipsut Creek Campground still makes a day-trip into Carbon Glacier feasible, and provides an enjoyable way to experience the area and park.”

Over the years, rocks and gravel from various flood events have raised the bed of the Carbon River as much as 31 feet since the Carbon River Road was constructed next to the river in the 1920s, according to the Park Service. Several sections of the historic road are now lower than the adjacent river and increasingly vulnerable to flood damage.

Implementation of the preferred alternative will occur over the next several years as funding is available. Funding priorities include protection of the entrance and intact sections of the historic road from additional flood damage, improvement of the trail sections, and transition of some visitor services and operations out of the flood plain to nearby facilities on new lands added to the park by Congress in 2004.