You are here

Olympic National Park Officials Say It's Too Expensive To Keep Hurricane Ridge Open Daily In Winter


Olympic National Park officials say they can't afford to keep the road to Hurricane Ridge open every day during the winter months for visitors interested in skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing. NPS photos.

In a move not popular with all locals, Olympic National Park officials have decided they cannot afford to maintain daily access to Hurricane Ridge during the winter months.

Park officials say that a two-year trial period for the access failed to demonstrate a great enough interest in visitors to justify the expense of keeping the 17-mile-long road plowed for skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers. As a result, when the winter season begins in late November the access to Hurricane Ridge will be limited to Friday through Sunday.

“Despite the best efforts of our local community, Olympic National Park employees and National Park Service staff in Washington, D.C., weekday winter access to Hurricane Ridge did not lead to a sufficient increase in visitors,” said Todd Suess, the park's acting superintendent. “Unfortunately, given the fiscal realities of today, we cannot justify the use of over $325,000 in community donations and taxpayer money to maintain weekday winter access to Hurricane Ridge Road for a relatively small number of people.”

However, proponents of keeping the road open daily through the winter maintain the park either failed to open the road half of the time in winter or opened it later than scheduled during the trial period. They also maintain that visitation to Hurricane Ridge during the two years was up 35 percent, although park officials say it was just 19 percent.

At the urging of Port Angeles area community leaders, the Washington, D.C. office of the National Park Service provided a two-year $250,000 annual funding increase to the Olympic National Park budget, contingent on $75,000 in matching funds from the local community. The community met this challenge each year through aggressive fund-raising campaigns that netted several large contributions from the cities of Port Angeles and Sequim, Clallam County and many smaller donations from local organizations and individuals.

The temporary increase in funding provided a two-year trial period during which visitor and economic benefits of daily winter access to Hurricane Ridge would be measured and evaluated. Park staff established a visitation benchmark as its measure of success, aiming for the average number of winter weekday visitors to equal at least 45 percent of the five-year average of winter weekend visitors.

“Although we and our community partners joined forces to promote awareness and interest in weekday visits to Hurricane Ridge, we did not reach our 45 percent benchmark,” explained the acting superintendent. "During the two-year trial period, weekday visitation averaged 19 percent of the five-year average for visits on weekend days."

Most of the park’s roads, including those leading to the Hoh Rain Forest and coastal destinations, are located at lower elevations and remain open year round. “Keeping Hurricane Ridge Road open daily through the winter is a very different task than providing daily access to the park’s low elevation roads, and is significantly more costly and difficult,” acting-Superintendent Suess said.

Weather permitting, the Hurricane Ridge Road will be open Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to dusk through the winter season, plus additional days during the winter holidays, including the Christmas through New Year’s Day week, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Washington’s Birthday.


To more fully answer Kurt's question, NPS' response to a FOIA request has been posted at NPS initially estimated "Total for the season $80,000 for seven day a week operation". The actual expenditures are also disclosed as $294,454 in FY2011 and $320,802 in FY2012.

Reconciling this with the actual performance (50% on time road opening, i.e. poor), and with the cost of weekend operations here and similar operations at other Parks, is difficult.

Kurt asks "Rod, just for clarification re the costs of plowing, if you say it only costs $75,000 to do the plowing throughout the winter, where/how did the NPS come up with the $325,000 figure?"

The Park hired 3 additional road crew, and counts 100% of their cost, although they are actually plowing this road less than 30% of their workday (and many days, not at all) and are working on other Park roads. Also added is the cost of patrolling the road, unlocking the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center (which was not staffed weekdays, simply left open for warm shelter and restrooms) and staffing the entrance booth to collect entrance fees. Your question is a good one, and this method of accounting is full of contradictions and does not make sense to most observers. For alternatives, see and

"Unwilling," keyword here and in a number of other areas now and in recent past. It's become a theme that describes the character of NPS in some issues and in other issues overreach and out of touch to the point of disaster. Can anyone describe the functional core of NPS in real terms and not faux altruistic lingo that discounts cultural, historic connections to our environment. Out of line here and at Drake's Bay in my opinion. Some of my earliest adventures in the Olympics began from Hurricane Ridge.

Rod, just for clarification re the costs of plowing, if you say it only costs $75,000 to do the plowing throughout the winter, where/how did the NPS come up with the $325,000 figure?

y_p_w writes "state workers aren't authorized to perform maintenance on federal property". True, absent an interagency agreement. Of which there are countless examples nationwide - Indiana Dunes, Blue Ridge, Grand Teton, etc. And NPS can also maintain roads outside of Parks (Beartooth Pass Hwy.)

Within Olympic, the state already plows one Park road (Hwy. 101 around Lake Crescent) and the County plows another (East Beach Road), and the Park has agreements with four Counties, with USFS and with state DNR regarding shared maintenance of specific roads providing access to Park inholders or Park facilities. These things can be worked out.

What is not clear to the public is why the NPS requires $325,000/yr to keep a road plowed 4 more days/week for 4 months/year, while the County offered to do it for $75,000/yr.

y_p_w writes "So what's the problem other than it means people who don't work or feel like taking a day off from work can't access the terrain?" Please realize that winter visitation to Olympic NP abruptly dropped from a sustained average of 60,000/yr to less than half when access was cut from 7 days/wk to 3 days/wk. That's 30,000 visitors each year who were turned away and don't come back.

If you've stood at the Visitors Center watching rangers try to explain to visitors, who drove a thousand miles to get here, or flew in from Tokyo and rented a car, why the entrance gate is locked (while the road behind it is perfectly clear) and they'll have to wait 3 days to enter the Park, perhaps you'd understand why this is an issue? This is a National park! Not a local park. It draws visitors from across the nation and around the world, not just locals on their "day off from work".

Yes, budgets are tight. But in this case, the City, County and public have, for the past 2 years, donated $75,000/yr to keep Hurricane Ridge Road open 7 days/week. That's appears to be enough to cover the entire cost... if the County, not Park, were doing the plowing. Can't something be worked out? All it requires is TWO partners willing to work together in the public interest. NPS appears unwilling.

Weekday access is key to longer crosscountry ski touring into the Park's backcountry. Hurricane Ridge is the only access point for those skiing to Obstruction Point, Deer Park, Grand Valley and further into the Park. These trips must be planned solely on weather, snow and avalanche conditions, not on whether or not it's a weekday and the gate is arbitrarily locked.

And last month, the Park abruptly demolished the Waterhole Ski Hut, which for 44 years was the gateway to the Park's winter backcountry use. It was so popular that lotteries were held for weekend reservations for most of the past 44 years. This controversial action was kept secret, with no "diligent effort" to involve the public, as required by DO-12.

y p w might be less dismissive, if say, the NPS controlled all access to ocean beaches within four hours of his residence and kept them closed on weekdays. Of course, only stoner sharkbait surfers would want to use them.

Wouldn't bother me. I've got a job.

Around here we do have posted hours and places that are open only on weekends - even if there theoretically is access. Someone could want to hike at Muir Woods NM at night, but they still close down the park around sunset. The Hetch Hetchy gate closes at night even though they could theoretically keep it open for late night hikers. These are simply decisions made for any number of reasons.

We've got ski areas around Tahoe that are initially only open Fri-Sat. Even when the fully open for the season, they may have limited runs open only on weekends. It's got to be part budget and part enough part-time employees available to work weekends. I don't see how NPS can't think the same way. I mean - how many people are really going to want to take a day off of work?

Also - snow conditions are nasty for public agencies to deal with. You've got chain checkpoints and people losing control of their vehicles all the time. I've been to Hurricane Ridge, and that's a nasty enough road to deal with during the summer. I'm pretty sure they don't look forward to dealing with winter drivers more than they have to. That an all the kids getting injured sledding into trees or ending up on the road.

y p w might be less dismissive, if say, the NPS controlled all access to ocean beaches within four hours of his residence and kept them closed on weekdays. Of course, only stoner sharkbait surfers would want to use them.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments