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.

Comments

The park could afford winter weekday openings of Hurricane Ridge, if they hadn't gutted park programs to pay for a $1.1 million trail bridge at Staircase where all previous bridges have been destroyed by floods or heavy snow. That's about a tenth of their annual operating budget and about ten times the cost of any previous trail bridge in the park.

Don't hold your breath waiting for this impoverished park management to save money by giving up the new plow and new employees they required as part of this experiment.

It's no wonder management's arbitrary visitation threshold was not reached, when the road ended up being closed on many weekdays during the two-year experiment. Disappointed winter recreationists who waited in ferry lines and drove for hours, then never touched snow, are understandably reluctant to repeat that experience.

Those interested in the other side of the story will find a strong rebuttal by scrolling down to Sept 7th at: http://freehurricaneridge.blogspot.com/

And Denali National Park is about to embark in a very similar effort on the Denali Park Road, which will result in an even more disappointing result, for very similar potically-motivated reasons.

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2012/02/denali-national-park-and-preserve-ponders-increased-plowing-park-road9448

This is an old lady's view of the article, as all I know about it is in said article. If you cannot afford to keep the road open all week, how difficult is it going to be to plow, say, five days' worth of snow every Thursday afternoon? Is it more cost-effective to plow 10 feet of snow for 17 miles once a week versus one or two feet daily? Which method is really more practical in terms of manpower, wear and tear on machinery, budget, visitor appreciation, and how about animals that like to walk down a plowed road once in awhile instead of flopping in the snow continually?

I am an avid NPS webcam fan, and I am always entertained by the webcam set up on Hurricane Ridge in the winter. Those visitors didn't go up there on a whim; it was a destination visit they evidently were avid to see. That is worth opening the road. Drop some admin position if you have to, but keep the road open for the park visitors.

Thank you for a great article that does more than quote the Park press release.

I don't know that the Hurricane Ridge winter access was politically motivated any more than any park management decision.

To my knowledge, Hurricane Ridge is the only NPS unit that operates on a weekend only basis. Directors Order 8.2.2 prohibits this kind of unsupported closure: "Restrictions placed on recreational uses that have otherwise been found to be appropriate will be limited to the [b]minimum necessary to protect park resources and values, and promote visitor safety and enjoyment. " Also "Encourage visitor use of lesser-known parks and underutilized areas; use during non-peak seasons, and times of the day; and visitation to related sites beyond park boundaries, as appropriate, to enhance overall visitor experiences and protection of resources. Director’s Order #17 4.7"

It's arguable that just plowing on Friday - Sunday regardless of when the snow actually falls saves any money or resources.

Compare the number of people that go to Hurricane Ridge in the Winter (35,000 down from 50,000+) to the number of annual overnight backcountry permits (40,000). How much money is used to support that every year (accounted the same way)? But it would be rightfully unthinkable to limit access to overnight trips to weekends only. Particularly for the same reason: ie lack of law enforcement personnel.

Other Park roads are either closed for the winter (Deer Park, Sol Duc), closed when it snows/washes out (Hot Springs, Hoh), or maintained by the State, Counties, or National Forest (Lake Crescent, Kalaloch, Ozette, North Coast, Dungeness area).

About $2,000 was over-raised from the community in 2010 and was spent on rack cards. That was the total awareness program. ONP contributed $0, and zero effort.

The Park doesn't care about the winter sports enthusiasts, they have shown their disdain repeatedly. I spent more than 50 days on the Ridge last season, and dozens more waiting at the gate until noon only to be told to road crew couldn't get their job done, and the road will not be opening.

The Washington Department of Transportation offered more than once to take over plowing of the road in the winter because of the problems, they were denided by the Park every time. I am sick of these narrowminded wasterls controlling access to some of the best terrian and conditions in the NW.

I call for a vote of NO CONFIDENCE in Olympic National Park.

Anonymous:
To my knowledge, Hurricane Ridge is the only NPS unit that operates on a weekend only basis. Directors Order 8.2.2 prohibits this kind of unsupported closure: "Restrictions placed on recreational uses that have otherwise been found to be appropriate will be limited to the minimum necessary to protect park resources and values, and promote visitor safety and enjoyment. " Also "Encourage visitor use of lesser-known parks and underutilized areas; use during non-peak seasons, and times of the day; and visitation to related sites beyond park boundaries, as appropriate, to enhance overall visitor experiences and protection of resources. Director’s Order #17 4.7"
Your knowledge is incomplete. There are quite a few recreational uses at NPS sites that are restricted to weekends (or 3/4 days a week) due to budget reasons.

The Point Bonita Lighthouse at Golden Gate NRA is only open Sat-Mon. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is only open Thu-Mon. Independence NHP has resources that are only open weekends or for three days. For a while, John Muir NHP was only open four days a week.

I don't see failure to plow for budgetary reasons as a restriction on use per se. A restriction would be closing an otherwise accessible section. It can't mean that NPS must keep Tioga Road or Going to the Sun Road plowed during winter because there are recreational uses. Or that access to Bumpass Hell must be available year round. These are resources that NPS doesn't have.

Agro:The Washington Department of Transportation offered more than once to take over plowing of the road in the winter because of the problems, they were denided by the Park every time. I am sick of these narrowminded wasterls controlling access to some of the best terrian and conditions in the NW.
They can offer all they want, but state workers aren't authorized to perform maintenance on federal property. In Yosemite, Caltrans plows CA-120 right up to the Tioga Road entrance and no further. If they chose to delay their plowing, NPS pretty much would have no recourse either.

It would also stretch NPS workers thin. They'll either need more winter personnel or hire more. Some are only part timers who can only work weekends.

Narrow-minded? Is my local grocery store narrow-minded because they close at midnight and I can't go shopping at 3 am if I want to? Is Yellowstone National Park narrow-minded because they close Old Faithful Inn during the winter and I can't stay there when I want to? Or is it narrow-minded to think that just because it is something I want to do the world should open its doors whenever and wherever I want to do it reguardless of the costs or consequences? I contend there are too many narrow-minded individuals who think the world revolves around them and everyone else is wrong.

Narrow-minded ? Is my local grocery store narrow-minded because they close at midnight and I can't go shopping at 3 am if I want to? Well Ranger Dave....If that shopping store promised to be open till 3 and every time you go to shop at three it was closed that would piss some people off, would it not. The Park never wanted the road to have 7 day access, there was never any support from them nor obligations to keep it open. When asking Ranger Sanny why she did not want the road open, I was told it was non of my business but one reason is that it used too much diesel. It is my business. Its the towns business. She claims to "wear the pants around there" refering to when she closed the road the day after some locals protested at the visitors center. There was to be a huge snowskate competition the next day involving a few countries, many states and over 100 people. Yet once again we stood at the closed gate no longer in amazement but in total frustration as the park enjoyed their coffee over some laughs. WAKE UP and listen to the citizens....Tahoma, the park not only used 1.1 million on the bridge for stairecase, but what about the 1.4 million used to tear out the paved trail to the Olympic hotsprings by replacing a bridge , and putting in wood chips which was done horribly....everytime I went up there after that the trail and woodchips kept washing away with water... Yearly now Terrible decisions are made that are not easily reversed....My three children are no longer able to sled because they are 9 and 11, the age limit is 8 and parents are not allowed to sled with their children. WHY!!!!! See Free Hurricane Ridge facebook and blogspot for more.....

" I don't see failure to plow for budgetary reasons as a restriction on use per se. A restriction would be closing an otherwise accessible section. It can't mean that NPS must keep Tioga Road or Going to the Sun Road plowed during winter because there are recreational uses. Or that access to Bumpass Hell must be available year round. These are resources that NPS doesn't have." --ypw

Very often at both Hurricane Ridge and Paradise, what happens is not a failure to plow, but a failure to open to public vehicles. The Paradise road must be plowed to maintain the multimillion dollar buildings and because Glacier Bridge cannot survive without it. It's a double whammy for access because hiking, biking, snowshowing, and skiing are all prohibited on both closed roads because of "administrative use". In addition, both parks now have a policy of no partial openings, which were the norm in previous decades.

It may not save much money, but excluding the public is convenient for NPS management. Too many of those pesky car crashes and SARs can lower a desk jockey's chances of promotion to the Virgin Islands or Hawaii Volcanoes. ;o)

I would argue that the examples you gave (closed buildings and maybe a tunnel/trail at GG) is not the same as closing 12 miles of road to a recreational resource that is not available within 4+ hours otherwise.

"A restriction would be closing an otherwise accessible section..." That is presicely the point. If the road is open Sunday with the road clear, and no snow falls that night, the road will still be closed until the next Friday. In 2009 and 2010, the road could have been open an additional 45+/- days each year where no plowing was needed in that situation. For 2011 and 2012 the number of hours the crew actually worked all seven days was never more than 40 hours per week. It is more a matter of scheduling (and desire) than budget.

In the past the road was gated higher up the mountain during the week so that snow was still accessible. That could be done at little additional cost.

OK - so they just don't feel like doing it. I perfectly understand. 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?

You think LE really wants to be in the snow 7 days a week? I sure wouldn't if I could spend most of the week at lower elevations. I'd rather be dealing with paperwork in Port Angeles rather than worrying about a bunch of snowboarders getting into trouble at Hurricane Ridge.

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.

tahoma:
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.

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. http://freehurricaneridge.blogspot.com/p/waterhole-cabin-removed.html

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.

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?

"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.

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 http://freehurricaneridge.blogspot.com/p/ideas-for-cooperation.html and http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2012/oct/29/seabury-blair-jr-hurricane-ridge-road-closure-it/

To more fully answer Kurt's question, NPS' response to a FOIA request has been posted at http://freehurricaneridge.blogspot.com/2012/11/blog-post.html 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. http://freehurricaneridge.blogspot.com/p/road-crew.html