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

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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.

/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 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.


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