Mount Rainier National Park Has Transitioned To Winter Season Hours

Snowstorms so far this month have convinced officials at Mount Rainier National Park that it's time to move to winter hours in the park in Washington state.

"Mount Rainier provides outstanding winter recreation opportunities and has been doing so for over 100 years," says Superintendent Randy King. "It's a wonderful time to visit the park and the area, provided visitors come prepared for winter conditions. The recent, successful search for two overdue snowboarders above Paradise, and the tragic death of five visitors last winter, remind us that safe backcountry travel- whether going out for the day, or overnight- requires a high level of preparation, caution and knowledge."

The park transitioned to winter hours of operation and services in early November. The gate at Longmire is closed nightly through March to keep visitors and plow operators safe during road opening. New this winter and starting November 27, the road between Longmire and Paradise will be closed to public travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Longmire and the park will remain open seven days a week, barring major storm events.

"We are strategically deploying available park staff and resources to provide access to Paradise Thursday through Monday, the five days of the week with greatest visitation," Superintendent King said.

Visitation statistics show that Tuesday and Wednesday are, on average, the park's least visited days, with fewer than 60 visitor vehicles coming through the Nisqually Entrance on a typical day. By focusing staff on fewer days, the park will be better able to provide access and services during times of greatest visitation, including more consistent road plowing and emergency patrols for visitor safety. The area above Longmire will be closed to overnight camping on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because safe road access won't be available.

On Thursdays through Mondays, and every day during the Christmas holiday, the road from Longmire to Paradise will open as soon as the park's snow plows can make it safe for travel. In good weather the road may open as early as 7 a.m., but in bad weather (or following a heavy snowfall) the road opening may be delayed to late morning or, in some cases, may not open at all. All vehicles are required to carry tire chains when entering the park. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly during the day and mandatory chain use may be required even for 4WD vehicles.

To better accommodate visitor needs and reduce energy costs, the visitor information center at Longmire will move across the road from the Longmire Museum to the historic Administration Building, in the space occupied by the Wilderness Information Center during the summer. Park rangers will be available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to provide information on hikes, locations of interest, and interpretive map talks for visitors to the Longmire Historic District.

Located at Longmire, the historic National Park Inn is open year round, providing dining, lodging and a gift shop. For reservations call 360-569-2275. Businesses in the gateway communities are also open throughout the winter.

The Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise will be open on weekends and holidays through March. The Paradise snowplay/sledding area will open during the Christmas holiday provided snow depth is adequate.

Highways 123 and 410, and the Stevens Canyon Road east of Paradise, and the White River, Sunrise, and Mowich Lake Roads are now closed to vehicle access for the winter, but remain open to winter recreation.

Visitors are encouraged to obtain up-to-the-minute updates on road conditions and restrictions by calling the park at 360-569-2211 and listening to recorded information.

Backcountry travelers should get an update on current and projected snow, avalanche, and weather conditions before coming to the park, and be prepared to survive winter conditions.

Comments

After a public outcry, the park has backed off on the prohibition of backcountry camping above Longmire on Tuesdays and Wednesdays mentioned in this story:

http://www.nps.gov/mora/parknews/winter-access-changes.htm

"The park is open for overnight winter camping with a valid permit seven days a week, but vehicle access will not be maintained from Longmire to Paradise on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Therefore, if visitors are parked at Paradise when the road closes on a Monday evening, they should not expect to be able to drive back to Longmire until the road opens on Thursday morning (weather permitting)."

This denial of access (no hiking, biking or skiing) on a road that will be plowed daily anyway is disgraceful and local comments have been overwhelmingly negative. Visitation is far lower than past decades because the daily road openings have been increasingly unreliable; management has alienated most of their natural winter constituency. The park did a far superior job of opening Paradise in winter forty years ago with more snow, half the employees, and beater surplus plows from the military. Past winter visitation figues reflected that. Mount Rainier already holds the NPS record for number of days closed to the public in the past five years and many feel this closure will soon be extended to all weekdays.

The park website is currently begging for winter information desk volunteers. It appears they would just as soon not have to deal with the pesky public at all!

One observation -- forty years ago, NPS didn't have the pressure of an increasingly litigious public that will sue for even the most minor injuries resulting from almost any accident or injury. That may well be playing a role in current management decisions.

Really, Lee? Excluding the public on the two least-busy weekdays reduces the risk of lawsuits? Why not weekends then? Better just raise the drawbridge all winter! The thought that the small possibility of a lawsuit could be used to justify management decisions seems absurd to me, but maybe the modern NPS has not yet hit bottom. I think there's a greater chance they'll be sued because this policy than without it, at least I hope so!

There's a TV ad playing in Utah now that invites anyone who has been injured by an accident caused by ice on roads or sidewalks to call an attorney who will help us all collect any damages that might be due us. . . .

I'm not arguing in favor or oppostion to what's happening in Mt. Ranier. Just making note of something that is growing in our society.

Exactly why we need major tort reform.

As long as it's fair on both sides of the equation.

Urm, it might be lack of funding. I live in a National Park, and our roads are barely cleared after a snow these days because we, as a park, have no money. The road to my apartment is never plowed. So I need four wheel drive to get out of the Park onto county roads, which ARE plowed.

Re: comment by canyongoddess, "It might be a lack of funding."

A valid, real-world comment. It's easy to read lots of motives into limits on activities such as plowing roads, but like it or not, the reality is funding is a controlling factor on many functions.

That's reflected in a quote from the park superintendent in this story.

"We are strategically deploying available park staff and resources to provide access to Paradise Thursday through Monday, the five days of the week with greatest visitation," Superintendent King said.

A five-day-a week-schedule for many activities can be maintained with a core staff (although you've still got to allow for things like sick time and occasional vacation days.) Once you try to expand any function to six or seven days, you must either add part-time staff or pay overtime, and most park budgets simply won't stretch that far in many cases.

Its all a matter of priorities. How many part timers could you hire if you didn't spend $29 million on a zero energy visitor center?

Jim's comment is probably spot on.

And I'm afraid what we're seeing now is only the beginning. If we are going to get our nation's finances in order, everyone will be forced to make sacrifices.

We really need to avoid the growing calls of "Cut spending! But not in anything from which I enjoy some benefits!"

Jumping ahead possibly but will people on food stamps and other public assistance get as a part of their benefits free access to our parks to help cushion their/our poverty (and secure votes)? Along the path we are on, it appears.

It might also be management incompetence, "a valid, real world comment" too, given the low leadership scores the NPS receives in annual federal employee job satisfaction surveys.

FF has it right, it's a matter of priorities. Public closure seems the favorite arrow in Rainier management's quiver. That pricey new VC (open less than half the days of the year) was so over budget and behind schedule that a 'big lie' six-month public closure of the entire park was required to finish it. Park road crew and the local WA DOT supervisor all said the 2006 park flood repairs could have been made in a few weeks. Every year they have money to repair the Westside Road for "administrative use", but public vehicles have been excluded for over two decades. I'd bet the annual financial savings from these weekday closures will be less than the ~$200 K spent on the non-functioning Muir webcam or the similar amount that will be spent to build a new climber's hut at Camp Muir for guided clients.

There's no way to know, of course, because Rainier management considers their budget and organization chart none of the taxpayer's business. Try requesting copies of each if you don't believe me!

I remember being puzzled during my first winter here in 1973 that some of the locals preferred to use the phrase "those crooks" instead of the tongue-twisting "National Park Service management". I've since realized they were referring to the consistent pattern of nepotism and cronyism in jobs and contracts. They could have been referring to the three superintendents prior to the current incumbent. Dave Uberuagua distinguished himself by apparently taking a large bribe from the owner of the RMI climbing concession when he was Assistant Supt. His boss at the time was current Director Jon Jarvis, who covered it up and later promoted Dave to head Grand Canyon. Prior to that, William Briggle retired suddenly after sexual harrassment charges by a subordinate. His earlier screw-ups at Glacier figure prominently in a couple chapters of Regreening the National Parks , by Michael Fromme.

Unfortunately, trailadvocate, probably not.

Justinh, You think not? I wouldn't have thought tax payer money would be used for advertising in Mexico on how to get food stamps in the US but that was the case last year.

Please, let's not stray too far afield from the post at hand. -- Ed.

Comments about Mt. Rainier lead to something about food stamps and Mexico?

Budgetary priorities and the motivations for such things do lead very definitely to the macro-world the Parks are in, I believe. If it's possible to do some of the things that have been done, only limitations are one's imagination, it would appear. Freebies are great vote getters and the politics of Parks are all apart of it. Okay, when is the weather going to break into Winter in the SW? Been a bit concerning that it's been so nice after a great monsoon(Summer Rains/Navajo) season. Critters are all in good shape going into the next season.