By Sean Smith
Last fall, two storms hit Washington State, pummeling the Northwest with a torrent of rain and 100 mile-an-hour winds. With the force of a month-long hurricane, the storms’ one-two punch left Washington’s national parks and public lands reeling.
Mount Rainier was particularly hard-hit by the maelstrom, and the damage is sobering. National Park Service officials estimate repair costs will run in excess of $36 million, with entire sections of the Wonderland Trail wiped out, parts of the Ohanapecosh’s Grove of the Patriarchs buried under several feet of mud, and nearly the entire Sunshine campground washed away. In some places it’s a brand new landscape.
Damage to Olympic and North Cascades national parks, although less severe than at Rainier, is just as heartbreaking. A significant number of trees were blown over at Olympic’s Heart O’ the Hills campground, while the Hoh River Road was destroyed in several sections, limiting access to the world-famous Hoh rainforest. North Cascades also saw damage to roads, campgrounds and trails.
However, not everything washed away last fall.
Northwesterner’s love for their parks withstood the deluge and is rebounding with even more strength. With the assistance of REI, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Mountaineeers, Washington Trails Association, Washington's National Park Fund, and the Student Conservation Association formed the Northwest Parks and Public Lands Storm Recovery Coalition to facilitate the restoration of the Northwest’s national parks and forests.
The coalition combines the best of the Northwest's recreation and conservation nonprofit resources, marshaling expertise in advocacy, trail maintenance, fund-raising, education, volunteer management and more.
Progress is being made. These past several months the Park Service at Rainier has worked at a fevered pitch to reopen the park, which has been closed to the public since last winter. Recently, the NPS announced it is shooting for May 5th as the official reopening date of the road to Paradise.
At Olympic, the Park Service is on track to reopen the Hoh Road at about the same time. Meanwhile, the south loop of the North Cascades Colonial creek campground should be ready for business the middle of May.
Additional trail and road information for the parks can be found at these three sites: Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades.
Unfortunately, much work remains to be done: Countless miles of trail needs to be repaired and cleared of downed trees, foot bridges that washed away in the floods need to be rebuilt, and other areas need significant revegatation and erosion treatment.
You can help! The storm coalition has created a blog where we post updates on the storms, recovery progress and how you can get involved. Additionally, WTA and SCA have created web sites where you can receive information on work projects and sign up to participate. Those can be found here and here.
Rainier, Olympic, and the North Cascades National Parks are an integral part of Washington’s economy, environment, and quality of life. The parks are somewhat “under the weather” right now, but thanks to the help of thousands of concerned citizen they are well on their way to recovery and restoration.
Sean Smith is the NPCA's Northwest regional director.