Mount Rainier National Park has two projects on a list of more than 200 the National Park Service has authorized to improve and expand the nation’s parks.
Now the park – and the Park Service – are waiting for Congress to appropriate its $154 million share of the work.
On Thursday, the Park Service released a list of 201 projects that represent a total investment of $369.9 million under the Bush administration’s Centennial Challenge. To help pay for the work, private partnerships have committed $215.9 million.
Work on the projects, covering 116 parks in 40 states and the District of Columbia, would begin in 2008. Four parks in Washington had projects approved totaling more than $4.8 million.
Mount Rainier National Park had two of the six projects it submitted approved.
Washington’s National Park Fund will split the $100,000 cost with the park for a solar project at the Ohanapecosh ranger station.
“It will be an array that will take the ranger station, and the maintenance and fire program there, off grid,” said Mount Rainier superintendent Dave Uberuaga.
The Mount Rainier Associates will donate half of the $10,000 needed to install a drain and floor at the historic Indian Bar backcountry shelter. Snowmelt constantly makes a quagmire of the dirt floor.
“It’s a very popular destination. It’s one of the most scenic spots on the Wonderland Trail. A lot of people start from White River and make it up to Indian Bar as a day hike as well,” said Lee Taylor, an interpretive ranger at the park.
The issue for Mount Rainier, Uberuaga said, was finding philanthropic support.
“We just had a few weeks to get people to ink their financial commitment. We had a number of projects we couldn’t get the private commitment for this round. In our centennial program, we have $11 million in projects, basically $1 million a year over the next 10 years,” he said.
Among those projects are creating an accessible trail from the visitors center plaza to the Paradise Meadows trailhead and creation of a Mount Rainier-Mount Fuji Sister Mountain curriculum project and teacher exchange program.
These projects are in addition to flood recovery efforts and general maintenance at the park.
President Bush’s plans to restore the park system calls for $1 billion over 10 years to improve basic park operations. In addition, Bush called for public-private funding of up to $2 billion for new projects and programs with the goal of a $100 million public-private match each year for the 10 years leading up to the park service’s 100th anniversary in 2016.
“The Centennial Challenge builds upon the history of the national parks, and that’s philanthropy. This is philanthropy, not branding,” said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.
“I have in front of me a binder that includes 321 signed letters of commitment from the philanthropic community that equals $301 million that has now been pledged. That’s a stunning sign of support for America’s parks,” he added.
Among those letters is a commitment from Washington’s National Park Fund to provide $160,000 in the next year. That’s in addition to the $100,000 the fund typically raises annually for work in Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades national parks.
“I think we see this as a new opportunity, over and above the other projects the parks have identified as priorities,” said Eleanor Kittelson, the fund’s executive director.
“What we’ve seen is all the parks bringing forward projects that are in line with the goals the fund has, creating wonderful experiences in the parks, bringing more visitors to the park, preservation and good environmental stewardship.”
It won’t be known how many of the recommended projects will be funded until appropriation legislation is passed.
“I’m really excited about this program. I think our national parks are one of the greatest treasures we have. The Centennial Challenge is a great opportunity for the American people to show their support,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
Other approved Washington projects
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
$4 million: The park will team with the Vancouver National Historic Reserve Trust to upgrade the visitors center and expand existing exhibits.
Olympic National Park
$230,000: To develop an education program about the Elwha Dam removal project. With financial support from the Washington’s National Park Fund and in collaboration with Olympic Park Institute and Western Carolina University, the park will create new online curriculum, videos and podcasts, plus new publications, exhibits and ranger-led education programs.
$310,000: To evaluate the success of a proposed reintroduced fisher population. An environmental assessment analyzing the effects of reintroducing fishers, cat-sized members of the weasel family, will be released in September. Washington’s National Park Fund and Conservation Northwest will fund monitoring of the reintroduced fisher population.
North Cascades National Park
$100,000: To create a “Welcoming a Diverse Community to the North Cascades” program, particularly the Hispanic residents of Skagit County. The North Cascades Institute would provide matching funds and work on the project in partnership with the park.
$20,000: The park will install, with funding from Puget Sound Energy, two semi- permanent high elevation weather stations to record data to better understand high elevation climate conditions.
These projects will be done in partnership with Washington’s National Park Fund:
$5,000: A Teacher to Ranger to Teacher Program would recruit a school teacher to spend eight weeks in the park developing curricula about the park and the National Park Service for use in the classroom.
$10,000: Cascades for Kids would create a children’s learning area in the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center.
$26,000: To design and build an interpretive shelter at the Diablo Lake overlook.
$8,000: To fund a search for new plants, using volunteers from the University of Washington Herbarium.
$23,000: To create a Junior Ranger program using new activity books.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640