For visitors and staff at Mount Rainier National Park, the upcoming busy summer season might be one of maintaining the status quo.
Significant losses in the interpretive staff means there will be no new ranger-led programs this year. The park is looking for a new chief of interpretation as well as a district interpreter and a full-time interpretive ranger.
“We’re just trying to maintain this year, trying to keep all that going,” said Patti Wold, acting chief of interpretation. “We’re kind of scrambling a bit.”
She said there will be plenty of programs, such as the “Woodland Wander” to the Grove of the Patriarchs, Junior Ranger programs for kids, and the traditional ranger programs at park campgrounds.
Budget uncertainties also have left staffers unwilling to create new visitor opportunities for fear they will only have to drop them because of a lack of funds, said Superintendent Randy King. Estimates of budget reductions in the coming fiscal year range from 2 percent to 8 percent.
Still, King pointed out, there will be plenty of opportunities to enjoy the park as the weather warms and more than 11 feet of snow at Paradise melts aways.
Here is a look at some changes visitors to the park might notice and precautions they should heed:
Carbon River ranger station
The 100 acres of the Carbon River Ranch, once owned by the Thompson family, is part of the expansion of the park’s northwest boundary, approved by Congress in 2004, that extends three miles along the Carbon River. Park administrators had hoped to begin using the former Thompson home as a ranger station this summer, King said, but water issues might delay those plans.
“It will be the primary public contact point for that corner of the park,” King said.
The big issue is the lack of potable water, said chief ranger Chuck Young. The water the well is pulling up is full of glacial silt.
“The water is a serious issue. We just may hold off on that until things quiet down later in the summer,” Young said.
Work also needs to be done on information technology equipment and developing a parking lot.
A back room in the former home also will serve as offices for rangers and the upper floor will be used as staff residences.
As funds are available, the park plans to build a new vehicle-access campground near the park entrance.
Young said his law enforcement rangers will be particularly vigilant when it comes to vehicle break-ins. Last season, a series of such incidents led the park to warn visitors about keeping items safely hidden if the visitors are out hiking or at a visitor center.
Rangers have arrested four people in the last two years in connection with a series of vehicle break-ins inside the park.
“We fully expect that it will happen again – if not in the park, then just outside the park,” Young said. “It’s a very lucrative business. That’s what it is, it’s more than opportunistic break-ins. People are making a living stealing IDs.
“What we’re really seeing is the identity theft. The phone or camera is not worth as much as your ID,” he added.
Young offered these reminders:
• If it’s a valuable and you don’t need to bring it, don’t bring it to the park.
• Don’t let your guard down when parking at a trailhead or stopping to grab a quick photo.
• Don’t leave anything visible. “They’re going to go for what’s easy. Even if they see a backpack in a vehicle, they’ll break the window to grab it,” he said.
--• Don’t leave your identification, credit cards or similar items in your car.
“We understand how that can spoil your experience up here. You feel violated,” Young said. “People should really take the precautions they take in the city. They need to do the same thing here.”
Hikers in the park should be cautious. As the winter’s snow slowly melts, it is revealing and creating a number of hazards.
Young cited the Comet Falls Trail, which has some fairly steep slopes, as an example. The old snow cover has turned to ice, making crossing those spots very difficult. The trail was temporarily closed Tuesday because of a large washout made worse by recent rains.
The Narada Falls Trail was closed for a week earlier this month because the trail was too icy. It was reopened after crews fixed some fences and cleared away the ice.
“People need to assess – do they really want to proceed over snow and ice?” Young said. “If you’re not properly equipped with the right shoes, ice axes or crampons, you might want to consider finding a lower-elevation trail.”
In addition, streams in the park are running very high.
“People need to use a lot of caution when crossing a creek. They also need to assess the risk of trying to cross a creek that’s flowing heavily,” Young said.
“We’re right at that point where people want to get out but we still have a lot of snow out there,” he added.
The park’s volunteer program continues to attract hundreds of people.
There were 1,728 volunteers last year, 524 individuals and 1,204 who worked as part of a group. Together, they donated 74,504 hours of work, the highest number of hours since 2007, the year after the historic 2006 flood that did damage in every corner of the park.
Kevin Bacher, the park’s volunteer and outreach coordinator, said some people put in more than 1,000 hours a year, including Jim and Carol Miltimore of Enumclaw. They have been working at the park since 2005. They have done wilderness patrols, and have done data entry for the curatorial and archaeology programs.
After last season, Carol Miltimore had volunteered 10,178 hours and Jim Miltimore had donated 9,942 hours. That’s equal to 10 years of work by a single full-time employee, Bacher said.
“The one thing I always like to say is the measure of a volunteer’s dedication is not necessarily the hours they put in, but the passion they have for doing what they do and their willingness to work alongside us to protect it,” Bacher said.
Among the volunteer opportunities for this season: Washington Trails Association will have volunteer work parties throughout the park. They have concentrated on the Glacier Basin Trail the last three seasons. Already this year, WTA volunteers have worked on the Boundary Trail in the Carbon River area and Comet Falls Trail.
The Student Conservation Association will provide two eight-person crews of high school students. One will be Seattle students while the other will be made up of students who live at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. That team is being funded by a grant from the Sierra Club.
The JBLM students will spend the first two weeks of August working around the park.
“The intention is to give them a very thorough experience of what it’s like to work out in the woods and give them some leadership skills working in a team settting,” Bacher said.
While the majority of new exhibits at the Sunrise Visitor Center debuted last year, one new video display will be installed in time for this season. The park spent $600,000 to renovate the center, including all-new exhibits.
The movie will show the threat of geohazards on the mountain, focusing on the Osceola mud flow 5,600 years ago, said Patti Wold, acting chief of interpretation.
The two-minute film is a mix of animation and footage. The animation shows the mountain giving way and the mud flow heading down the valley, as well as the mountain summit rebuilding itself.
But the renovated center itself is likely to remain the biggest draw.
“We got a lot of positive feedback,” Wold said of the renovated visitor center. “It was more than just the displays. It was the new floors, sales desk, concession area. They really liked something that wasn’t from the 1970s.”