Mount Rainier National Park is ready to unveil a modern wilderness permit reservation system to replace the archaic system that broke last winter.
Park officials announced it will accept permit requests online when the reservation period begins at 9 a.m. March 15. This includes coveted permits for hiking the 93-mile Wonderland Trail.
Previously, requests were submitted by fax or mail and hikers were notified by mail if their permits were approved. Payment information was also submitted by fax.
The new system promises to send confirmation that the requests were received within one day. Park staff will then update applicants of their status via email. Payment will also be online via a secure government portal, according to a statement released by the park.
The previous system and its 16-year-old software was in need of replacement for several years, park officials told The News Tribune on several occasions. A new system was in the works before a storm in early March 2016 knocked out power and damaged the system’s backup power.
The storm left the park unable to process more than 2,000 requests. The park responded by offering permits on a first-come, first-served basis.
In August, park superintendent Randy King told The News Tribune the contingency plan worked “pretty well.” He’s said the new online system is modeled after a system at Utah’s Canyonlands National Park.
Park officials say more changes to the reservation system are in the works. They hope to eventually show users real-time site availability on their website.
The prime wilderness permit window is March 15-March 31. All requests received during this time will be processed in random order. Those received April 1 or later will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Traditionally, about 70 percent of wilderness campsites could be reserved in advance. The rest were held for first-come, first-served distribution.
The park officials said only one full-circuit Wonderland Trail permit will be considered per email address.