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$2 million gift will back maintenance of Mount Rainier’s Wonderland Trail

VIDEO: Generous donations to aid Mount Rainier Park, youth stewardship

Northwest philanthropists Mike and Sue Raney visited Longmire at Mount Rainier National Park on Wednesday to be honored for their $2 million donation to the National Park Foundation. The gift targets restoration of Rainier’s iconic Wonderland Trai
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Northwest philanthropists Mike and Sue Raney visited Longmire at Mount Rainier National Park on Wednesday to be honored for their $2 million donation to the National Park Foundation. The gift targets restoration of Rainier’s iconic Wonderland Trai

Mike and Sue Raney love Mount Rainier National Park, and they hope others will love it just as much in 500 years.

The Northwest philanthropists back their love with a generous gift Wednesday: a $2 million donation to the National Park Foundation, targeting restoration of Rainier’s iconic Wonderland Trail and the Enchanted Valley Trail at Olympic National Park over the next 10 years.

Raney, 68, is a founder of Rainier Investment LLC, a Seattle-based firm. In an impromptu speech, he said the donation has “been in my mind for quite a while.”

The $2 million donation, backed by an additional $1 million from the REI Foundation, will establish the Wonderland Trail Conservation Corps and the Olympic Conservation Corps at the two parks, aimed at putting young people and recent veterans to work on trail restoration.

The $2 million donation, backed by an additional $1 million from the REI foundation, will establish the Wonderland Trail Conservation Corps and the Olympic Conservation Corps at the two parks, aimed at putting young people and recent veterans to work on trail restoration.

A crowd of young people and park staffers gathered at the Longmire Community Building to celebrate the announcement, part of a national campaign to mark the centennial of the U.S. National Park Service.

The National Park Foundation is in the midst of a nationwide campaign to raise $350 million for restoration efforts across the country; already, the foundation has raised $225 million.

“I think this is the start of something beautiful,” said park superintendent Randy King.

He and Deputy Superintendent Tracy Swartout said the Raney donation will take a big chunk out of a $3 million maintenance backlog on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, making it possible to spread thin resources to other maintenance needs.

About 450 people hike the entire loop each year, Swartout said; the trail needs plenty of care.

“It all helps,” King said. “Helps give us more capacity to go out and take care of our trails.”

Swartout added that the total maintenance backlog at the park approaches $300 million. It covers buildings as well as trails.

“There’s things that if we don’t do them, we suffer additional damage,” she said. “This really helps us. Does it free up money for other things? Absolutely. Other things that are just as equally loved, but maybe not as iconic.”

There’s things that if we don’t do them, we suffer additional damage. This really helps us. Does it free up money for other things? Absolutely. Other things that are just as equally loved, but maybe not as iconic.

Tracy Swartout, deputy superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park

Along the trail, job one is keeping water away, said maintenance supervisor Jim Ziolkowski, who has worked at the park for 35 years.

“We’re trying to control water and its effects on the tread,” he said. “If we don’t do that, we have serious damage. The first thing we’re doing is providing access: removing trees, providing crossings. After that, it’s preventive drainage maintenance.”

Water and weather wiped out 700 feet of the trail last year, Swartout said. It’s one of the areas the new maintenance crews will work on, backed by the donations from the Raneys and REI.

Another mundane aspect of maintenance is brush clearing. Larry Lack, trail supervisor at Olympic National Park, said salmonberry tends to be the most annoying intruder. Ziolkowski instantly agreed.

“It grows so fast,” Lack said. “It has the thorns on it. ...The salmonberry, this year’s really bad with early warm weather. It’s just growing like crazy.”

Marc Berejka of REI spoke briefly during Wednesday’s announcement, invoking the history of the mountaineering co-op, its motto (“A life outdoors is a life well lived.”) and its founding 78 years ago at the summit of Mount Rainier.

“We’re all in for this year, we’re all in for the next century,” he said, addressing the young people in the small crowd.

“One of the things about American society, especially now, is there’s a degree of divisiveness and it can be painful. We think that spending time together outdoors brings us together. It can be a healing experience. It has an eternal quality to it.

“You’re rebuilding a trail that hopefully will be rebuilt for another century. You’re doing something that’s beyond yourself, and you’re doing it together.”

If we can give back a little bit like this and then maybe we can inspire some other individuals, some other corporations, to follow suit, that would be great.

Mike Raney

Sue Raney told the crowd they were part of an effort to preserve national parks for future generations.

Her husband spoke next, and told a story of growing up without much money, second oldest of 10 children, in a house he called a shack. He joined the military, and found himself assigned to McChord Air Force Base. Driving across the state from Spokane, a vision caught his eye.

“I loved the outdoors but I’d never seen a national park. I see this huge white mountain,” he said. “I’d never seen it before. I didn’t know anything about the Pacific Northwest.”

From that moment, Raney said, he knew where he wanted to live. He checked in at the base, and made his way to Rainier as soon as he could, finding the famous sites: Ruby Creek, Sunrise, Paradise. He didn’t get back to the base until 2 a.m.

It wasn’t long before he found Olympic National Park, and added it to his growing list of favorite places. Since then, he’s visited most of the parks in the national system.

“If we can give back a little bit like this and then maybe we can inspire some other individuals, some other corporations, to follow suit, that would be great,” he said, comparing the nation’s park system to those in other parts of the world.

“This is a true treasure we have here. It’s one of the real resources that America has. So if we can have people 500 years from now still enjoying it, that would be great.”

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