Special Reports

Mount Rainier park set to open; snowplay area will stay closed

As officials plan for Tuesday’s memorial service for ranger Margaret Anderson, Mount Rainier National Park will reopen Saturday, six days after her death.

The 34-year-old mother of two died of gunshot wounds Sunday as she tried to stop a vehicle that had driven through a tire-chain checkpoint. The driver, Benjamin Barnes, 24, opened fire on Anderson about one mile below Paradise. She died. His body was found the next day, partially submerged in Paradise Creek. He died of drowning.

The Nisqually entrance gate opens at 8 a.m. Saturday. Most activities will resume as scheduled, but the snowplay area at Paradise will remain closed until further notice, parks spokeswoman Fawn Bauer said. The area has been open just two days this winter. A lack of snow delayed the opening until Dec. 31, and it has been closed since the New Year’s Day shooting.

To help the park reopen, and give Mount Rainier staff members time to grieve, National Park Service employees from elsewhere will help with the interpretive operations and law enforcement. Among the parks assisting are Olympic, North Cascades, Glacier, Sequoia and Lassen Volcanic.

Despite the help, basic operations such as plowing roads and manning entrance stations and visitor centers, are using the available manpower, leaving no one to groom the runs and monitor the snowplay area, park officials said.

“Logistically, it wasn’t something we could pull together,” Superintendent Randy King said earlier in the week.

Anderson was in charge of the snowplay area, and the four people who worked with her have been deeply affected by her death, said Lee Taylor, park spokeswoman. In addition, a member of the snowplow team was very involved in the incident and also needs time to deal with what happened.

“Given that, we decided to get everything else up and running,” Taylor said.

Even with the snowplay area closure, Taylor said, today’s opening is part of the recovery process.

“All of us want to see our park return to a haven of recreation and renewal,” she said.

Rainier also has been getting help planning Anderson’s memorial, set for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland. The Beyond the Badge Foundation, which assists with law enforcement memorials around the state, is taking a major role in planning the event.

“The hurdle is the time we have,” park spokeswoman Patti Wold said. “We want to make it a beautiful tribute to her, but there are a lot of things we have to get done.”

People wishing to leave some token of remembrances can do so at the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center and on the porch of the Wilderness Information Center at Longmire. Park officials ask visitors not to leave items at the Nisqually entrance, for safety and traffic flow reasons.

Temporary signs have been set up at the visitor center and the information center at Longmire to provide information on Anderson and her death. She is survived by her husband, Eric, also a law enforcement ranger at the park, as well as two daughters, ages 3 and 1.

“The idea is to tell the story of what happened up there and a little bit about Margaret,” Wold said. “People are going to ask, but our employees might not want to talk about it. The idea is to have someplace to direct them to and someplace for people to stop and pause to reflect about it.”

While some visitors will be coming to the park to pay their respects, others will come to take advantage of the winter recreation activities at Paradise. There were 73 inches of snow on the ground Friday afternoon. Visitors are reminded that the gate at Longmire allowing access to Paradise will open as soon as the weather and road conditions allow.

Also, all vehicles traveling in the park are required to have snow chains.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640