Determination saved this Mount Rainier treasure. It can save our national parks, too

The Paradise Inn Annex is seen during a grand opening event for the renovated Mount Rainier attraction on May 17.
The Paradise Inn Annex is seen during a grand opening event for the renovated Mount Rainier attraction on May 17. The News Tribune

For outdoor enthusiasts like me, and for most people who have visited any of the 419 national parks across the country, moments of profound appreciation for our history and the beauty of the natural world may come while combing a beach, hiking a trail or visiting the Grand Canyon.

It happened for me in the middle of a construction zone on Mount Rainier as work crews were busy on site and I watched the historic Paradise Inn Annex poised 4 feet above the ground on hydraulic lifts, literally suspended between its past and future.

I marveled at what careful craftsmanship had gone into building the annex so many years ago, making it strong enough to withstand brutal winters and millions of visitors over its century-old history.

That moment on the mountain inspired not only my awe but also my commitment – and that of nearly 500 crew members – to take painstaking measures to preserve as many of the annex’s original details as we could during a 19-month renovation.

When we began, the walls and floors were in such bad shape that the building was in jeopardy of collapsing. By the time we finished a few weeks ago, the annex was, by all accounts, restored to its former glory.

Sitting atop a new foundation and completely rewired and replumbed, the remodeled annex is now up to code but maintains its original features, including crown moldings, high ceilings, and original windows and trim. The 79 guest rooms are now prepared to welcome Mount Rainier visitors for at least another 100 years.

This renovation is a triumph and a model of how we can restore and revitalize national parks to make them more inviting, accessible and safe for future generations. It’s an opportunity we shouldn’t pass by.

Our national parks are some of the most remarkable places anywhere. They are crucial to protecting wildlife and preserving cultural heritage; they’re also an asset to the economy.

More than 8 million people visited national parks in Washington state during 2018, traveling from every corner of the world to explore Mount Rainier, Olympic National Park and the North Cascades. These visitors supported more than 5,800 jobs and added nearly $670 million to local economies.

Yet Washington national parks, like so many others across the country, have fallen into significant disrepair. Trails, buildings, bridges and other park infrastructure are crumbling.

After years of insufficient funding, national parks face a nearly $12-billion maintenance backlog, including $428 million here in Washington and $186 million in further repairs at Mount Rainier.

Congress can provide the necessary funds by passing the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor with 262 and cosponsors so far.

The bill would dedicate annual federal funding from royalty revenues generated by energy leases on federal lands and waters and use them to draw down the maintenance backlog.

Our restoration of the Paradise Inn and Annex need not be an isolated success story.

My construction crew drove up and down Mount Rainier every day, even in inclement weather, with a sense of pride and purpose, determined to make the inn and annex as beautiful as it was 100 years ago. They understood the legacy they were preserving and proved that challenging projects like these can be completed on time and under budget.

With proper funding, all our national parks can be restored and revitalized as landmarks of American history.

John Korsmo, Jr. is the owner of Korsmo Construction, a second-generation family-owned construction company headquartered in Tacoma.

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