From road repairs to a place to celebrate Washington’s skiing history, there are likely to be some long-awaited upgrades in the mountains in 2014.
A new skiing and snowboarding museum is set to be built this summer. At the same time, the popular 16-mile road winding up Mount Rainier to Paradise is scheduled for repairs.
However, upgrades aren’t the only thing outdoor lovers should expect this year. The perpetual tightening of purse strings could mean more cuts to services and access at Washington’s state and national parks. The depth of these cuts still isn’t known.
Here’s a closer look at some of the things 2014 is likely to bring.
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WASHINGTON SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING MUSEUM
After 20 years of dreaming, a ski and snowboard museum will become a reality.
The Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum’s doors could open at Snoqualmie Pass by November, said President Dave Moffett.
Moffett, the son of Northwest skiing pioneer Webb Moffett, says the hangup all these years has been the millions of dollars needed to build a structure. “It just wasn’t going to happen,” he said.
Over the years, artifacts instead have been displayed in a U.S. Forest Service ranger station on Snoqualmie Pass and at Crystal Mountain.
The museum got its big break when Bryce Phillips, a Seattle businessman and a member of the museum’s steering committee, decided to build a 12-townhome and commercial development on Snoqualmie Pass.
The museum will lease a 1,200-square-foot area in the 15,000-square-foot commercial space. It will operate under a 5-year-lease with two 5-year options.
“It is a blessing for us,” Moffett said.
Moffett says the goal of the museum is to tell the story of Washington’s rich skiing history, from the rise of the ski industry to star athletes such as Olympic gold medalists Phil Mahre and Deb Armstrong.
A secure case in the center of the museum will display Armstrong’s 1984 Olympic giant slalom gold medal and one of Mahre’s 69 World Cup medals. Armstrong’s parents, Dollie and Hugh, have played key roles in helping the museum become reality. Dollie is the vice president and Hugh is the secretary of the board.
While the museum will be loaded with exhibits, Moffett describes it as an interactive, storytelling museum. It will feature 17 monitors with documentaries on the history of skiing in Washington.
The townhome portion of the development is complete, Moffett said. Construction on the commercial space is expected to start in June or earlier, if weather permits.
State and federal parks across Washington are once again facing budget questions.
Fiscal cuts are finally being seen by park visitors, with complete closures, facility shutdowns and a decrease in services.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time looking at budgets, budget scenarios, use of volunteers, use of partnerships,” said Randy King, superintendent at Mount Rainier National Park. “We’re looking at creative ways to provide services the public needs and deserves, but don’t have the funding to pay for like you did in the past.”
Operational budget cuts at the park have topped $1 million in recent years and led to the decision to keep the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center closed all of 2013.
“You’re also seeing it this winter, how much access do you provide when you have less visitors but higher costs,” King added.
It is a similar story for Washington State Parks, where sales of the Discover Pass have failed to generate the revenue to replace the 70 percent of the agency’s annual budget that was cut by the Legislature and former Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Since 2000, the department has transferred 12 parks to local agencies. In the past four years, the agency has trimmed its full-time workforce from 595 permanent employees to 395.
REPAVING NISQUALLY ROAD
Mount Rainier visitors wanting to see the wildflowers at Paradise will likely have to add some travel time to their trip.
The park expects to begin a multi-year repaving project on the road from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise. The work will include repairs to the bridges at Tahoma and Kautz creeks, grading, road-base improvement and repaving.
The Federal Highways Administration estimates the first phase of the project will cost $10 million-$15 million. The total cost is estimated at $35 million.
Because the construction season at the park is so short, there is no way to avoid working during the summer, which is the park’s busiest season. That’s likely to mean delays for visitors.
“We will have two to three summers of challenges, but the road will serve future visitors for the next 20 to 25 years,” King said.
INTERACT WITH A DIVER
South Sound residents can partake in any number of pier peers programs that offer participants a chance to see what creatures lurk in the dark depth of Puget Sound.
Typically held at night at marina docks in Olympia, Gig Harbor, Tacoma and elsewhere, lights are used to attract the sea creatures.
In 2014, Harbor WildWatch is adding a new twist to its program. Called the Live Dive Series, the programs will include a live video and audio feed between a diver and the audience. A video screen on the surface will connect to a specialized communication unit on the diver, allowing visitors to see exactly what the diver sees, according to program managers with the Gig Harbor conservation group. Audience members will also have the chance to ask the diver questions directly.
The group’s pier peer program began in 2009, drawing just 250 visitors. Now, it attracts almost 8,000 visitors.