Mount Rainier: Concession company pays higher fee under new contract

A new concessions contract means more money for Mount Rainier National Park, completion of deferred maintenance work and additional steps to reduce the environmental impact of park operations.

The contract between the park and Rainier Guest Services LLC went into effect April 1 following a final 60-day congressional review. The Ashford-based company operates the lodging, food and beverage, retail and other commercial services at Longmire, Paradise and Sunrise Day Lodge.

Rainier Guest Services is a subsidiary of the Fairfax, Virginia-based Guest Services Inc. Guest Services also runs the concessions at North Cascades National Park Complex facilities at Stehekin on Lake Chelan.

The concession company has worked at Mount Rainier for more than 40 years, said David Wilde, chief operating officer for Rainier Guest Services. It has about 35-40 full-time employees and hires about 200 people during the busy summer season.

Financially, the new deal is lucrative for the park. Rainier Guest Services will pay a franchise fee of 9 percent of its gross revenue, twice what it paid under its previous contract, according to Mary Wysong, the park’s concessions manager.

Assuming overnight stays, food sales, snowshoe rentals and the like hold steady — gross receipts are about $7.5 million a year — the contract should net the park about $675,000 a year.

Those franchise-fee dollars help fund work elsewhere in the park, such as putting a new roof on the National Park Inn at Longmire and ongoing renovations high on the mountain at Camp Muir, said park superintendent Randy King.

The length of the contract is dependent on a proposed seismic retrofit of the Paradise Inn Annex, similar to work done on the main Paradise Inn building in 2006-07. The park is trying to secure the funding to rehabilitate the 79-room annex, a process expected to take 21 months once work begins. Rooms in the annex would not be available to guests while the work takes place.

“It is a 15-year contract if the annex renovation is done in the first seven or eight years of the contract,” Wilde said. “If, for some reason it doesn’t happen, it reverts to a 10-year contract.”

The contract also calls for Guest Services to tackle maintenance work that has not been done by the Park Service because of a lack of funds. The estimated value of the deferred maintenance is $2 million, Wysong said.

“The park had 75 deferred maintenance items we’ve committed to fixing, such as replacing windows in the annex,” Wilde said.

“With them taking on more of the maintenance, that allows us to spend our dollars on other projects, of which there are myriads at Mount Rainier,” King said.

Other projects Rainier Guest Services will take on is replacement of annex plumbing fixtures such as sinks, showers, bathtubs and commodes; and designing and installing fire suppression and alarm systems at Sunrise. All the work will be done in the first four to five years of the contract, Wilde said.

Wilde said the company also plans to remodel the gift shop inside Paradise Inn and the cafe at the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center.

Another key element of the contract is reducing the environmental impact of daily operations at the park.

Among the plans is the installation of hydration stations at Paradise Inn, the National Park Inn and Sunrise.

“We’re trying to reduce greenhouse gases in the park by trying to eliminate plastic bottles in the park,” Wilde said.

He said they would work this year putting together a study on the possibility of halting the sale of such bottles in the park. Parks such as Grand Canyon National Park already have stopped selling plastic bottles.

The final decision will be made by King and his staff.

Rainier Guest Services also will convert its vehicle fleet to use propane fuel. That will be done over a three-year period.

The company also agreed to install food digesters at the two inns. The systems will take compostable material from the kitchens and turn it into a dry solid.

It will still have to be hauled out of the park, but it will be dry and much lighter. That makes it more economical and efficient to remove from the park

The company also agreed to fund interpretive services at Paradise Inn and install interpretive kiosks in three food locations to display nutrition and sustainability information.