It’s the first weekend of the NFL playoffs, so the most pressing outdoor issue on your mind is probably, “Can I squeeze in a side trip to the Grand Canyon on the way to Glendale, Arizona, to watch the Seahawks play in the Super Bowl?”
Well, if you don’t do it now, you’ll pay for it later. The cost to visit national parks will likely increase by 67 percent in 2015.
The fee increase is one of several issues that could impact outdoor enthusiasts this years. Here’s a closer look.
THE FEE HIKE
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The National Park Service still has about two months to sort through public comment regarding the proposed entry fee increase, but all indications point to a price hike by summer.
The proposal calls for an increase to $25 from $15 per vehicle for a seven-day pass at Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks. It will also mean individual passes will climb to $12 from $5 and annual passes will increase from to $50 from $30. Camping fees would also increase.
The idea behind the fee increase — the first for the parks in Washington since 2006 — is to generate revenue to fund backlogged projects and spruce up parks before the National Park Service’s 2016 centennial celebration.
Officials at Rainier and Olympic don’t expect the rate increase to adversely impact visitation. Visitation dipped by about 60,000 at Rainier in 2006 when the entry fee increased to $15 from $10. According to NPS data, Olympic and Rainier had 3.1 million and 1.1 million visitors, respectively, in 2013.
The fee increase could mean an extra $1 million per year (above the current $2.5 million) for improving visitor services and facilities.
All 131 National Park Service units that charge entry fees are considering an increase this year.
WILL SKI SEASON REBOUND?
Warmer than usual temperatures may have spoiled the start of ski season, but it couldn’t hamper the creativity of those who wish they could have hit the slopes much sooner.
At Stevens Pass, workers posted a video of a staffer sacrificing a pineapple. Snow dances took place throughout the Cascades. And Crystal Mountain Resort posted a video encouraging people to freeze a spoon and place it under their pillow before they go to sleep.
El Nino has proven to be quite brutal this winter, which happens to be the 10th anniversary of the worst ski season on record — so little snow in 2004-2005 that skier visits dropped by 1.4 million.
Even so, Crystal and White Pass are among those who’ve had limited openings this season.
In most El Nino years, the sport bounces back from Pineapple Express stretches. The El Nino of 2010 created a slow start before finishing with ideal conditions in spring.
The Summit at Snoqualmie launched a new program for 2015 that guarantees the ski area will be open at least 100 days. For each day fewer than 100 the resort is open, pass holders get 1 percent off their season pass for next season.
The Summit is typically open more than 130 days each year, but it’s going to need more snow fast if that’s going to happen this winter.
NEW AGENCY DIRECTOR
The state Fish and Wildlife Commission search for a new director for the Department of Fish and Wildlife is expected to come to an end Saturday when it meets in Tumwater. Phil Anderson announced in August he was planning to retire after 20 years with the department, the last six as the head of the agency.
The person chosen by the nine-member commission will face some challenges from day one. There likely will be fiscal challenges as the Legislature sets the next two-year budget for the department. Any significant cuts — the department has already lost more than 45 percent of its general fund revenue — will mean further reductions in programs already curtailed. The state will be in the midst of negotiations with tribal co-managers on setting salmon fishing seasons for the coming year.
The new director will also have to revive the public’s confidence in the department and work to boost flagging morale among department staff.
MOUNT RAINIER ROAD WORK
The second year of Phase One of repairs to the 17.6 miles of road from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park will take place this spring and summer.
The effort entails two phases, each taking as many as two years because of the fairly short construction season at the mountain. The project will address deteriorating road conditions resulting from precipitation, structural deficiencies, excessive traffic and normal use.
The first phase includes the installation of buried conduits and junction vaults, as well as improvements to the road’s substructure and drainage between the Nisqually entrance and Longmire. Work this year also will include paving and substructure work on Ricksecker Point Loop Road and Paradise Valley Road.
Tucci & Sons Inc., of Tacoma, was awarded a $10 million contract for the first phase. The final phase is expected to be completed in 2017.
THE NEW MUSEUM
The long-awaited Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum is expected to open in early spring at Snoqualmie Pass.
More than 20 years in the works, the museum will pay tribute to the state’s ski industry and its most accomplished athletes.
The museum is leasing a 1,200-square-foot space in a new commercial development built by Seattle businessman Bryce Phillips. The Pass Life facilities will also include lofts and a restaurant and brewery.
The museum effort has been spearheaded by Dave Moffett, son of Northwest skiing pioneer Webb Moffett, and Dollie and Hugh Armstrong, parents of 1984 Olympic champion skier Debbie Armstrong.
Among the museum’s exhibits will be several monitors showing documentaries about the region’s skiing and snowboarding history. The museum’s centerpiece will display Armstrong’s gold medal and one of Yakima skiing legend Phil Mahre’s three World Cup overall trophies.
STATE OF THE OUTDOORS
The reason so many of us enjoy the outdoors is the clean air, maintained parks, pristine views and access we have here in Washington. But budget crunches, changing political priorities, climate change and apathy all threaten our enjoyment of the outdoors.
How all this will unfold remains to be seen, but we saw significant changes in 2014. Hunters who previously usedprivate timberlands had to pay for access, and that is a trend likely to continue. Budget crunches and lawsuits have reduced hatchery production, meaning fewer fish in many locations. Continuing buildup of rock and debris in streams around Mount Rainier led to flooding of the main road and forced the park’s closure.
Looking ahead, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington State Parks face continued budget cuts. Another set of deep cuts during the upcoming legislative session could mean closure of more parks and less access for anglers and hunters.
Most worrisome, however, might be a lack of concern by most people as our outdoor recreation venues and opportunities decline. If there is not a push from the public to protect these special places, and to make sure existing facilities are up to date, we might wind up with fewer places to hike in an old-growth forest, fish for a wild steelhead, ride a mountain bike on a single-track trail or watch salmon spawn in the clear water of their natal stream.