Outdoors

Mount Rainier developing plan to manage wilderness use

Tahoma Glacier glistens on the west flank of Mount Rainier as Thad Richardson, right, Matt Misterek and Craig Hill hike on Emerald Ridge along the Wonderland Trail in 2012.
Tahoma Glacier glistens on the west flank of Mount Rainier as Thad Richardson, right, Matt Misterek and Craig Hill hike on Emerald Ridge along the Wonderland Trail in 2012. Staff file, 2012

A new wilderness stewardship plan will help Mount Rainier National Park managers balance the growing demand of visitors seeking solitude with protecting the park’s resources.

A series of meetings this month will be the public’s first opportunity to comment on the plan, which eventually will establish the management philosophy for the park’s wilderness areas.

Park superintendent Randy King said the park will spend the next year developing the plan.

“This plan will guide future efforts to preserve the park’s wilderness character,” he said.

“The Mount Rainier wilderness contains ancient forests, subalpine meadows and the largest single-mountain glacial system in the contiguous 48 states,” he added.

“As a vital remnant of the once widespread primeval Cascade ecosystem, Mount Rainier provides visitors with diverse opportunities to experience the challenge and natural beauty of wilderness.”

Of the park’s 236,381 acres, 97 percent is designated as wilderness area.

The park last developed a wilderness management plan in 1992. Since then, demand has increased by visitors seeking day use and overnight wilderness opportunities.

“There are so many things that have changed since 1992,” said Kraig Snure, wilderness district ranger at the park. “The Wilderness Act of 1964 is still the same, but the issues surrounding it have changed quite a bit.”

He cited the demand for permits to camp along the Wonderland Trail. The park stopped taking reservations in late March after it received about 2,600 requests. Two years ago, the total number of requests was about 800.

“There is an increasing amount of pressure on the resource,” he said.

Snure and Karen Thompson, park environmental coordinator, said one of the big issues is day use of the wilderness areas.

“In general, that is where the greatest impact is, the day hikes,” Thompson said. “Because the park is kind of small, you can reach most areas of the park in one day.”

She said the hike from the White River area to the Summerland backcountry camp is one example.

“That backcountry campsite is about four miles in, so it’s easy to get there,” she said. “It’s so popular. That trail can be crowded during the summer.”

Snure recalled his first job at the park: working as a seasonal employee doing revegetation work.

“In the 1960s and ’70s, the Indian Henrys meadows were just overrun and there was just bare ground,” he said. “That made a real big impression on me at a young age.

“If we don’t do things right now, we might find ourselves back in situations like that.”

Working on the plan since last winter, Thompson said, the park has identified five preliminary alternatives.

They range from leaving wilderness management as it is to allowing greater access to spread visitor use across the park to restricting access to protect the wilderness experience.

Some of the proposals include:

▪ Creating a shuttle service along the Westside Road to improve access to areas in the southwestern corner of the park.

▪ Removing non-native fish from lakes and streams in the park.

▪ Managing day use by establishing hiker quotas at trailheads.

▪ Continuing to require hikers to use designated campsites for overnight stays.

Olympic National Park is in the midst of the same process, having started in February 2013. Park staff members now are refining the proposed alternatives and analyzing the effects each proposal would have.

Snure encouraged the public to become involved in developing the plan.

“We really need feedback from the public on how they want the wilderness taken care of,” he said. “We have the opportunity to move in different directions with our (wilderness) emphasis. That’s what we need from the public.

“I’m really hoping we can come up with some real alternatives that make some tough choices, and by combining some options, we can give wilderness users some options.”

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640

jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com

PLAN ALTERNATIVES

Alternative 1 — Take no action: This would maintain current wilderness conditions. It is the baseline against which the other alternatives are compared.

Alternative 2 — Implement the general management plan: This would draw on a 2002 management plan to create high-quality visitor experiences in the wilderness and preserve natural and cultural resources. It would include creating a shuttle on the Westside Road and on the Nisqually-Paradise Road.

Alternative 3 — Manage for solitude: This would manage visitor use, in particular day use, would put the focus on increasing opportunities for solitude. Proposals include managing day use through trailhead quotas or additional day-use fees and requiring park permits in crowded areas.

Alternative 4 — Manage for primitive and unconfined recreation: This would expand access and reduce management controls on visitors. Ideas include allowing self-selected campsites in some wilderness areas, creating trails or loops and increasing recreational opportunities in the winter and the offseason in the spring and fall.

Alternative 5 — Manage for natural and undeveloped lands: This puts the emphasis on preserving and restoring the natural quality of wilderness areas. Proposals include removing non-native fish from lakes and streams, removing some structures and facilities from wilderness areas and limiting use or access where resources are degraded.

TO GET INVOLVED

ONLINE

You can read the plan and comment online at parkplanning.nps.gov/morawild.

MEETING SCHEDULE

Nov. 16: 5:30-7:30 p.m., Seattle Public Library, Douglass-Truth Branch, 2300 E. Yesler Way, Seattle. 206-684-4704.

Nov. 17: 5-7 p.m., Tacoma Public Library, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S. Tacoma. 253-292-2001.

Nov. 18: 5:30-7:30 p.m., Mount Rainier National Park Education Center, 55210 238th Ave. E. Ashford. 360-569-2211.

Nov. 19: 5:30-7:30 p.m., Pierce County Library, Buckley Branch, 123 S. River Ave. Buckley. 253-548-3310.

MAIL

Comments can be sent to Randy King, Superintendent Attn: Wilderness Stewardship Plan Mount, Rainier National Park 55210 238th Ave. E. Ashford, WA 98304-9751.

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