About a month from now, visitors to Mount Rainier National Park will be allowed – weather permitting – to drive to Paradise seven days a week.
The all-week access, scheduled to begin Dec. 21 and continue through the winter, is a change from the current schedule that has Paradise closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The park made its annual transition to winter hours of operation and service on Nov. 12. As in past years, the road gate immediately above Longmire is closed nightly to ensure visitor safety and the safety of park staff, including rangers and the road crew, park officials said.
Rangers and snow plow operators evaluate road, weather, avalanche and staffing conditions every morning in making a decision on whether it is safe to open the Paradise road above Longmire. If it is, the gate will open at 9 a.m. Thursdays through Mondays and close nightly at 5 o’clock. The uphill gate will close at 4.
“Due to the reduced and uncertain budget picture, we are strategically deploying available park staff and resources to provide as much access as possible,” said park superintendent Randy King.
Between Dec. 21 and the end of March, the goal will be to provide seven-days-a-week access to Paradise, with the same hours that are now in effect.
Maintaining fixed hours through the winter is intended to maximize public access to Paradise, while managing costs for snow plows and ranger staffs, King explained.
To sustain seven day a week access to Paradise, it will be important for visitors to heed gate closure times, King said. He noted that each instance of overtime required for handling after-closure issues will have an impact on services this summer.
If set daily hours prove ineffective, or the park’s budget and staffing picture is worse than anticipated, mid-week closures or other management actions may be necessary at Paradise, according to King.
The entire park is open for visitor use throughout the winter season, including overnight winter camping with a valid permit seven days a week. Visitors camping at Paradise between now and Dec. 21 shouldn’t plan on driving out on Tuesday and Wednesday when the road is closed.
“Conservative management decisions are required in the current funding environment,” King said. “This year’s winter operation – with fixed hours of access to Paradise – is an experiment. It seeks to balance winter services against summer needs when most people visit the park. It will require cooperation from the public to work, particularly as the days get longer. If it doesn’t work, we’ll make adjustments as needed.”