By Pat Jenkins
The road to Paradise inside Mount Rainier National Park will be much smoother and better for the long haul as a result of a major facelift that’s scheduled to start next week.
Park officials say a $32 million rehabilitation of the 17.6 miles of road between the Nisqually entrance and Paradise will begin Monday.
The gains will come with some pain. There will be no roadwork on weekends, but visitors driving to the park on weekdays via State Route 706 through Elbe and Ashford and the Nisqually gateway should figure on an extra hour round-trip as a result of delays caused by construction. That will be the case into early fall, when then project will pause for several months as the weather heads into heavy snow and freezing temperatures that aren’t conducive to roadwork.
But there’s a bright side, park officials noted. While the construction and associated traffic delays will be an inconvenience, the eventual result will be a better driving experience for visitors and more longevity for the only road that provides access year-round to the popular Paradise recreation area.
The federal-funded Nisqually to Paradise rehabilitation project, which was first announced in December 2012 after undergoing environmental reviews and receiving the National Park Service’s blessing, will be in two phases. Each one will take as much as two years to complete.
Phase 1 includes the installation of in-road buried conduits and junction vaults, as well as improvements to the road’s substructure and drainage between the Nisqually entrance and Longmire. The work this year will also include paving and substructure work on Ricksecker Point Loop Road and Paradise Valley Road, officials said.
Phase 2 is expected to begin in 2016 at Longmire and end at Paradise in 2017.
Officials said the roadway is deteriorating as a result of water from rain and snow, structural and design deficiencies, heavy traffic and normal wear and tear.
Many of the park’s approximately 1 million-plus visitors per year drive on the winding, scenic road to campgrounds, trailheads and other recreation areas. One of the most visited attractions is Paradise, which has the Henry M. Jackson Visitors Center, Paradise Inn, and a trail system that takes casual day hikers as mountain climbers into the mountain wilderness.
Mount Rainier National Park, established in 1899, is the fifth-oldest national park in the U.S.
Nisqually-to-Paradise is the second major road project for the park in as many years. The $2.3 million restoration of Stevens Canyon Road in 2012 and 2013 involved resurfacing 10 miles of road and improving bridges, tunnels, culverts, guard walls, retaining walls, turnouts and the short Wonderland Trail section adjacent to Reflection Lake.