Weather, access and the economy are key factors affecting visitation at Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks. In 2012, it seemed the weather kept more people at home.
At Mount Rainier, the news was on the positive side. The nearly 1.05 million recreation visits in 2012 was a 1.1 percent improvement from 2011. That was off the trend set across the National Park Service, where visitation was up 2.99 percent.
Visitation slumped in January because of the nearly two-week closure following the Jan. 1 shooting death of ranger Margaret Anderson, and then road closures later in the month because of poor weather and searches for lost people.
January’s count of 14,361 was the lowest for the month going back to 1979, except 2007 when the park was closed because of damage from the November 2006 flood.
“We didn’t start out great, but we made up for it in the summer with a pretty nice stretch,” said chief ranger Chuck Young.
“We are so weather dependent. Even when you have a fee free day, if the weather is not good, we’re just not going to get a lot of people,” he said.
Young said the park’s management team is always tracking how many people are coming into the park and what they can do to make sure it’s accessible when people want to come up. They also want to be cognizant of things the park is doing that might impede people from visiting, such as road closures because of snow or avalanche dangers.
“Then there’s the economy and the cultural changes in what families are doing, what do parents and kids want to do these days,” he said.
The bottom line, Young said, is managers try to work on the things they can control, and offer attractions that will bring people to the park.
He cited last weekend as a good example. The weather – foggy in the lowlands and spring-like at Paradise – combined with the chance to ski, snowboard, snowshoe and ride a sled meant packed parking lots.
“You can’t predict that. The fact that it fell on a three-day weekend and a fee free day, it was fantastic,” he said.
At Olympic National Park, bad weather in the spring and closure of a popular day-hiking trailhead led to an overall decline in recreation visits. The 2012 total of almost 2.8 million recreation visits was down 5.7 percent compared to 2011’s count.
“Visitation to Olympic is always highly influenced by weather,” said park spokeswoman Barb Maynes. “Since most of our visitors come from the Seattle/Puget Sound/Portland areas, people seem to be more flexible in their travel plans. And certainly campground and wilderness visitation go down when it’s unseasonably wet or cold.”
March was a good example. Poor weather resulted in a total of 70,186 recreation visits in March. That was the worst count for that month since 1981, and well off the average of 116,467 during the previous five years.
Another factor Maynes cited was the dam removal-related closure of the Olympic Hot Springs Road. The road, which ends at a popular hiking trailhead, has been closed since September 2011 because of removal of the Glines Canyon Dam.
Chuck Young, the chief ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, is urging backcountry users to be aware of avalanche conditions.
Fresh snow earlier this week, on top of the snow that settled during last weekend’s warm weather in the mountains could make conditions ripe for an avalanche.
“Make sure you are checking the avalanche forecast, and make sure you are not going into places where avalanches are likely,” Young said as a warning.
“Backcountry skiing and snowshoeing have gotten really popular. But I do worry that people aren’t attuned to what conditions are like and what the dangers are here,” he added.
For current conditions and avalanche forecasts, go to the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center’s website at nwac.us.
ART IN THE PARK
As North Cascades National Park prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Artist in Residence program, the park is looking for artists who want to participate this year.
The park and cooperating local communities are developing plans to host traveling exhibits, workshops and community recognition of art through participating local artists, organizations and visitor centers.
“Many inspirational writers, painters, and photographers such as Jack Kerouac, Lee Mann, Robert Bateman and others have drawn on the beauty of the North Cascades for their works,” said Cindy Bjorkland, chief of interpretation, said in a prepared statement.
Donations of work from artists in residence include Becky Fletcher’s Cascade Pass triptych, which serves as a portal into the wilderness at the North Cascades Visitor Center.
The park is encouraging artists and community members to submit proposals to implement ideas that include celebrations of art inspired by the North Cascades. Applications for spring/summer are due by Friday. Applications for fall are due by July 1. You can learn more at nps.gov/noca/supportyourpark/2013-artists.htm.
Artists of all mediums are encouraged to apply. For information about applying with Skagit Valley proposals, contact Bjorklund at 360-854-7303. Artists interested in applying for residencies in Lake Chelan National Recreation Area at Stehekin should call Mark Scherer at 360-854-7365, Ext 14.
December 2012: 16,912
December 2011: 20,166
Difference: -16.1 percent
2012 total: 1,049,178
2011 total: 1,038,228
Difference: 1.1 percent
The weather and a new mid-week road closure contributed to a decline of more than 15 percent in the number of recreation visits. The road from Longmire to Paradise is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the winter as the park deals with staff and fiscal issues. For the year, this was the second consecutive year the count failed to top 1.1 million visits. The 2012 count also was the second lowest in the past five years. The 2011 count was 1.03 million.
December 2012: 85,900
December 2011: 78,846
Difference: 8.9 percent
2012 total: 2,798,326
2011 total: 2,966,502
Difference: -5.7 percent
Despite the best December visitation total since 2009, the park saw a 5.7 percent decline in the total number of recreation visits in 2012. Helping boost December’s total, was an increase of nearly 10,000 visits to the Elwha District.
NATIONAL Park Service
December 2012: 12,952,129
December 2011: 12,960,541
Difference: -0.06 percent
2012 total: 287,278,322
2011 total: 278,939,216
Difference: 2.99 percentJeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure