A personal view of Mt. Rainier, climate change

The Olympian report, “Losing Paradise,” provided all who love Mount Rainier with a remarkable insight into the dramatic changes occurring in this magnificent national park. Our access to the park is also changing – and not for the better. In our family, the report has sparked conversations about our connections to The Mountain, and how we might respond.

We first moved to the park in 1966. I was a young national park ranger. Marty had never been west of our home state of North Carolina. The challenges of living in the park drew us together. The Mountain was a factor in forging the bonds of our marriage.

In 1968 we had our first child, Julia. We took her home to Paradise in a snowstorm. That summer, I put my infant daughter in a backpack carrier, and we three hiked to the Paradise Ice Caves. We were dazzled by the sapphire blue of the caverns.

In 1970, while we were stationed at Carbon River, our son Jack arrived. Soon we moved east, leaving the place that had profoundly shaped our lives.

In 1981, we returned, thanks to a job with the state Department of Natural Resources in Olympia. Our children, born near Mount Rainier, would live near the park. Through the years, our family explored the park whenever time allowed. We visited the park in all seasons, day hiking, backpacking, and skiing.

The Mountain is the thread that runs through the course of our lives. We’ve never lost that sense of awe, looking from tidewater to see the summit shining nearly three vertical miles into the sky.

The Olympian’s report confronts us with the stark nature of recent change. What of that access to wonder and beauty that we have so long enjoyed? The Paradise ice caves are no more. In recent years, Marty and I hiked to their former location. We were stunned. It’s not simply the ice caves that are gone. The entire basin that once contained half a square mile of glacial ice is now barren rock.

The Carbon River road to Ipsut Creek is closed, destroyed by the river. The Westside road is sadly truncated, the grand day hikes on the west side no longer within reach. Sunshine Point Campground is a fading memory, swallowed by the Nisqually River in November 2006.

Losing Paradise – the articles and photographs crystallize what we knew but chose to ignore. Park access is diminishing and threatened. The next big storm could cut the road to Paradise or Sunrise.

The question since reading the newspaper’s report has been: “What can we do?” Mourn the loss of access to the most precious place in our lives? Accept that the changes in the park are irreversible? We think not. We believe there are ways to work for positive change:

Volunteer: The 2006 storm was a disaster for the park, but also an opportunity. Public attention on the park elicited a wonderful response from many of us. But our attention span is short. Volunteer participation at Mount Rainier has declined. The park needs our help. There are a wide variety of opportunities for many different skills. Contact the park at nps.gov/mora to learn more. Step up.

Give money: Write a check to Washington’s National Park Fund. This non-profit raises private funds for Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades. The money supports projects that improve park science, assist park staff, support volunteers, and enrich the experiences of visitors. Reach the fund at wnpf.org.

Drive your support for parks: When you renew your tabs, purchase National Park license plates. Most of the extra cost of the handsome plates passes through to support the parks.

Finally: This is harder - engage our Congressional delegation about the need to address this existential threat to our treasured Mountain. Years of declining budgets have taken their toll. We must voice our support for adequate funding.

Climate change is an issue that has divided many along partisan lines. But “Losing Paradise” makes clear that the rate of change affecting The Mountain is unprecedented. We need to hold our elected officials accountable to honestly evaluate the best available science and work together to craft long-term policies to address the reality of changes already visible.

Our National Parks, it is said, are “Islands of Hope.” A fresh resolve to protect and care for this place we love can make our great Mountain a shining beacon of a better future for generations yet to come.