Undiscovered water leak keeps Jackson visitor center closed at Mount Rainier

A major water leak, the location of which has yet to be discovered, will keep the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park closed until repairs can be made.

Park managers Friday closed the visitor center, at the park’s most visited area, for the weekend because there was no water to run the boiler system that heats the building. The center is open only weekends and holidays at this time of year.

“It’s somewhere in the distribution lines,” said James Minor, the park’s chief of maintenance. “They really thought they would find it over the weekend, but they haven’t.”

Had the heating system not relied on water, potable water for human use could have been trucked in and the center allowed to stay open. But without heat, and temperatures there dropping into the 30s, the center had to be closed. The nearby Paradise Inn is already closed for the season.

On Wednesday, crews discovered that 100,000 gallons from the Paradise water system had leaked out. But because heavy rains had fallen in the area, the ground in the area was wet and the leak went undetected, Minor said.

“The thought was they could find something that big quickly, but they haven’t been able to,” he said Monday morning.

To accommodate people visiting the Paradise area, the park has installed a number of portable toilets near the Guide Service Building. There also are restrooms at Narada Falls and Longmire.

Once the leak is discovered, it still might take some time before the system is operating again. Because some of the pipes are so old, they might contain asbestos. If that’s the case, a contractor would have to be called in to remove the material and aged pipe, Minor said.

It will also take a day to test the water before it can be used for human consumption.

Minor said the park would not have a time line as to when the center will reopen until the leak is discovered and the situation assessed.

The National Park Inn and General Store at Longmire remain open, providing food, lodging and gear rentals.