Outdoors

Mount Rainier volunteer programs sees decline

Continuing budgets woes, a peak in enthusiasm and the government shutdown are three reasons cited for the volunteer program at Mount Rainier National Park slipping in the past fiscal year.

According to the park’s volunteer program’s annual report, 1,693 volunteers worked 57,336 hours in the park from Oct. 1, 2013-Sept. 30.

With the park and partner organizations facing budget woes, there have been fewer long-term volunteers and interns to lead work parties, said Kevin Bacher, who manages the park’s volunteer program.

Bacher also feels the urgency and excitement that infused the volunteer program following the November 2006 flood has begun to ebb.

The shutdown at the start of the fiscal year also cost the park a hundreds of hours of volunteer time. Bacher said a large group that comes every year in early October to do revegetation work had to cancel because the park was closed.

While the decline in numbers is disconcerting, the effort made those who did volunteer provides an important benefit to the park. The value of that time to the park, based on Independent Sector’s value of $22.55 per volunteer hour, is about $1.3 million.

“As budgets have grown leaner, volunteers are an increasingly vital part of our operation,” Bacher said. “They’ve always been invaluable as partners with us in protecting the park and serving its visitors, and now more than ever.”

Moving ahead, Bacher said working with existing partners such as Washington Trails Association, Student Conservation Association, Scout troops, University of Washington Tacoma, The Evergreen State College and Starbucks will be crucial to the program’s ongoing success.

The WTA, for example, coordinated the efforts of 375 volunteers who put in 4,794 hours of work on trails around the park.

“We’re already building strategies to apply whatever resources we have next year to hiring crew leaders who can expand our volunteer capacity where it’s most needed,” Bacher said. “For example, working with visitors and better protecting the fragile meadows at Paradise and Sunrise.”

OLYMPIC ROAD REOPENS

The Olympic Hot Springs Road is open again after a three-year closure because of the Glines Canyon Dam removal.

The road is open to the Boulder Creek Trailhead, which provides hikers access to Olympic Hot Springs Trail.

“Access to the Glines Canyon overlook and former Lake Mills will continue to be available only from the Whiskey Bend Road,” Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in a statement. “Additional work needs to be done before we can safely open the viewpoint and old boat launch, so while the Olympic Hot Springs Road itself is open, the parking area at Glines Canyon is closed.”

The park expects these areas to open in late spring 2015.

Visitors are asked to consult current trail conditions before attempting the Olympic Hot Springs Trail. Visit the park website at www.nps.gov/olym, or call or visit the Wilderness Information Center at 360-565-3100.

EXPLORE ROCKPORT PARK

This winter, visitors will be able to take guided hikes through the old-growth forest at Rockport State Park.

The “Deep Forest Experience” hikes take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Fridays-Sundays from Dec. 5 through Feb. 15. People interested in joining a hike should check at the park office.

The hikes vary in distance and time, from 30 minutes to one hour or more, and can be customized depending on the interest of participants. The park offers an ADA-accessible trail.

The 670-acre park protects an old-growth forest of ancient cedar, fir, hemlock and maple trees. Some of the Douglas firs are 250 feet tall and more than 300 years old.

The park is located just off the North Cascades Highway (state Route 20), just west of Rockport.

Following the hikes, visitors can participate in activities in the park’s Discovery Center, which also has interactive wildlife displays, books and games.

Visitors will need a Discover Pass for vehicle access and parking. The $10 day or $30 annual pass can be purchased at the park.

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