Make your voice heard to improve visitor experience and protect wildlife corridors in Mount Rainier National Park
Conservation Northwest / Sep 10, 2021 / Action Alert, Cascades to Olympics
WILD NW Action Alert #323: Through September 14, submit feedback on preliminary strategies to address visitor congestion and protect Mount Rainier National Park’s natural beauty, wildlife and cultural identity.
The National Park Service (NPS) is again seeking public comment to guide the Nisqually Corridor Management Plan at Mount Rainier National Park. The plan is now in its second phase and the National Park Service is asking for feedback from the public on proposed strategies to address key issues concerning visitation experience and protection of park natural and cultural resources.
Scroll down for suggested comments developed by our conservation staff. Comments can be copied and submitted on the Park’s planning webpage. Please customize your comments if possible!
The Nisqually Corridor is a popular year-round transportation corridor in the southwestern section of the park on Paradise Road, starting at the Nisqually Entrance near Ashford, Washington, and ending at Paradise. The roads along the Nisqually Corridor are significant cultural and historic resources and lie within the Mount Rainier National Historic Landmark District. Surrounding the road corridor are remarkable natural resources and vast areas of federally-designated Wilderness.
This updated plan is intended to address issues related to visitor experience and resource protection throughout this corridor. It’s also a piece of the larger habitat network we are working to maintain, restore, and connect through our Cascades to Olympics Program. Species including fisher, recently-returning wolverine, elk, Cascade red fox and hopefully wolves in the future frequently move through this landscape.
These preliminary strategies were drafted by the Park from public input last fall (you can view our initial feedback here). The proposed strategies will consider key issues related to visitor experiences, natural and cultural resource protection, and vehicular crowding and congestion along the historic road from the Nisqually Entrance Station to Paradise. The planning process will provide recommendations for supporting high-quality public access to this area of the park while providing protection for natural and cultural resources and decades of positive visitor experiences.
Now is the time to add your voice as the Park looks for feedback on each strategy:
- Reservations and Timed Entry: A reservation system to enter the park at Nisqually, or another timed-entry system used for specific parking or recreation areas in the Park.
- Trip planning: This strategy would increase visitor information and its accessibility including trip planning tools on the Park’s website, app and social media.
- Winter use: Expanding the Cougar Rock camping season and opening the road from Longmire to Cougar Rock when the road to Paradise is closed might help disperse visitation more evenly.
- Paradise: Improve signage to better communicate hiking information, repurpose portions of picnic areas for additional parking, and designate sections of parking for either day-use or overnight use might help reduce congestion around the area.
- Cougar Rock Picnic Area: This underutilized area could be repurposed for additional parking, more camping sites, an additional trailhead for the Wonderland Trail, or a potential parking location for a shuttle.
- Westside Road: This road has had very limited access since 1989. If this road had more safe and consistent accessibility, there could be more visitation dispersal across the park.
- Shuttle Service: To reduce traffic, public shuttles could transport park visitors from Cougar Rock to Paradise, or along shorter circuits around the Paradise parking lots, picnic areas and visitor center.
We support the Mount Rainier National Park Planning Team’s willingness to engage stakeholders during the entire planning process. We also support commonsense solutions that do not include more roads and excessive in-park development. We encourage you to get involved early and help plan the future of an iconic mountain and world-famous national park.
Please copy and paste our comments or create your own and paste them into the online submission form @ The Mount Rainier Nisqually to Paradise Civic Engagement: Summer 2021.
Suggested Comments on Visitor Use Management Plan for the Nisqually to Paradise Road Corridor
1. What questions do you have about these ideas (reservations, trip planning, shuttles, etc.)? Please share them so we can address these questions in the next phase of analysis!
- Reservations: Are there plans to make the reservation system accessible to all? Would these supersede or replace camping reservations? Will people be able to reserve numerous days/locations at once? How will the process be made equitable for people without easy access to the internet? Will there be limits on how many reservations a person can make in a day, week, or even year? What outreach and education will be available to support new users to the reservation system?
- Trip Planning: Are there plans to create a call-in option or physical material (brochure, pamphlet, added in the Mount Rainier map material at entry) that can be handed out at libraries and the park that help to educate people about the app and tools? Can this strategy also offer guidelines on trip planning (when, where, peak times, etc)?
- Winter use: Have there been any inquiries about what wildlife might be using the park in those areas during winter months? What impact does human presence have on wildlife in the park during the winter? Would offering off-season camping at low-land campgrounds give more visitation opportunities outside of peak visitation times?
- Paradise Parking Area: Are there plans to create parking spots with different time limits (i.e. 1 hour, 2-3, 4-6, 7-8)? Could the Park implement reservations for anything over 2 hours, to limit how long folks use any given spot? Are there plans to cap visitor group sizes, unless they make a large group reservation?
- Cougar Rock Picnic Area: Can a new camping area be built specifically for RVs? Can existing RV camping be moved out of the original cougar rock campground into the new one? The proximity to a newly built parking area could mean that the new area is more equipped for RVs and could have better access built into it. Moving RVs to the new location and making the old campground tent only would improve tent camper overall experience. Are there plans to add sites beyond the group sites at Cougar Rock? Could adding more group sites of varying sizes also improve congestion?
- Westside Road: If there is a way open and expand access, would offering a reservation only experience for small groups of people could make the experience more personal and interesting?
- Shuttle Service: As a means to limit vehicles in the park, could there be a parking lot in Ashford–where folks can pick up a shuttle and enter into the park at a reduced fee? Could adding another entrance booth (or two) at the main entry could allow for shuttles and pass holders to get on the mountain much faster and ease delays? Can a shuttle-only parking lot be built just inside or outside the entrance booths? Can additional parking and shuttle stops be added to areas like Longmire where the park may want to expand parking areas and include a well-established shuttle stop? Will a recorded tour play during the shuttle? Will there be fee or reservation discounts for those who use the shuttle? Will there be exclusive parking and pick up locations for the shuttle?
2. How would these ideas (reservations, trip planning, shuttles, etc.) influence your visit to Mount Rainier? (Please answer on your own!)
3. What information do you think the planning team should consider when analyzing these strategies? The planning team should reduce any barriers to visitor accessibility that each strategy might pose. The team should also consider the potential impacts on wildlife and natural landscapes of each strategy. Over the last three decades we have seen more RVs, day trippers and international travelers. Currently, few low-income families and individuals have the means to access camping and hiking on the mountain. Any action taken must compensate for this uneven disruption of public land. The Park should also consider the relationship between human presence and wildlife when analyzing each strategy. What strategies would negatively or positively impact wildlife for the sake of better experience for visitors?
4. What tools do you use to help plan your trip to Mount Rainier? How could these tools be improved, and where should this information be provided? Trip planning tools and information should be online, have a call-in option and be included in Mt. Rainier handout material when visitors enter the park. There should be brochures/pamphlets in hotels, airports and libraries as well.
5. Based on your desired experiences at Mount Rainier, which combination of these ideas do you think best achieve the purpose of the plan? Which do not, and why? It will require a hybrid of many or all strategic options and some that are not even listed to make park visitation sustainable for the next 50 years.
6. Are there other ideas that should be considered and analyzed that are not already presented? What is missing, and why should it be considered? Another idea that should be considered is adding a campground near the entrance that has campsites, parking, and a shuttle stop. Although this does require some development, it will be re-establishing a historical campground (Sunshine Point) and could give the park an edge with visitation over the next 50 years. Perhaps it is within a 1/8 mile of the entrance or maybe it is located near Longmire where there is already development that needs to be removed. Adding 35 sites, plus 35 parking spots and a shuttle stop could help stagger attendance at higher elevation locations and offer more opportunities to recreate. Lastly, placing signage that represents multiple languages in and around Paradise informing visitors to not crush or trample the meadows could go a long way for protecting the landscape while also being more inclusive.
Thank you for the opportunity to offer comments again on such an important process. Mount Rainier National Park should be managed sustainably so it remains an iconic destination for future generations. Conservation Northwest supports a Mount Rainier Nisqually-Paradise Corridor plan that improves the park experience for visitors, while not diminishing the park’s naturalness, habitat, and wildlife. Therefore, we do not support a plan with new roads and large anthropocentric infrastructure to address current congestion issues. However, we can support modest development in the form of campgrounds, trails, parking lots and RV services designed with the ecology and adaptive potential of the park’s wildlife in mind. With species like wolverine returning to the park and the potential of other extirpated species like wolf returning in the future, planners should be seeking to improve and increase habitat, not limit or fragment it. Functional and well-connected habitat also supports flora and fauna’s ability to adapt to climate change—which is going to increasingly affect the park’s landscape and wildlife. It is clear restoring, protecting, and maintaining the park’s natural integrity should be a top priority of any solution implemented.