Mud, mud go away
Flood-damaged Mt. Rainier National Park may expand to dodge repairs.
Stunt High Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains is full flora year-round. (Carlos Chavez / LAT)
The House of Representatives passed a bill last month that would add 800 acres on the northwest border of the park in Washington state, allowing a new access road to popular trails and moving a campground away from the rampaging Carbon River.
FOR THE RECORD: Mt. Rainier —A photograph of Mt. Rainier with an article about Mt. Rainier National Park in Tuesday's Outdoors section should not have been published because it was a digital composite of three images, and thus violated the ethical standards of The Times. The photo was mistakenly obtained from the Corbis photo agency's commercial archive, and was not intended for newspaper use. The article also said that Mt. Rainier National Park has the only day hike-accessible glacier in the lower 48 states. Day hikes to glaciers can be taken at other national parks.
The legislation is expected to move quickly through the Senate, where a key committee vote could occur by July 14. The Bush administration supports the Mt. Rainier expansion, its biggest in 70 years, as well as at Pinnacles National Monument near Salinas and Oregon's Fort Clatsop National Memorial.
At 14,410 feet, Mt. Rainier is the highest peak on the West Coast between Canada and the Sierra's Mt. Whitney and the centerpiece of a national park with the only day hike-accessible glacier in the 48 states.
"Mt. Rainier is a national treasure," says Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). "This expansion is critical to preserving the park's natural environment and improving access for visitors."
The National Parks Conservation Assn. estimates that the acquisition of private property would cost $4 million. The group says the land would not only benefit visitors but also protect habitat for spotted owls, marbled murrelets and salmon from development on the west slope of the Cascade Range near Tacoma.
It is also cheaper than continually fixing damage.
"We'll no longer have these consistent repairs after flooding," says Brooke Adams, spokeswoman for Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.), sponsor of the expansion bill.
An October storm ripped the northern Cascades and caused heavy damage over an area including Mt. Rainier. As the winter snowpack receded, land managers assessed the mess and began repairs — with little or no extra funding.
Hikers soon found that many of their favorite trails in the Cascades no longer existed.
"We lost a lot of our glacier stream crossings around the mountain," says Mt. Rainier trail crew foreman Carl Fabiani. Streams surging down the mountain tore out foot logs and even steel bridges, including a new one on the popular Comet Falls Trail. "That one's gone — we can't even find it," he says.
Recreation areas north of Mt. Rainier took even more damage.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which includes hiking hot spots such as the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and Glacier Peak, lost more than $4 million worth of trails and footbridges. To date, $100,000 has been allocated to replace them. Cabins adjacent to the forest's popular Kennedy Hot Springs were either swept away or buried in mud.
A 1,000-foot rockslide cut off the North Cascades Highway west of North Cascades National Park for months, and floods washed out trails and stripped one road to Stehekin, an isolated hamlet inside the park, to bedrock.
Flood repairs park-wide are expected to cost $3 million to $9 million, a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars Yosemite is spending to recover from a devastating flood in 1997. "If we don't get some help, some of these trails won't get fixed for years and years," says Terry DeGrow of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
The National Park Service faces an estimated $5-billion maintenance backlog nationwide. Although most parks have received funding increases in recent years, their budgets are strained by anti-terrorist security measures and cost-of-living increases.