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MRNP: Longmire to Paradise road closure, winter 2022-23

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19 Dec 2022 13:01 - 19 Dec 2022 13:07 #236146 by Lowell_Skoog
These are notes from a December 16, 2022 meeting (via Zoom) to discuss the weekday closure of the Longmire to Paradise road in the winter of 2022-23. I called in to the meeting by phone and took these notes. I thought it would be good for the outdoor community to better understand the rationale for the closure. My feeling is that the park (sadly) is probably doing the right thing, given the circumstances. Any editorial comments below are mine. Photo (circa 1960s) is for historical context. Read on…

Greg Dudgeon - Rainier NP Superintendent
Kevin Skerl - Rainier NP Deputy Superintendent
Betsy Roblee - The Mountaineers
Hillary Eisen - Winter Wildlands Alliance
Scott Schell - NW Avalanche Center
Jason Hummel - skier, photographer
Lowell Skoog - skier, writer, historian
Eddie Espinoza - American Alpine Club
Madelynn Scherrer Bolliger - Cascade Backcountry Alliance
... there may have been more (I didn't get all the names) ...

My notes:
This meeting was organized to discuss the recent decision by Rainer NP to close the road from Longmire to Paradise on weekdays through the winter of 2022-23.

I was the first person to speak, summarizing the history of winter access to Paradise.

Greg hopes the 2022-23 winter is a "one-off" and they won't have to close the road during weekdays next year. He appreciates the uniqueness of Paradise, but it presents unique challenges.

Scott says we're lucky this year to have low elevation snow, so Paradise is not as critical for skiers/etc as in some years.

Kevin: He has posted FAQs online about the closure. UPDATE: Here's a link to the FAQs:

Betsy says the public is hungry to understand the details of the decision

Greg says the closure boils down to a recruitment and staffing issue
- They have one-half the desired road crew at present
- It is hard to recruit workers, and there's a shortage of qualified drivers/workers
- They've been unable to fill vacancies
- But the issue is broader than just the road crew
- There’s a shortage of rangers, emergency medical services, and custodial help
- They hope to be back to more normal next winter
- It's not a funding issue. It's about recruitment of key vacancies
- They have to decide what can the park provide with their existing staff
- Do they have sufficient coverage?
- They decided to focus their limited resources on the weekends
- Rainier NP is open with the exception of the Paradise road
- They want to ensure this is a "one-off" year
- In years past the day road crew was as large as 14. In more recent times around 10. Now the crew is only 5-ish.
- A few additional staff at this point would only bolster their weekend operations, not enable weekday openings
- They've realized that their current crew is a skeleton crew even at reduced opening levels

Betsy asked about the process leading up to the current closures. Greg's reply:
- They did anticipate staffing issues
- They tried to borrow staff from other parks
- All the parks are short on staff
- In November, they realized there was "no cavalry" on the horizon
- At that time they started a daily Twitter thread announcing predicted and actual openings
- Eventually they realized the Twitter thread was just "Kabuki Theatre" and decided to bite the bullet
- They decided on the weekday closure, but are not happy about it
- "We hoped to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but there was no rabbit"

- They're at about 100+ staff now
- That is down 20+ positions
- Candidates are turning down jobs. There is no affordable housing.
- They've added a remote worker to their leadership team
- They can't do hands-on jobs using remote workers

- They have a new leadership team member working remotely from Boston (of all places)
- They are meeting with folks from JBLM to see if any of them are interested (and a good fit)
- Rainier NP requires special equipment to clear very old roads and bridges
- They have winter housing available but not much for year-round workers
- Greg himself commutes 80 miles round-trip to the park every day
- Affordability is a problem for year-round staff. It's better for seasonal employees

Hillary asks:
- What do you hope to be different next year?
- How can we help?

- The road crew is the most challenging staffing problem
- Crew members need a commercial driver license (CDL)
- "None of us feel good" about the current situation
- He notes that the Carbon River entrance is open
- White River entrance is also open (but a long approach)
- The park is not "closed"
- They can use help to communicate what is available and what they need
- They have enough volunteers at present. They don't need more
- They're grateful to maintain weekend access this winter
- There is no Plan B at present

Notes by Lowell Skoog, 12/18/2022

Last edit: 19 Dec 2022 13:07 by Lowell_Skoog.
The following user(s) said Thank You: kamtron, Micah

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