MRNP Nisqually Corridor Planning

  • Gary Vogt
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14 Aug 2020 11:10 - 14 Aug 2020 11:34 #233892 by Gary Vogt
MRNP Nisqually Corridor Planning was created by Gary Vogt
Mount Rainier National Park is soliciting input on future access:

They seem to be focused on summer crowding, but I think this has the potential to eventually affect more than just summer skiing at Paradise.  Almost fifty years in Ashford has taught me that the NPS doesn’t jump thru the public input hoops until they think they have the answer.  I hope everyone who cares about this magical place takes the time to comment, whatever your opinions on quotas, reservations, etc.   My opinions below mostly apply to the potential consequences of banning private vehicles in favor of mass transit, an idea popular in the SeaTimes comments.

1)  It's important to keep in mind that this problem, while real and growing worse, is mostly on sunny weekends for a few months each summer, according to the press release.  I wonder how much of the entrance backups are from hikers who would normally ride together bringing separate vehicles because of the pandemic.

2)  Planning needs to more closely consider the entire park, not just the Nisqually corridor.  Squeezing a full balloon only makes it bulge somewhere else.  There is currently "metered entry" (with up to 90-minute waits) for Sunrise when parking is full, displacing considerable visitation to fragile Tipsoo Lake.

I've noticed expanding trampling at Reflection, Bench, and Snow Lakes at the west end of Stevens Canyon Road since intermittent metered entry was introduced for Paradise a few years ago.  Social media posts suggest that Mowich Lake, the Rainier destination closest to Seattle, is undergoing similar crowding and damage, despite a 16-mile washboard gravel access road.  Mowich has no entrance station and the eastern quarter or so of the park is ouside the entrance stations at White River and Stevens Canyon, complicating visitation management.  Park staff (and housing) at Mowich, White River/Sunrise and Ohanapecosh combined is a small fraction of the resources in the Nisqually corridor and would probably have to be increased considerably if private vehicles are restricted on the Paradise road.

3)  Paradise has a summertime 'back door', the Stevens Canyon entrance, which would greatly complicate any quotas, vehicle closures or mass transit plans.  Perhaps the most common summer daytrip itinerary is WA locals showing 'The Mountain' to visiting family or friends by entering at White River / Sunrise for the morning light, using the Stevens Canyon Road to visit Paradise and exiting via Nisqually Entrance to return to Pugetopolis.

4)  The logistics and cost of a Nisqually Corridor mass-transit system seem pretty formidable, even if Stevens Canyon Road became a private vehicle dead-end.  Banning private vehicles would seem to imply locking gates at night and and hiring more law enforcement personnel.  Those who can afford in-park lodging, a two-thousand dollar guided summit climb, or win a battle with the bots for a campground reservation, would probably still have the use of their vehicles and what amounts to head of the line privileges.    

5)  My guess is that the total number of parking spaces at Paradise, Longmire and turnouts along the Nisqually corridor is about three thousand average-sized vehicles.  Adding twenty miles of paved road with a traveling density of a hundred cars per mile suggests that the maximum capacity of the corridor is roughly five thousand private vehicles.

6)  A mile-long (sometimes twice that) backup at Nisqually Entrance probably exceeds 250 vehicles, call it 500 visitors per hour to be conservative.   It would be almost an hour bus trip to Paradise one-way, with loading, unloading and intermediate stops.  So about fifteen buses (per hour) might be needed for part of the day at the bottom end to haul visitors without separating families.   

With sudden weather changes or many people waiting until closing time to leave, there would be asymmetric demand at various locations.  Dozens of buses might be needed to clear large Paradise crowds before midnight, if it's light until 10pm.   Even if budgets allowed the visitor center hours to be extended and staffed, it is not really suitable to shelter hundreds of visitors, perhaps with wet, tired children, strollers, or just big packs, all waiting for buses perhaps delayed by a storm-caused rockslide on Glacier Hill, for example. 

I'm not convinced the Zion / Yosemite model where you can get off at any stop and catch a later bus would work here.  What if most only wanted to go to Paradise and there were few empty seats on following buses? Or folks at intermediate trailheads when downhill buses were full?

NW Trek, a local wildlife park, has stopped using it's trams and now runs visitor vehicle convoys with podcasts.
7)  A parking lot at the start of a mass transit system would need at least one acre for each 200 cars, more for amenities like handicap access lanes, restrooms, and covered loading areas. so 50 acres might be needed for 5000 vehicles.  Toss in another ten acres for a huge septic system and perimeter security patrol road.  The only place inside the park with that much cleared flat ground would be Kautz Creek utility area, currently a dump and helicopter base.  This location would do little or nothing to improve backups three miles below at the entrance, and would squeeze the Westside Road balloon.  

A mass-transit terminal outside the park would harm businesses between that location and the entrance.  How big a bus barn would be needed to clean, fuel, service and store dozens of buses, and where would it be located?  How many hundreds of millions of dollars should be spent on a seasonal problem?

8 )  NPS press releases talk a lot about "the visitor experience."  I was fortuate enough to spend thousands of days in this park, most of them on skis.  A private vehicle allows multiple equipment options to match changed conditions and goals.  When I first saw Paradise in 1973, I thought it had the best terrain I'd ever seen for an adventurous nordic skier - great tree skiing for stormy days, mile-long schusses above timberline, and day-trip glacier skiing.  The early decades had no closing times enforced, so some of my best memories are of sunsets and moonlight skiing.  Guess I have to be content with the park Twitter feed pics and the hope future generations can have such experiences.  

Now that I'm a geezer who can barely hike, let alone turn, I sometimes like to park at obscure turnouts at odd hours and check out animal paths to the river. It's important to me to stay spontaneous and free to change plans with changing conditions.  My park experience would not be improved by being crammed onto a canned tour with folks packing coolers, strollers, crying kids, and coughing uncles, wondering why is the bus so dirty and why aren't there more restroom stops... 

9)  Reservation systems also have big downsides, chiefly additional fees, scalping, hacking, and bots, but at least they're not a full-time solution for a part-time problem.   Reservations would be far quicker and cheaper to implement and more flexible to change or expand.  I'd like to see something like 25% of weekend and holiday daily vehicle capacity remain first come, first served, with three quarters of capacity reservable during the busy season.  Summer weekdays and other seasons could be the reverse, with some capacity reservable, but most first-come, first served. 

The main expenses would be accurate real-time counting of both entries and exits (maybe even turnaways) at all entrance stations, perhaps even intermediate points.  Also critical would be improved communications & computer networks between stations and many more programmable highway signs farther from the park on all access routes.  This would require additional IT and entrance staff.  Probably couldn't hurt to add additional entry lanes.

The greatest difficulty would probably be in finding the political will to set a vehicle quota, then say 'Enough, we're full for today.'

10)  The quickest improvement of all would be to bar commercial tour buses on weekends and holidays, maybe large motorhomes and travel trailers, as well.
Last edit: 14 Aug 2020 11:34 by Gary Vogt.
The following user(s) said Thank You: PS44, Skier of the Hood, Tex85

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  • Skier of the Hood
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17 Aug 2020 10:56 - 17 Aug 2020 11:03 #233895 by Skier of the Hood
Replied by Skier of the Hood on topic MRNP Nisqually Corridor Planning
I think there is some potential for good here, but based on MRNP management performance in the past I suspect this will be bungled as per the points you laid out. My personal belief is that access to the outdoors is currently extremely inequitable with additional hoops such as permits, online campground reservations, and now some transit scheme only making it more so. 95% of people who visit our national forests and parks are white, tend to be male ( ) and skew heavily to higher income brackets ( ). 

I will comment on the NPS plan, but as you say when the park puts out comment their minds are generally already made up. If you want real alteration to the plan we would need to get our congressmen/women/senators to lean on them. With the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act you may find your congress/senators more receptive to input then has previously been the case. Although I think it is worth pointing out that us skiers are such a small group and are typically incapable of mobilizing in any real way compared to our fellow wintersports brethren (cross-country, snowmobiles). I think there would be more hope for change by lobbying existing groups (mountaineers, winter wildlands alliance, ect.) to join the cause then by leveraging the backcountry ski community.

As for the good that could come of this, I hear you on transit bypassing the small towns being a problem. However, transit originating in urban centers with programs allowing for subsidized (or better yet free) for low income folks would be an enormous step in facilitating equitable access to the mountain.  
Last edit: 17 Aug 2020 11:03 by Skier of the Hood.

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11 Sep 2020 16:18 #233903 by Micah
Replied by Micah on topic MRNP Nisqually Corridor Planning
I just commented. I agree with everything Gary said (lots of good observations in his post). Having said that, the access model where everyone drives their own vehicle is no good, and I still support some kind of collective transportation, like Skier of the Hood said. I can imagine a million nightmare scenarios where a centrally managed transportation system leads to inconvenience and worse. But the status quo robs much joy from visiting the big R. I just don't feel good driving all that way to join a line of marching ants. I know I should be thankful that all that use is concentrated between Camp Muir and Paradise instead of trampling the less-travelled areas, but it just doesn't make me feel good to contribute to such high population densities. Especially when I'm driving a few hundred solo miles to do so. Not sure a better transportation system would change that much. )-:

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