by Bruce A. Smith
As part of a nationwide program of periodically waiving entrance fees at national parks, Mount Rainier National Park will be free to all this weekend, the three days of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
These three free days are part of a larger program of waiving entrance fees for another eleven days sprinkled throughout the year, including Veterans Day weekend, November 10-12.
However, all other usual fees, such as concessions, food, snowshoe rentals, etc, will remain.
Normally, the entrance fee to Mount Rainier National Park is $15 per vehicle, and an annual pass costs $30.
At this time of year, the big attraction is the Snow Play area at Paradise. However, snow pack levels are below normal and sledding will limited at Paradise this weekend.
Park officials say that only five and a half feet of snow is on the ground at Paradise and that means plenty of young saplings are still sticking up through the snow, which leaves them vulnerable to damage from sledders and hikers. Usually, the park rangers like to see at least six-foot of snow before they open the entire Snow Play area. As a result, the “kiddie” area will not be open and only the steeper main run will be used.
Snow accumulation is hard to predict, and this winter got off to a great start with a three-feet accumulation early in the season. But a prolonged dry spell in December, along with our current dearth of precipitation, has resulted in the limited snow depth.
Nevertheless, the snow may come during the remainder of the winter, and park officials are eager to remind visitors that last year Paradise still had 19-feet of snow July 1, and nearby Crystal Mountain Ski Area was running its lifts through the July 4th weekend.
Those coming to play in the snow are encouraged to try the staff-led group snow shoe hikes, which last about two-hours. Costs are nominal, and those snow shoers who wish to continue on their own will need to rent gear from concessionaires at Paradise, Longmire, or down in Ashford at Whitakers. Rentals are about $10 per day per person.
Mount Rainier National Park is also tightening up its regulations on tire chains. Although the park has a long-establish rule that all vehicles carry tire chains – even those with four-wheel drive and snow tires – it has been over-looked. This year Mount Rainier officials are enforcing the requirement more vigorously.
“It has made a real difference,” said Donna Rahier of the Superintendent’s office. “It is reducing the number of fender benders.
Ms. Rahier said that in recent years park officials had noticed an increase in motorists having trouble descending from Paradise in the latter part of the day, and the road way which had been passable earlier during the warmer hours became icy and problematic, resulting in spin out and accidents.
A tow out of a ditch can be costly too, with rates being $300 per incident, usually.
“The tow trucks have to come all the way from Eatonville, so it’s costly,” said Ms. Rahier. “The requirement for chains is really for the benefit and safety of the visitors.”
For the unprepared, chains are available for purchase at the Longmire gift shop.
For the latest in weather on The Mountain, road conditions and to view the web cams, click on our link to the NPS sites:
Below is the announcement from Mount Rainier:
FREE ADMISSION TO ALL NATIONAL PARKS JANUARY 14-16 COMMEMORATING DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY
Mount Rainier National Park will be offering free entry during the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, January 14-16. This is the first of 14 fee free days in 2012:
– Martin Luther King holiday weekend, January 14-16
– National Park Week, April 21-29
– Get Outdoors Day, June 9
– National Public Lands Day, September 29
– Veterans Day holiday weekend, November 10-12.
Superintendent Randy King invites the public to the park to enjoy the peaceful beauty that nature provides every day at “The Mountain”, to cross-country ski, snowshoe, play on the inner tube runs, snow board or just to sit, relax and enjoy nature.
The Paradise Snow Play area will be open, with limited runs until the additional snow accumulates.
Ranger-led snowshoe walks will be offered daily during the weekend at Paradise. Walks start at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. and cover approximately 1.5 miles in 2 hours. Walks are limited to 25 people, eight years old or older, on a first-come, first-served basis. A sign-up sheet is available at the Jackson Visitor Center information desk one hour before each walk.
All snowshoe walk participants must be present at sign-up. Snowshoes are provided by the park only for those attending the ranger-guided snowshoe walks, and only for the duration of the walk. A donation of $4.00 per person is asked to help defray the cost of snowshoe maintenance. Additionally, the park concessionaire rents snowshoes to anyone wishing to snowshoe in the park; check at the Longmire General Store or the Jackson Visitor Center for availability and rental rates. Or you may use your own snowshoes.
For an enjoyable snowshoe walk, you will need warm clothing and coat, hat, mittens, suitable boots (you will sink into the snow even wearing snowshoes), sunscreen, and sunglasses.
Organized Groups: Snowshoe walks are available to organized groups of up to 25 people by reservation only. Group snowshoe walks begin at 10:30 a.m. on the days that snowshoe walks are offered to the general public (see above). For more information, or to make reservations for a group snowshoe walk, call (360) 569-6575 or visit the Longmire Museum or Jackson Visitor Center.
Winter Travel Tips: Make sure you’re properly equipped for winter weather and travel before leaving home:
Chain Requirements: All vehicles are required to carry tire chains when traveling in the park during the winter season (Nov 1 – May 1). This requirement applies to all vehicles including four-wheel drive, regardless of tire type or weather conditions.
Travel with a full tank of gas and bring extra food and fuel for your car in case you have to stay out an extra night. Gas is not available in the park.
Designate a contact person who knows when to expect you to return home.
Food, Lodging, Gifts: The National Park Inn is open daily throughout the winter offering overnight lodging, dining room and gift shop. For reservations call 360-569-2400 or visit their web site at www.mtrainierguestservices.com.
At Paradise, the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center will be open during the three-day weekend providing visitor information, food, and gift shop. For additional information visit the park’s web site at www.nps.gov/mora or call 360-569-2211.
Accommodations, food and gifts are also available in the gateway communities surrounding the park. Websites for additional information are: www.visitrainier.com, www.mt-rainier.com, www.staycrystal.com, www.destinationpackwood.com, or www.minerallake.com.
Photo gallery of Mount Rainier in winter. All photographs by Bruce A. Smith