LONGMIRE, Wash. — Car access to Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park will be closed on weekdays this winter due to staffing challenges.
Mount Rainier National Park announced the changes on November 29, saying the public would only be able to access the Paradise area on Saturdays and Sundays for the 2022-23 winter season.
"It was definitely disappointing to hear because Paradise is an iconic winter destination in the Pacific Northwest," said Kyle McCrohan, the President of the Cascade Backcountry Alliance.
McCrohan said although he was disappointed in the news, he understands the staffing challenges the park is dealing with. He says it is important for the public to do what they can to help the park restore access to Paradise.
"I have a friend who is an EMT and she's volunteering at Paradise on the weekends to help ensure that there are EMTs on staff so that they can open the road to Paradise, said McCrohan.
The park will also not open sledding runs at Paradise this year, and winter camping at Paradise will only be available on Saturday nights. Sledding is not permitted in other parts of the park.
McCrohan said for many people, the weekday closures mean they will have zero access to Paradise this season.
"A lot of winter recreationists have unusual schedules," said McCrohan. "Maybe they're a nurse or they're a firefighter and they only have weekdays off. So for them, this essentially means they've lost all access.”
The park said it would revisit the Paradise access schedule if staffing levels change.
“The park did not make this decision lightly, but safety is at the forefront of everything we do,” Park Superintendent Greg Dudgeon said in a statement. “We believe these winter access changes are the safest choice for our staff and visitors during the winter season.”
Dudgeon said that they only have half the number of the normal road crew right now. They also have a shortage of search and rescue crews, EMS workers, and custodial staff. He said they have the funding, but can’t find people with the right skills. He even said he reached out to other national parks to see if they had staff they could spare, but none of them did.
Crews are expected to try to plow the 12-mile road to Paradise at a “minimum level” during the week to limit snow accumulation and make road access more attainable on weekends. This will allow park employees to access the area in case of emergencies, but it won’t be enough to allow the public to access Paradise safely during the week, the park said. Dudgeon said when they can fill the critical roles needed, they will reevaluate the closure. He does not plan for this to impact future winter seasons.
"We hope and plan to be able to get back to the kind of access, and making paradise available to people, as has been in the past," said Dudgeon.
McCrohan hopes access will be restored as well.
"Once access is lost, it is often hard to get it back," said McCrohan. "That’s definitely something we are worried about, but I do think there are a lot of ways to work with the national park to help that.”
Paradise is home to the national park’s main visitor center and is the primary winter-use location in the park, according to the park’s website.
The Longmire area is expected to remain open to cars seven days a week, including the National Park Inn and Longmire General Store.
Visitors on snowmobiles can access the east side of the park using State Route 410 and White River Road to the White River Campground. The Carbon River area in the northwest portion of the park is also open to parking after recent road repairs.
However, State Routes 410 and 123 are closed to cars at the northeast, east and southeast park boundaries, which blocks access to Sunrise.