The road from Longmire to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park will be open daily, starting Saturday, as long as the weather and park visitors cooperate.
The road has been closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays since Nov. 12.
But after criticism of such a schedule last winter, park managers will try to maintain daily access to the park’s most popular winter destination. There is a sledding area, snowshoeing, snow camping, skiing, snowboarding and a visitor center at Paradise.
The plan calls for the road to be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the uphill gate closing at 4 p.m. to allow time for visitors and staff to exit safely. People visiting Paradise should leave no later than 4:30 p.m. to give themselves enough time to safely drive down to Longmire, and sooner if road conditions are not optimal.
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As is the case each winter, the timing of the gate opening will depend on road and avalanche conditions.
Where the change is being made, and this is where visitors are being counted on to help, is the 5 p.m. closure.
“Maintaining fixed hours through the winter use season is intended to maximize public access to Paradise, while managing costs for snow plows and ranger staffs,” superintendent Randy King said. “To sustain seven day a week access to Paradise it will be important for visitors to heed gate closure times.”
Because of budget cuts in recent years and with more uncertainty as the next funding deadline approaches next month, King said the park needs to control its expenses. The park is hiring an additional ranger and one or two equipment operators to maintain the seven-day access, he said.
“It’s not a matter of swinging open the gate and telling people go have fun. If we have to keep rangers and plow operators on into the evening, that drives our costs way up. We can’t afford that at this time,” King said.
“Each instance of overtime required for handling after-closure issues will impact services available in summer. If set daily hours prove ineffective, or the park’s budget and staffing picture is worse than anticipated, midweek closures or other actions might be necessary at Paradise,” King said.