Wednesday, November 21, 2012

So much for accountability.  I wrote a letter to the West Regional Director outlining specific details where the Hurricane Ridge decision is contrary to National Park Service policy.  I got back a generic press release, amazingly similar to the response to Summer's letter to the editor.

Here is my orignal letter:

Christine Lehnertz, Regional Director
National Park Service
333 Bush Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94104-2828

Dear Ms. Lehnertz,

As Sarah Creachbaum becomes the new Superintendent of Olympic National Park, I would like to bring to your attention to an ongoing issue at ONP: winter access to Hurricane Ridge. 

It is troubling to the local community that there is a set of standards that seemingly apply only to Hurricane Ridge: For example: cost per visitor justification; safety; and road crew hours.  

Support for increased winter access to Hurricane Ridge permeates both the spirit and the letter of National Park policy as stated in NPS Management Policies, Director’s Orders, and the ONP superintendent’s compendium. The park has an obligation to provide opportunities for winter recreation and provide adequate funding to do so.

Excerpts from NPS policies contradict current Hurricane Ridge management, and support many of the suggested solutions to increased winter access.  NPS policy:

·         Clarifies that winter recreation is an appropriate use within Parks in general and Olympic in particular due to the mention of winter use in the founding documents, annexation of Deer Park, and the current GMP.  8.1.1, 8.2.2

·         Further emphasizes that park managers must provide visitors from all walks of life the opportunity for meaningful educational and recreational experiences-experiences that inspire and lead to visitor enjoyment and a greater sense of resource stewardship. (Introduction)

·         Establishes recreation as a park value that should not be impaired without careful consideration. 1.4.4, 1.4.6.  Four days a week road closure impairs that value.

·         Defines an unacceptable impact as one that diminishes opportunities for current or future generations to enjoy, learn about, or be inspired by park resources or values; and unreasonably interferes with an appropriate use.

·         Ensures that there are adequate funds and staff to conserve and protect the resources (including recreation) for which parks are responsible and provide for the enjoyment of the same.

·         The Park has an obligation to support the federal policy of actively promoting the health and personal fitness of the general public. 1.5

Restrictions on appropriate uses should be minimal:

·         Restrictions placed on recreational uses that have otherwise been found to be appropriate will be limited to the minimum necessary to protect park resources and values, and promote visitor safety and enjoyment. Any restriction of appropriate recreational use will be limited to what is necessary to protect park resources and values, to promote visitor safety and enjoyment, or to meet park management needs.  8.2.2

·         Any closures or restrictions-other than those imposed by law-must be consistent with applicable laws, regulations, and policies, and require a written determination by the superintendent that such measures are needed to protect public health and safety; and prevent unacceptable impacts to park resources or values.

·         Any restrictions imposed will be fully explained to visitors and the public.  Visitors will be given appropriate information on how to keep adverse impacts to a minimum and how to enjoy the safe and lawful use of the parks.

Arbitrarily closing 4 days a week regardless of weather does not meet the standard of closing for visitor safety.  Last year there were over 60 days that the road was closed during the 7 month winter period despite clear roads and no drifting or avalanche threat.

·         Park visitors must assume a substantial degree of risk and responsibility for their own safety when visiting areas that are managed and maintained as natural, cultural, or recreational environments. 8.2.5

·         NPS superintendents will use their discretion to determine the level of program resources and the types of programs needed to manage visitor risk within their park unit.  This will depend on the resources, values, park-specific mission, the feasibility of various program levels, activities offered at the park, the nature of the park visits, the degree of risks to visitors at the park, and the history of visitor injury in the park.   DO 50C 4.1

·         The Service will work cooperatively with other federal, tribal, state, and local agencies; organizations, and individuals to carry out the responsibility to provide a safe and healthful environment. 8.2.5

Off Peak use should be encouraged to alleviate congestion, which is a problem at Hurricane:

·         Encourage visitor use of lesser-known parks and underutilized areas; use during non-peak seasons, days of the week, and times of the day; and visitation to related sites beyond park boundaries, as appropriate, to enhance overall visitor experiences and protection of resources. Director’s Order #17 4.7

Partnerships with local entities are strongly encouraged:

·         Reinforces cooperation with federal, state, local and tribal governments, as well as individuals and organizations, to provide visitor enjoyment, and address mutual interests in the quality of life for community residents. 1.10

·         In the spirit of partnership, the Service will also seek opportunities for cooperative management agreements with state or local agencies that will allow for more effective and efficient management of the parks. 1.10

In the ROD of the ONP GMP, the reasons given for the limited Hurricane Ridge schedule are “Operational and staffing requirements, along with unpredictable severe weather conditions, make a long-term commitment to consistently opening the road for seven day a week winter access infeasible.”

The Superintendent’s Compendium states “Due to public safety concerns, the Hurricane Ridge Road may be closed at the Heart O’ The Hills entrance based on environmental conditions.”  Monday through Thursday closure is not based on environmental conditions.

To summarize, the community has consistently expressed a desire for increased winter access to Hurricane Ridge.  A number of solutions have been proposed, with a range of costs, including cooperation with local and state governments.  A meaningful dialogue with interested stakeholders would be helpful.

Although I am writing only as a private citizen, broad community support for increased winter access is evident, particularly shown by raising over $150,000 in donations to ONP over the past two years to fund winter access. The two year trial resulted in a 35% increase in winter visits. The trial also resulted in an increase in visitor spending greater than the cost based on the MP3 model, used throughout the NPS system.



Greg Halberg

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