Thursday, January 31, 2013

Please find following my comments with regard to the Olympic National Park Wilderness Stewardship Plan.
            The National Park Service’s website points out in recounting the origins of the National Park System that when Yosemite Valley was first set aside it was “for public use, resort, and recreation”.  The Federal laws establishing the National Park System mandates that they be “dedicated and set apart … as public pleasuring grounds”.  A balancing of use by people and preservation is mandated: to emphasize either to the exclusion of the other would run contrary to the basic principles underlying the National Park System.
            1.  I live with my family about a mile from the Olympic National Park boundary.  Olympic National Park was the major reason why we moved here 10 years ago.  Its great natural beauty, diversity of scenery and environments (mountains, rain forest, and shoreline), and the accessibility of all of that to us, are what makes this area special to us.
            2.  We mainly use Olympic National Park for hiking, snowshoeing and snow boarding (on Hurricane Ridge).  We have been on pack trips with horses or mules in other National Parks, and think that is an activity both appropriate and worth preserving.
            3.  I believe the main issues in Olympic National Park are preserving and improving public access.  The Park seems to be doing a good job with preservation.  However, with limited budgets maintenance of, and repairs to, roads, trails, shelters and other visitor facilities have sometimes taken longer than ideal or not occurred at all.  Until the Park can adequately maintain and preserve access to the area it already has it should not look to acquiring additional land.
4.  20 years from now I would ideally like to see in Olympic National Park:
-  well maintained access roads, open year round;
-  a full range of snow related activities on Hurricane Ridge in the winter, with advance certainty of being open and sufficient availability of cleared parking for all;
-  a well maintained and expanded dirt trail network with safe bridges where necessary;
-  additional access points into the Park for hikers at various points around the Park’s perimeter;
-  a Park culture that is friendly to those who want to use the Park for hiking, overnight camping, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing and snowboarding (on Hurricane Ridge), or horse packing trips (this includes availability of camp sites and reasonable and not overly restrictive rules as to campfires and waste management); and
-  an expanded ranger led hike program.
I have found in other first tier National Parks I have visited that half day or full day ranger led hikes into the backcountry are a great way to allow first time visitors to safely and responsibly explore the areas of the Park more than a mile or two away from the visitor centers.  In more than one instance have those half day or full day ranger led hikes led to my returning with my family to the Park for a full week or more of hiking and other activities, where otherwise I would never have realized what the interior areas of the Park have to offer. 
5.                  I believe that the balance between use and preservation in Olympic National Park already has been tilted somewhat too much away from use and in favor of preservation.  We have to be cautious that the Wilderness Stewardship Plan does not increase that imbalance by further, directly or indirectly, decreasing or hindering public access to the Park.
First, this would be contrary to Federal law.
Second, policies that could limit visitation would be bad public policy from the National Park Service’s perspective, in that its continued existence and public funding depend on public support.  If a new generation were to grow up without an appreciation from frequent personal use of what a unique national treasure our National Park system is, in a generation or two the public support that makes possible the National Park Service’s preservation mission would whither away.
And finally, Olympic National Park is extremely important to the economic wellbeing of the surrounding communities, which in many respects is closely tied to Park visitation.  The National Park Service philosophy of civic engagement requires this important fact to be taken into consideration when balancing use and preservation.
Thank you for your consideration.
                                                                                    Kaj Ahlburg

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Olympic National Park is preparing a Wilderness Stewardship Plan (EIS). It is currently in the scoping process. Public input is being taken here:

They are asking the following questions:

What makes the wilderness area special to you and why?

When you visit the wilderness area, what activities and experiences are most important to you?

What do you think the issues are in the wilderness area?

Imagine you are visiting the wilderness area 20 years from now. What conditions, experiences, visitor services and facilities would you like to see?

Additional comments can also be given.

While not specifically addressing Winter Use, almost all of the backcountry skiing on the ridge is in designated wilderness, and is covered in snow more than half the year, so it seems that comments relating to skiing are fair game. This scoping period is probably the most important time. From this public comment, four alternatives will be created without much room for outside the box input.

I particularly reach out to our Mt Rainier brother and sister users to take the time to make your voice heard. If we don't hang together, we will all hang separately. "If you don't like the current situation and don't say anything about it, you're contributing to the problem"-Cascade Climber


Thursday, January 24, 2013

History of Public Transportation at the Ridge

Willy Nelson's Go All Points Tours currently operates a shuttle service to the Ridge.  Shuttle service is important to the overall operation of winter recreation for several reasons:
  • Parking is limited and on most good weather weekends, particularly when the lifts are operating, the road closes due to parking.
  • Many people would prefer not to drive in the snow.
  • Tourists, particularly Canadians, can stay in downtown hotels with having to drive their own cars, or bring it accross on the ferry.
  • Reduces pollution and wear on the road.
  • Improves "Side Country" experience.

The General Management Plan Hurricane Ridge preferred alternative states "Alternative methods of transportation would be provided."

Unfortunately, ONP officials have recently decided to kneecap the existing shuttle provider by not allowing the service to avoid the often more than hour long wait at the entrance station on busy weekends.

Ideally, he should be able to stop at the entrance station and pick up a full bus load of people waiting in their cars to get in.

The alleged reasons for this decision is fairness to all, and the safety hazard of him driving up the wrong side of the road.  Stopping downhill traffic temporarily using the park employee in the booth seems like a simple solution to the latter problem.  Fairness is in the eye of the beholder, but rewarding those that use public transportation isn't exactly a new phenomenon.

Public transportation has a checkered history at the Ridge.

Clallam Transit operated one trip up and one down for $5 up to 1992. 

In 1993 the bus ran every half hour from 11 am to 3:30. 

1994 and 1995 reverted to one trip a day, now costing $8. 

In 1996 and 1997 Clallam Transit discontinued operation, but starting in February both years a shuttle ran every half hour.  Terry Weed, Clallam Transit director stated uncertainty about road openings was a major reason for the lack of success.

In 1998 there was no bus service, and 1999 the Ridge closed most of the winter due to massive record snowfall.

2000 had once daily service. 

In 2001 the Public Development Authority was created with Public Transportation a priority.  For 2001 and 2002 the bus made two trips up and one trip down.

For 2003 and 2004 the PDA expanded bus service offering three propane buses operating every 45 minutes, with as many as 100 passengers per weekend. "It's a wonderful thing that the service is there.  It helps reduce congestion at the parking lot.  It's good for the Park.  It's good for people who get stuck at the entrance station.  It's a good deal all the way around," said Janis Burger Hurricnane Ridge naturalist.  Barb Maynes, ONP spokesman: "It's very positive.  It's really a great benefit."

In 2005 and 2006 the PDA folded and bus service reverted to two trips daily for $5.

2007 the snow bus operation was doubtful, but finally implemented with a combination of city gas money and volunteer drivers for snow school lesson weekends only. The ONP superintendent states: "Ski bus is a great value and I urge all Hurricane Ridge visitors to consider using it.  Not only will you avoid the challenge of driving on snow and ice, you'll eliminate the bother of looking for a parking space."

There was no bus service in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

For the 2011 and 2012 seven day access trail period Go All Points stepped up to operate the service twice daily for $15 per passenger with 5 day a week service.

An ONP transportation study in 2011 did not recommend winter public transportation to Hurricane Ridge, instead focusing on using existing public transportation connections during the summer months.

To summarize, ONP officials have repeatedly paid lip service in favor of public transportation, but have done nothing to help implement it.  Disallowing the existing service to utilize one of its primary advantages  (cutting in line past the line of cars waiting for parking) is short sighted at best.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tubing at Hurricane Ridge

"Snow Play" is an acceptable traditional use at Hurricane Ridge and most other National Parks.

When the Ridge road was first opened, the snowplay area was in front of the lodge.  The trouble with that area is that it is a convex slope and difficult to stop.  There was also at least one severe injury incident at the Victoria Overlook on the north slope. 

As a result the snow play area was moved to Sunrise in 1988, according to the ONP winter press release.  "Tubing will be allowed this season at two locations.  The traditional site west of the lodge is conveniently located near the parking lot and the facilities offered at the lodge.  A second area is located approximately one mile from the top along the Hurricane Ridge Road.  Parking is limited and a safe run is provided, especially for large tubes. (As an aside, "Cross country skiing, sledding and sightseeing will be available weekdays when the ski area is not open." ahem)

The tubing area was located exclusively at Sunrise until 2008.  People parked on the shoulder of the road, as many as 100 cars were common.  The sunrise area had several inherent problems, including being located in a known avalanche area.  Unsupervised tubing is a fairly dangerous activity.  As a result, a Ranger was required to patrol the area.

In 2007 a major project to rehabilitate the Hurricane Ridge Road was completed.  One consequence to the rehabilitation is that the radius of the curve at Sunrise was increased, which eliminated the shoulder of the road that provided parking for the tubing area.

The EA for this project did not address the loss of the tubing area in any way or winter use for that matter.

(It was also written by an outside consultant, something the current administration says is not allowed for the ski area improvements.  Using an outside consultant could speed up the lift replacement process much quicker than the ten years estimated for completion by ONP. ahem #2).

The following year, ONP made the decision to eliminate tubing at Sunrise.  They did host a public meeting after the decision was made.

The elimination of the Sunrise tubing area left the small children's area for those under age 8 located west of the lodge, where the tubers cross the busy snowshoe and xc trail to Hurricane Hill.

In response to public demand for an all ages tubing area, the ski club proposed to create a bermed tubing area located to the west of the bunny slope.  The ski club would provide tubes, ski patrol services, and administration.  ONP rejected that idea on the basis that it was an expansion of the operating area (this is a little questionable) and disapproved of the unnatural manipulation of the snow.  ONP also wanted the area to be free of charge. 

Meanwhile, during the seven day trial period the ski club allowed tubing on the intermediate slope on weekdays provided grooming or other activities were not being conducted.  ONP encouraged the ski area to create a tubing area within the existing boundaries of the ski area, which is already tiny by any measure.

Fortunately, a natural wind drift forms in the lee of the trees on the east border of the intermediate.  Using this  natural feature as a base, and the skill of our groomer operator, the current tubing area came to fruition.  The area is controlled by an operator, patrolled by ski patrol, and tubes are provided all for a reasonable cost.  The new area is safer, and more fun than any of the previous iterations.

Unfortunately, the demand for tubing stressed an already limited parking situation.  Each of the weekend operating days since before Christmas the parking lot has filled, creating long lines at the Heart o' the Hills entrance station.  Wait time of more than an hour are not uncommon.  Many vehicles turn around, not willing to wait in line.  Unknown numbers don't even attempt.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The cost for two additional seasonal resource protection personnel to provide seven day access is $47,770 plus $2,518 for vehicles.  If the new standard for NPS decisions is based on number of visitors, it seems reasonable that funding for two seasonal employees could be diverted from summertime wilderness duty to winter at Hurricane.

The two additional seasonal rangers would allow the road to be open on days such as are forecast for the foreseeable future where no new snow is forecast. For example, in 2011-12 season there was no precipitation from November 30 to December 25, and again for a long stretch in Jan-Feb.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Another aspect that doesn't add up is the relationship between keeping the Hurricane Ridge Road open and deferred maintenance in the Park.

Reed Robinson, the former chief of maintenance stated at a 2009 Port Angeles City Council meeting that even if ONP got a greater appropriation from Congress, the first priority for that money would be reducing deferred maintenance, not plowing the Hurricane Ridge road.

However, in recent conversations Park officials have insisted that during the 50% of the days that no new plowing is needed on the Ridge road, the road crew is kept busy with other projects within the Park.

It seems as if the four additional crew hired for the two year experiment therefore would have been able to knock out quite a few items on the maintenance punch list.  At any rate it seems that having those additional staff should be a net benefit to the overall maintenance of the park, not something to be fought tooth and nail by park administration.