Answers from the Park

Snow removal in the Sierra 2011
1. What is different about Hurricane Ridge compared to other winter mountain operations that keep their roads open?

The first question I do not have the data to address this as there are so
many factors that determine the ability to clear a road that differ from
one area to another.  It is not feasible to compare two areas as if all
condition were the same.  To name a few differences, snowfall amount, water
content, free falling versus drift etc, type of equipment, use of area,
through road or not, budget, and safety.

2. Why can't the road crew save time and money by plowing the road only when it snows (or drifts), which is less than 50% of the total days? That is the way that most other road crews operate.
The second question,  if I applied this concept to a receptionist answering
the phones, sure I would be able to save allot of money, but it would be
incredibly hard to manage  a program which only has staff on to answer the
phone when the phone is going to ring.

The decision was made to not mix public traffic and snow removal equipment
on Hurricane Ridge for safety reasons.  No matter how many pictures you
show of this happening in other areas, we are not going to jeopardize the
public or our staff by doing so.  This decision has been made based on
experiences in the past.  Safety is first in our operation which results in
our staff and visitors going home in the condition they started work in.

Thanks for your continued interest.


To: Bill Laitner
Cc: Interested Groups and Individuals
Re: Winter Access to Olympic National Park

Dear Mr. Laitner:

I would like to work together to solve problems associated with winter access to Olympic National Park for sightseeing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, winter climbing, back country skiing, ice climbing, and winter camping.

The benefits to the Park and surrounding communities are enormous. Participation in winter recreation is increasing, and the Olympic Mountains are a tremendous and underutilized resource. Increased and more consistent access would increase tourism revenue for the surrounding communities, and increase the quality of life for current residents. As more people visit the Park for wintertime recreation and tourism, businesses such as local restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels will reap an increase in off-season profits. Increased visitation to Olympic National Park would provide increased funding. Non motorized winter recreation opportunities help reduce obesity and associated medical conditions. Other areas of the state face increasing conflict between motorized and non-motorized winter recreation.

The Hurricane Ridge road already exists to the alpine zone. It is a question of management on how the road operates. I hope with the proposed increase in funding a few of these options will be considered:

1. Plan for more scheduled open days, weather permitting. If NPS funding is not feasible, partnerships with Washington State Parks Winter Recreation Program (SnoPark), Clallam County, City of Port Angeles, the Department of Transportation, Washington Trails Coalition and other non governmental organizations and volunteer groups, could and should be looked at as alternatives. Cost: ~$50,000 paid by grants and volunteers.

2. Provide daily public transportation up the road. Having professional drivers with experience on the road is one way to eliminate risks associated with winter driving. Public transportation reduces emissions and environmental impact. Grant money should be pursued as well as partnerships with Clallam Transit and local providers. The Alternative Transportation in Parks and Public Lands (ATPPL) has $97 million dollars in grant money available. Cost: unknown, paid by grants

3. Have other closure sites besides the Heart of the Hills. Until recently, this was the management policy. Gates and turnarounds already exist at the Tunnels, Double Parking, and Third Peak. A gate just above the current sledding area would eliminate the worst area of drifting snow. There are many days where the snow level is high or drifting snow is the primary threat. Having alternative gates would allow the flexibility to maintain access while minimizing the risk. As is the case now, when parking areas are full, the road could be temporarily closed. Cost: $0. Possible costs associated with ranger and maintenance staffing could be mitigated by creative scheduling.

4. Alternative gates could be made more attractive by creating trails from each of those spots that would wander through the Morse Creek drainage at about the 3500-4000 foot level, possibly connecting to Deer Park Road, creating loops with the Cox Valley trail, the PJ Lake Trail, and the Obstruction Point Road/ trail. This trail system already exists under the Alternative A : Current Management and Alternative C : Visitor Opportunities Emphasis in the Wilderness Draft Management Plan. These trails could be winter only, requiring only signs and some limbing of trees. Creating trailheads away from the main lodge area would disperse overcrowding and parking issues that currently exist. Dispersed use increases wilderness values. Cost: $10,000 for trail scouting and maintenance. Grant and/or volunteer funded.

5. Train or hire an avalanche expert to produce credible avalanche forecasts for the Olympics. The NWAC does a good job, but is focused more on the Cascades, and doesn’t have reliable data for the Olympics. The posted danger at the park entrance doesn’t always match the NWAC forecast, and doesn’t provide enough detail. Park staff should actively coordinate avalanche forecasts with the NWAC. One key to better avalanche forecasting is daily tracking of snow conditions. Daily access is a key. This is an opportunity for a volunteer organization such as the Winter Sports Club and/or Olympic Mountain Rescue. Cost: $2,000 to host
avalanche expert to teach Level II and III avalanche courses. This cost could be defrayed by opening the class to paying members of the public.

6. There should be a relationship between what the NWAC states is the avalanche danger and road opening and closing. Road closures on scheduled open days do not seem to be related to avalanche danger. For example, on Friday March 2 there was an Avalanche Warning posted by the NWAC but the road opened. On Friday March 8, there was a moderate danger posted by the NWAC yet the road was closed due to “dangerous conditions.” Cost: $0.

7. Do a better job of communicating Hurricane Ridge information via telephone line and website. Anyone traveling from more than Port Angeles needs more lead time to make a go/no go decision. Stating a probability the night before would be nice. If the road crew works all day Thursday, then they should have a pretty good idea what is going to happen Friday morning, providing more information about weather and avalanche danger. Cost: $0.

8. When the road closes due to a full parking lot, establish a system such that when one car exits the park, one car waiting can go up the road. Cost: $0.

9. In conjunction with a Morse Creek winter trail system, open Deer Park road during the winter, or close it at varying elevations based on snow level and removal costs. Cost: $0 for variable openings, unknown for plowing.

10. The Sol Duc road should be kept open all winter. Cost: unknown.

The current management policy of opening the Hurricane Ridge road only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays has several inherent problems:

1. Letting the road sit fallow for four days increases the amount of snow to be removed, making it more difficult to clear the road on Thursday. The road rarely opens on Friday mornings during the heart of the winter.

2. Many people do not work on a Monday through Friday schedule. Those people are effectively eliminated from winter recreation opportunities on the Peninsula.

3. Often the weather is beautiful during the week, but stormy or rainy on the weekend. Besides denying access on beautiful days, stormy weekends require closure of the road on scheduled open days, further reducing an already limited schedule.

4. Winter recreation enthusiasts on the greater Peninsula need to KNOW road status in order to commit to the long drives associated with coming from Forks, Port Townsend, Silverdale, Bremerton, Bainbridge and Seattle. Even on scheduled open days, the 8:30 message doesn’t allow people traveling from Silverdale or Port Townsend time to drive to the ridge and enjoy more than half a day. Many days the 8:30 message says check back at 10:30. People don’t gamble on whether the road opens, and instead go to the Cascades, or do something else.

5. Avalanche conditions and snowpack analysis are not reliable.

6. Overcrowding and parking issues are increased because when the road is open people feel they need to take advantage. One viable access point also contributes to congestion. Creating winter trailheads away from the main lodge area would disperse use and create a better wilderness experience.

7. Opportunities are missed for education, recreation, tourism, and visitor experience.

8. Opportunities for synergy with regional government and volunteer organizations are missed.

9. The seasonality of the tourism industry on the Olympic Peninsula is exaggerated. Olympic National Park should be a major winter attraction. Winter access is one aspect in combination with storm watching, surfing, kayaking, biking, sailing, and other environmentally sound recreation experiences.

One immediate solution is to partner with the Washington State Parks Winter Recreation Program. I envision applying for grant funding for two separate projects:

1. Weather permitting Monday road openings. Monday is the easiest day because the road will already be plowed on Sunday. The specific dates that would be added are approximately December 3, 10, 17, 2007; January 7, 14, 28, 2008; February 4, 11, 25, 2008; March 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, 2008. As is stated in park literature April should be excluded from the weekend only schedule. That is 14 more scheduled dates that the road would be open. The grant request would cover the cost of a plow truck, driver, fuel, oil and related costs.
2. Morse Creek Winter Trail. This project would apply for funding to develop and sign an ungroomed trail from the double parking area and the third peak parking area. This trail should connect to the Obstruction Point Road/Trail somewhere around the Waterhole.
It is imperative that we act quickly. The deadline for applying for The Washington State Parks Winter Recreation program grants for next winter is May 1, 2007.

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