Hurricane Ridge is a winter recreation area within Olympic National Park. The area is accessed by a 17 mile road from Port Angeles, WA, which rises from sea level to 5,240 feet.
Winter recreation began in the Olympics at Deer Park, which is located on the eastern end of the Morse Creek watershed. Deer Park was operated by the Forest Service until the establishment of Olympic National Park in 1938. Winter operation continued at Deer Park until the new Hurricane Ridge Parkway and Lodge were built in 1958. At that time the ski operations were moved to Hurricane Ridge.
Since the late 1990's ONP has reduced the number of days the road was open. For a while weekdays were open "as weather and staffing permit." Often the road would be open about 12 miles to the Third Peak Parking area, which would get you into the snow. About 2005 they settled on a schedule that the road is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only, with the road closed at mile 5 at the 1,500 foot level. In 2009 they eliminated the snowplay area. The graph above shows the impact on visitation as a result of these policies.
Keep in mind, this is an era of rapid population growth in the area as well as rapid increases in the popularity of backcountry winter recreation...particularly snowshoeing and backcountry skiing.
The City of Port Angeles and Clallam County led by now Mayor Cherrie Kidd pleaded to restore access. Due to political pressure from Representative Norm Dicks on Bruce Schaeffer, the Comptroller of the NPS, a trial period was established in 2010 and 2011 to weigh the demand for weekday access. Local ONP officials begrudgingly cooperated.
ONP officials determined the cost to keep the road open four additional days would be $325,000 and the NPS happened to have $250,000 they could appropriate from another source, if the local community could raise the additional $75,000. This was done for the past two years, including about $50,000 of personal contributions, and community fund raising parties.
Despite this show of community support, ONP was not able to start seven day a week access the first year until after the New Year. Both years the road was late to open (it is supposed to open at 9 am) or closed 50% of the time. The average late opening was 10:15 am. There were about 70 days of no new precipitation both years, and the road opened on time about 70 days.
By the standards of those that donated their hard earned cash to give to the Park Service in exchange for more access, the Park did not fulfill their end of the bargain.
The result of the the two year trail period was an average of 5,500 more people during the formerly closed days, and a total increase of 9,318 people per year over the previous two years. This represents a 35% increase.
This increase was not enough for ONP; they declared the trail period a failure and will revert to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday openings unless told otherwise.