Never Doubt the Ridge

I. Excerpts from Olympic National Park management documents. 
Access to winter recreation is a fundamental mission of Olympic National Park. 
·         The purpose of Olympic National Park is …to conserve and render available to the people, for recreational use, this outstanding mountainous country, containing numerous glaciers and perpetual snow fields. 
·         The mission of Olympic National Park is to …provide for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of present and future generations.
·         Winter recreation predates the creation of Olympic and was one of the primary reasons for creating the Park in 1938.  Rep. Mon C. Wallgren of Everett, the author of the founding legislation was of the opinion that the first addition to the park would be the Deer Park area. "He pointed out this area is particularly adaptable to winter sports and would make a 'skiing paradise.'"
·         The 1996 Olympic National Park Statement for Management and other Park management documents reaffirmed the importance and significance of recreational values.
·         The 2008 General Management Plan states cross country and snowshoe use will be encouraged.
II. The importance of Hurricane Ridge winter access.
The reasons for maintaining winter access are many and diverse.
1.       Hurricane Ridge is an important regional recreational asset for the 5.6 million human powered winter recreation visits in the western snow belt.
2.       Hurricane Ridge winter access is an important draw for winter visits for the Olympic Peninsula tourism industry.  Current winter hotel occupation rates are less than 35%.  Annual occupation rates are at 55%.  Increasing winter visits will stabilize tourism revenue.
3.       Hurricane Ridge winter access is an important tool for recruitment of businesses and workers to the area.
4.       Hurricane Ridge winter access is an important tool for recruitment of retirees to the area, a major part of the Peninsula economy.
5.       Hurricane Ridge winter access is an important facility to encourage health and wellness for the local population, providing important health care benefits and savings.
6.       Hurricane Ridge winter access is an important educational asset for area youth to provide opportunities for self-esteem enhancement, drug prevention, and team building activities.  Access also provides exposure to real life science, including biology, meteorology, geology, and other sciences.
7.       Hurricane Ridge winter access is an important cultural resource, with winter recreation predating the creation of the National Park.
8.       Hurricane Ridge winter access is an important asset for inspiration.  Current management creates chronic overcrowding and diminishes the opportunity for solitude and a wilderness experience.
Changes in access policy have directly impacted visits. 
  • Pre 1992 the road was open every day, with three gates located below the visitor center.
  • From 1993-1999, the road was plowed for three days, but open as weather and staffing permitted at least three other days.  The gates were in effect. Visits averaged 54,733.
  • Record snowfall in 1999 closed the road for most of the winter.  For 2000-2002 was a re-emphasis on keeping the road open throughout the week, with a second road crew available.  Those years recorded the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest visitation numbers averaging 62,979.
  • For 2003 and 2004 the road was open Friday and Monday if conditions allowed and visits fell to an average of 36,690.
  • 2005 to the present the road is only open Friday through Sunday with the gate locked at Heart o’ the Hills regardless of weather or road conditions.  This period has seen the fewest visits yet, averaging only 32,682, despite excellent snow conditions.
  • While not able to confirm this, it appears that reduced access during the week contributes to delayed openings on the scheduled open days, which further discourages visitation.
Before 2003 winter visits averaged 54,014.  Since 2003 visits averaged 34,382.  Total economic impact of the loss in visits is $2,070,000 annually.

VII. National Park Winter Recreation Fact Sheet
The total miles of maintained in winter roads in ONP is not appreciably more than other National Parks.  Mount Rainer, Glacier, Yosemite, Lassen, North Cascades, Yellowstone spend large amounts of money plowing roads for spring openings.  The argument that Olympic winter maintenance costs are higher than other Parks does not hold water.
Local use only. So far 25 states and 3 Canadian provinces.  Each day at least one group from east of Sequim.
Paradise, MRNP, WA: 5,400’ 177"/680” average max/total snow. Open 7 days a week. 18 miles of road from Nisqually Entrance (2023’) to Paradise. Closed nightly. Road opening matrix. 2.5 hours from Seattle. 8 plow drivers.  Additional access from Crystal ski area, and snowmobile roads.   60,016 Jan-April Visits. $35,389m economic impact/12,391m budget.
Crater Lake NP, OR: 6,400’ 121"/504” average snow at HQ. 32 miles plowed, 7.1 mile road open 7 days a week to crater rim at 7,100’. 25,236 Jan-April visits. A ten-mile snowmobile ride along the groomed North Entrance Road brings you to an amazing lake view. 6 person crew 4am – 8 pm. $34,111 / $5,535.
Sequoia NP, CA: 7,200 feet. 62/244” snow @ Lodgepole. General’s Highway between SNP and KCNP 26 miles open 7 days a week. Increased funding in 1984 allowed for 7 day a week access. Road may close between Wuksachi Village (6700’) and General Grove (6500’) for plowing after storms. Pear Lake Ski Hut accessed from Wolverton Meadow. Heated restrooms at Lodgepole Campground. 22,483 Jan-April visits. $97,012 /$17,326.
Rocky Mountain National Park: Park open 24/7/365 days a year. Roads to Kawuneeche Valley, Bear Lake, Wild Basin, and Hidden Valley plowed. 52" of snow at Bear Lake 2/13/12. 9,450' elevation. 10 mile road. Limited parking, similar to Hurricane Ridge. Warming Hut. 14,837 visits past Grand Lake.  $174,656/$13,469.
Grand Teton NP WY 6,300’ elevation. 55"/253"@ Snake River. 145 miles plowed by two groups of 6-7 crew. 29 miles of dead end road from Moran to Flagg Ranch to service 12,931 visitors to south YNP. 13,023 xc skiers in GTNP. Access from Jackson Hole ski area. $424,041/$13,733.
Yellowstone NP, WY: 7,000’ 65 miles of road plowed in winter from Cooke City to North Entrance for 35,641 Jan-April visits at a cost of $457,240. $4 million and 82 staff for winter operations to serve 93,838 visitors ($42 per visitor). 41”/208" North entrance snow. Some of the worst winter weather in North America. Since 1997, the NPS has spent over $11 million on planning for winter use management in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the Parkway (2009). $344,445 / $36,958.
Yosemite NP, CA: 7,200’, Badger Pass ski area. 99/300" snow. Wawona, Big Oak Flat, El Portal, Hetch Hetchy, and Mariposa Grove Roads open. Tioga Pass and Glacier Point huts. 90 miles of marked trails, with 25 miles of groomed track. 22,843 Badger Pass vehicles YTD April 2011. $354,689m / $29,901
Glacier NP, MT 3,200’ elevation. 21"/132" Snow at West Glacier. 11.5 miles of dead end road from West Entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge. 159 guided ski trips. $1.5 million est. annual cost for GTTS clearing and repair. 44,783 visits Jan-April.  $108,880 / $14,410.
Lassen NP, CA: 6,700’ 105”/480”average snow. 1 mile of road plus parking plowed by NPS. CalTrans plows 5 miles of road to the entrance from Highway. Similar access on northeast entrance. New $8.5m Kohn Yoh Mah Nee visitor center open 7 days a week year round. Lassen tracks visits by weekend (5,793) and weekday (5,142) GMP-winterization of facilities to allow day use in winter. Interpretive Plan- four seasons. 25,683 Jan-April visits. 683 skiers. $16,053 / $5,505.

North Cascades NP, WA: Open 7 days a week. WA DOT plows Hwy 20 to MP 135. Five miles of Hwy 20 is closed for the winter before reopen on the east side. Snowmobile access. 203 visits

Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT 13 miles; 5400' - 8600'; 7.3% average & 9.4% max grade; Highest avalanche hazard road in North America; 6 person crew plows Big (17 miles) and Little Canyons, 4 am to 10 pm. $400,000 cost does not include avalanche control ($389,000).
Hurricane Ridge, 5,240 ft, 100”/300” average.  17 miles from 500’ to 5,240’.  with 36,863 January- April visits. 102”/unknown but about 300”. It ranks 290th in overall park visits, meaning 73 park units receive less visits in a year than Hurricane Ridge in the four winter months. $103,099/$13,073.  Cost benefit analysis of the weekday openings is 1.4:1, which is more than Gettysburg, Denali, Apostle Islands, and Sequoia according to NCPA study Winter recreation has been part of the fabric of our community since the 1930’s, before the creation of Olympic National Park.  When the park was created, Representative Walgreen called it a skiers paradise.  Many of the children seen playing on the slopes today are part of the fourth generation of families to love winter at the Ridge.  Others are first timers, learning the skills to begin a life long passion for winter, and the outdoors.  The HRWSC as this year partnered with the Boys and Girls club to provide these opportunies to kids that otherwise would not get the chance.
Unfortunately recent decisions by ONP put this tradition at risk.  Reduction to three day a week access, removal of the Waterhole ski hut, and a ten year delay in allowing lift improvements allowed by the 2008 General Management Plan effectively eliminate the future of winter recreation on the Peninsula.  These decisions appear contrary to NPS policies.
Instead of demanding a certain level of visitation to justify the costs, how about justifying the costs first?  What are the costs of doing nothing?  A multitude of suggestions have been made to the park to reduce costs.  One is to change the accounting so that costs the park incurs anyway regardless of road status are not counted against.  For example, the majority of the $325,000 goes to salary for full time permenant road crew and  law enforcement personnel.  Unless the park were to lay these valuable and highly trained employees off for the six month winter season or replace them with seasonal staff, they will need to be paid whether the road opens or not.  Counting them as some sort of extra cost is ridiculous.
General Comments:
·         Winter access is part of the mission of ONP; more so than other Parks with better access:  To conserve and render available to the people, for recreational use, this outstanding mountainous country, containing numerous glaciers and perpetual snow fields. 
·         A favorite line across 3 or more ONP administrations is "Well, you can't really compare parks, each one is unique." There are unique aspects that work in favor of winter access:
o     one of two with a ski area;
o     no other reasonable access to snow for 4+ hours;
o     skiing predates the park-Deer Park was one of the first ski areas in North America; culturally significant
o     3 parks in 1 (except in the winter)
·         Other regional land management decisions (such as Buckhorn Wilderness) were made with Hurricane Ridge available for winter access.  Especially true relative to other National Parks.
·         The reasons for not opening keep shifting- first it was there isn’t money, and then once we found money there suddenly is a requirement for economic benefit.
·         Most of the economic objectives could be met at minimal cost by not opening the top mile of road.
·         Stated costs are ridiculously high compared to other mountain roads- Equal to Steven’s Pass which does extensive avalanche control, 20 miles of four lane road above 4000 feet.
·         The economic benefit is more than just the number of visitors or locals that drive up there.  In a competitive life style market, the ridge is an asset that helps our competitive position.
·         The cost of locals to travel to other snow areas should also be factored in.
Road Crew Performance:
·         Opening at 9 am is very late for any real mountaineering objective.  Other places there are a large dawn patrol contingent, where people start early and ski before work.
·         Whenever there is any snow at all, (which is when skiers want to go up there) the road doesn’t open until 10 at the earliest, often later.
·         Six road crew is enough for 24/7 operation at other areas.
·         Only place where they won’t run equipment when the road is open to the public
·         If it snowed during the day, no sanding/plowing because their shift was over.
·         There are basically three modes for the road crew:
a) No new snow. The cost that day would be to drive the sand truck to the top and back down. 3 hours. This is the majority of days.
b) Moderate amount of snow/drifting requiring blower, grader, etc Road opens late at 10 or 11. 6 am to 11 is 5 hours.
c) Storm. Road declared closed for the day by 10 am. 4 hours.
·         I’m assuming they are still schedule for four ten hour days.
·         Other road crews have at least some flexibility in their hours.
·         When it does storm, the crew leaves instead of working as much as they can to prepare for the next day.
·         Subscription to a dedicated weather service could save money in the long term, especially if combined with avalanche forecasting (see safety).
·         Does it really require five safety officers for at most 1,000 people/250 cars?
·         Only one of five Rangers actually spends time on the snow.
·         I don’t think they have a grasp on real v. perceived risk
·         Avalanche hazard to the road is real, but should be accurately portrayed and dealt with according to accepted practice.  Avalanche Hazard Index should be done and responded to appropriately.
·         Hiring staff or consultant with extensive appropriate avalanche experience makes more sense than a law enforcement ranger.
·         How does avalanche risk compare to other hazards on local roads – for example Highway 112 with rock fall and landslides.  Even within the Park with trees, washouts etc.
·         There are also 2-3 interpretive rangers that should be trained if the worst case scenario happens.
·         Drifting is the biggest hazard in large part due to man-made features, yet failure to consider reasonable and inexpensive methods to control drifting.
General Management:
·         Current management discourages non local visits by late openings then uses that as an excuse for closure
·         So far 25 states represented by license plate.
·         Many visitors from Port Townsend and Bremerton areas.
·         Ski area not opening until January due to misinterpretation of operating agreement creates the false impression of insufficient snow.
·         Elimination of tubing combined with not allowing ski club to replace it
·         Lack of Facebook promotion and/or cooperation with ski club (see RMNP)
·         “Great snow” doesn’t last long here due to temperature, wind, and other factors.  During extensive closures by the time the road does open, the good snow isn’t so good.

This movie highlights the weather versus road in 2012, in which it doesn't take much weather to shut the whole place down.

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