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Mount Rainier Staff Seek Public Comment

Updated: Apr 24



May 3, 2023—I attended an online public meeting with staff from Mount Rainier National Park. Park Service staff held the meeting to discuss ways staff at Mount Rainier NP could reduce congestion getting into the park and at the popular Paradise and Sunrise parking lots. Those parking lots have exceeded 125% of the capacity, causing visitors to illegally park. Visitors to the park can wait over an hour to get into the park during peak times (5 a.m. – 7 p.m.) in the summer. This congestion problem is having negative impacts to the local communities outside the park as well.


Since 2020, Mount Rainier staff have been looking into possible solutions. Any major changes to national parks require the Park Service to conduct an environmental assessment (EA) as outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (commonly referred to as NEPA) to assess the environmental impacts of any policy decisions the Park Service might be looking to impose. Under NEPA, any federal agency looking to make policy decisions that could affect the environment must develop alternative plans as part of the EA. I won’t go into great detail about the plan here because I have included a link to the comment page and to the EA within this post. I will just touch on some of the highlights.


Alternative 1 is always the “no action” alternative and always included in an EA. The no action alternative simply implies that the agency will continue with the policy that is currently in place. In the case of Mount Rainier NP, staff arrived at three alternatives in addition to Alternative 1.


Alternative 2 would require that visitors obtain a permit through the park’s reservation system to enter the park at the Nisqually, Stevens Canyon, and White River entrances. This is the preferred plan the park is seeking to implement. Permits during the peak season would require a timed entry permit to enter between 5 a.m. – 7 p.m. The permit would be in addition to the entrance fee you pay to enter the park. Cost would be minimal, though the actual cost has yet to be determined. The cost of the permit would go to administering the program. Park Service staff also doesn’t envision stacked permits, so if you paid for a campground site, you won’t be required to pay for the timed entry permit.


Alternative 3 would only impact access to Paradise and Sunset. Only personal vehicles with a permit for either of those two popular locations and shuttle buses would be allowed at the parking lots at those locations. When I asked Park Service staff what the cost of the shuttle service would be, they were unable to tell me because it’s too early in the process. They didn’t envision it costing more than a few dollars. Both Zion and Acadia National Parks have successfully implemented shuttle bus services. The service is free at both parks. While there are several positives to a shuttle bus service, including improved air quality and reduced congestion, one major drawback is that riders can’t just hop on and off the shuttle bus anywhere they choose. If you spot something of interest and want to immediately stop to take a picture of it, you’re out of luck. Another drawback impacts mothers with young or nursing children. Restless, tired, and irritable children can’t return to the car to rest; nursing mothers must bring everything with them on the shuttle.


Alternative 4 is similar to Alternative 3 but excludes the shuttle bus option. Like Alternative 3, visitors wouldn’t need the timed entry permit to enter the park and use any of the road except those roads to Paradise and Sunset.


Mount Rainier is currently in Phase Three, the final phase of the decision process. This phase is seeking input from the public through June 11 about the park’s plans to implement timed entry into the park. To read more about the plan, visit the park’s planning page at https://www.nps.gov/mora/learn/news/mount-rainier-national-park-seeks-public-input-on-a-draft-plan-to-implement-timed-entry-reservations-during-peak-visitation.htm.


Once park staff determines which alternative it will go with, and it could actually choose to implement a combination of items in any and all of the alternatives following the public’s input, it will begin drawing up the actual policy and determining the costs of the permits, shuttle bus service, and other fees resulting from the final decision. That will take time, so implementing the timed entry permit system won’t take effect until 2024.

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