Monday, September 29, 2008

The Jackson Visitor Center finally closes its doors

Without too much fanfare, the Jackson Visitor Center closed its doors to the public today, September 28th, 2008. The NPS is replacing the facility with a new Jackson Visitor Center, scheduled to open (with much fanfare) on October 10th.

For curiosity and fun, I hung out near the main doorway as the final visitors exited and walked away. Over the past two weeks, a public reader board noted today’s significance by counting down the days. Next to it was a hand drawn picture of the space saucer shaped visitor center blasting off into orbit above Mount Rainier. As the front doors were finally locked, you could see rangers and concession employees giggling and smiling inside.
Before the doors closed, I spoke with about one dozen visitors. Interestingly, most didn’t know before arriving in the park that today was the Jackson Visitor Center’s “last day.” Those who did primarily lamented the loss of the 360 degree view from the observation deck, and why wouldn’t they? Today was perfect and the sun was showing off as it slowly slipped behind the mountains and down the Nisqually Valley. The day had been clear and surprisingly warm for late September.

A small crowd cheered as the family (above and left) was informally proclaimed “the last visitors to the JVC.” By the way, there is nothing official about this distinction. It’s just that the doors were promptly locked behind them as they left. Turns out, they were from Puyallup and cruised up in a restored 1969 Cougar to say goodbye. Here is TNT reporter Jeff Mayor talking with them. Note the smiles.

Anyway, now we're just wondering: what sort of welcoming will the new JVC get? More after October 10th.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jackson Visitor Center - Final Weekend to Visit!

Yup, the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center (JVC), whose design has been loved, hated, and debated since its opening in 1966, will welcome its last visitor on Sunday, September 28. It is closing to prepare for the demolition and move to the new JVC, which will open at 10:00 a.m. on October 10th. Between September 29th and October 9th, the Paradise Ranger Station (in the upper lot) will serve as the main NPS contact point at Paradise.

Here's some background on the now infamous "space saucer" of Paradise. The NPS commissioned its construction as part of a 10-year effort called MISSION 66. MISSION 66 set out to improve infrastructure and visitor services for NPS in time for its 50th anniversary in, guess what, 1966. The Paradise visitor center was originally known as the "Paradise Day Use Facility" until 1987, when it was re-named in honor of Washington Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. "Scoop" had originally secured congressional funding for the project and personally selected the architects.

The future of the oldJVC is significantly less promising. With the initiative to build a new visitor center came the $880,000 contract to demolish the JVC and rehabilitate the lower parking lot. Sometime late next year, you should be able to park your vehicle near the current information desk or bookstore. If the weather holds, this fall the contractor intends to start salvage operations of reusable materials and also carry out removal of fuel tank and hazardous materials. Final demolition will begin in the late spring of 2009 and will be completed by the end of the summer.

NOTE: If you're visiting the park this weekend, September 27 and 28, there are no entrance fees. The NPS is waiving fees on Saturday in celebration of National Public Lands Day and on Sunday in honor of newly naturalized United States citizens. The JVC at Paradise will be open from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. through Sunday the 28th. Come on by, because it's your last chance to lounge in those creamy orange couches and chairs.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The need for more speed!

For those anxious readers interested in yet another story of a climber who has set yet another new 'unofficial' round trip summit speed record, please read on. For the rest of you who are tired of hearing of such drivel, we suggest you continue reading anyway and perhaps you still may find the story interesting. Besides, how can you ignore such an amazing feat? A person climbs to the summit of Mount Rainier in under 3 1/2 hours, and then descends to Paradise in just over an hour, resetting the speed record to 4 hours, 40 minutes and 59 seconds.

For comparison, it takes most folks 5 hours just to make it UP to Camp Muir, never mind to the summit and back to Paradise again in less time! Can you imagine the feeling of being lapped on a day hike by someone who has summitted? Then again, the person running past you on the Muir Snowfield is Guillermo (Willie) Benegas, an international guide, sponsored member of the North Face team, and highly accredited guide with the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). Benegas' climbing portfolio is impressive. Among other credentials, he has been a guide with Mountain Madness for 10 years and is the previous speed record holder on Aconcagua... Oh yeah, he's climbed Everest seven times and leads expeditions up numerous peaks over 26,000 ft.

For more information and an account of the ascent by Benegas, check out his interview in The News Tribune.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How will climate change affect our National Parks?

The topic of climate change took exceptional relevance here at Mount Rainier after the floods and wind in November of 2006 caused significant damage throughout the park(check out the Mt. Rainier N.P. report documenting the flood's damage), forcing our gates to close. This was not the first storm that hit this park hard, nor will it be the last. There is a high likelihood that future storms will cause similar damage (if not worse) and climate change will have as-of-yet even greater undetermined impacts on the park's resources. The result of this event and uncertainty brings into question the ability of the federal government to sustain long term access to places such as Mount Rainier from an economic and ecological standpoint. Obviously, this issue has implications for us all - recreationalists, admirers, climbers, skiiers, and just anyone living in a town near the park.

How will climate change affect Mount Rainier National Park? Well, this is the question that many are beginning to ask. You can be a part of this discussion on Wednesday, September 3, along with a panel of experts in climate change, outdoor recreation, economics, wildlife and roads and trail construction (among others). The evening's event, co-hosted by the Washington Parks and Forests Coalition, is titled, "The Way In: The Future of Access to Northwest National Parks". Panelists will focus on global climate change and how it will affect our national parks, especially Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades National Parks. This panel discussion is free and open to the public.

This event is co-hosted by the organizations from the Washington Parks and Forests Coalition, which include National Parks Conservation Association, Washington Trails Association, and the Student Conservation Association. For more information, contact David Graves at or 206.903.1444 x25.