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October 1, 2013 at 4:05 PM

Recreation, economic blows for state as national parks close

You can't go to Mount Rainier National Park, thanks to the government shutdown which has closed national parks in Washington and throughout the country. (Elaine Thompson/AP photo)

You can’t go to Mount Rainier National Park, thanks to the government shutdown which has closed national parks in Washington state  and throughout the country. (Elaine Thompson/AP photo)

With national parks now closed because of the government shutdown, some of Washington state’s most popular scenic drives and outdoor recreation areas are off-limits to the public. And for communities around the parks it’s an economic body-blow with hotels, restaurants, shops and tour companies losing business.

“Our fall shoulder season is huge – usually,” said Mary Brelsford of the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau.  And in Mount Rainier National Park alone, there usually are about 130,000 visitors in October, said the park.

Mount Rainier, Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park are all shut tight.  Visitors centers and roads are closed, rangers are off-duty (except for some crucial park law enforcement and maintenance) and websites are down. With road access unavailable, hiking and climbing are off-limits in the national parks.

Hotels within national parks and campgrounds are emptying of guests; they need to be out by Thursday.  On the Olympic Pensinsula, the historic Lake Crescent Lodge within Olympic National Park is closing, said Brelsford,  leaving two weddings that had planned to use the site this weekend in the lurch.  (Lake Quinault Lodge, however, remains open since it is not on Olympic parkland.)

At Mount Rainier, Paradise Lodge simply closed early for the season, disappointing guests who hoped for a last stay in the park. Economically the pain spreads as visitor spending halts.

With over a million visitors a year to Mount Rainier National Park, $33 million was spent in gateway communities in 2011 (the most recent year for such  financial figures), said a park news release.

National park roads are closed to the public,  such as the lovely winding route up to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. But through roads – such as the North Cascades Highway (Highway 20) and State Route 410 and  State Route 123 by Mount Rainier ­– remain open.

The shutdown is less draconian on national forest lands within the state. While U.S. Forest Service visitor centers (and websites and phones) are closed, trails remain open in areas such as the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. At Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (which lies on national forestland), visitor centers are closed.

The Washington Trails Association, an outdoors group, has extensive updates online on what hiking trails are closed – and still open in the state.  Karen Daubert, the executive director of the WTA, said they’ve have been inundated with questions Tuesday.

Washington State Parks, meanwhile, emphasized Tuesday that all it state parks remain open. So if you’re looking for somewhere to camp or hike or just get away from all the shutdown news, consider Washington’s  state ­- or county –  parks.

0 Comments | Topics: government shutdown, mount rainier national park, olympic national park

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