October 10, 2013 at 2:46 PM
Recreation, economic blues as federal lands stay closed
Washington’s national-park gems — Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades — remain closed, thanks to the federal shutdown. Locals can, with some effort and confusion, figure out other places to go for scenic drives, hikes and other recreation.
But for out-of-state and foreign visitors, the national-park closures are ruining long-planned trips and have local businesses near the parks worried about lingering economic impacts.
“People come from China, Germany, everywhere to see Mount Rainier,” said Shannon Crittenden who works at Alexander’s Country Inn, a small hotel in Ashford, a gateway community to Mount Rainier National Park.
“It’s a worldwide impact that it’s closed down. It will stop business coming in to the state, to the country. It’s not just affecting us in the foothills of Mount Rainier,” said Crittenden. “Those congressmen better decide on something quick.”
Hotels within Washington’s national parks have been forced to close, turf out guests and cancel current reservations — including Paradise Inn within Mount Rainier National Park and Kalaloch Lodge and Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic National Park — costing them dearly in lost-guest stays. But Alexander’s Country Inn, just outside the park, remains open and so far has had few cancellations linked to the park closure, said Crittenden. This is a slow season anyhow for the lodge, between summer hiking and winter snow-play at Mount Rainier, and the area has alternative hikes, drives and waterfall-viewing outside the park, said Crittenden.
The national park closures are pretty straightforward — national park visitor centers, campgrounds, trails, climbing routes and park roads are all closed (although through roads such as the North Cascades Highway and Highway 410 by Mount Rainer remain open) because the shutdown has forced massive employee furloughs.
Recreation on other federal lands, including of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management which cover a major swath of Washington state, gets more confusing. Forest Service campgrounds are closed, but many trails are open. But it’s hard to get information — for hikers, hunters or anglers — since Forest Service and other federal information centers/ranger stations are closed and websites and phones are not being attended. National wildlife refuges, some of which permit much-prized hunting and fishing, also are closed, leaving people in the lurch.
Close to home, at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (administered by the Forest Service), its visitor center at Coldwater Ridge is closed. Now formally known as the Science and Learning Center, the building sits high in the Cascades just seven miles from the volcano crater, with sweeping views. Yet down close to Interstate-5, the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake, with displays on the volcanic eruption and the land’s rebirth, remains open because it’s run by Washington State Parks.
You still can drive up to the Coldwater Ridge area since it’s reached by a state road — SR 504. You can hike on many trails around Mount St. Helens since most trails on national forestland remain open. But one popular trail at Mount St. Helens, the Lakes Trail, is closed since it begins at the Coldwater Lake Boat Launch which the Forest Service has closed off, according to the Silver Lake visitor center staff.
The Seattle Times’ community news partner, the Washington Trails Association, has useful information on the shutdown impacts on hikers and suggested alternative hikes while the national parks remain closed.
By the way, if you’re thinking of sneaking into a closed national park, don’t. National-park law enforcement (and vital maintenance) crews still are working and you could be cited. That’s happened to visitors at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, where almost two dozen people have been cited for illegally being in the closed park and face a day in court.
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