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Contact: Barb Maynes, 360-565-3005
Contact: Dave Reynolds, 360-565-2985
Beginning December 17, 2010, Olympic National Park opened Hurricane Ridge Road on an expanded seven-day schedule, as long as weather and safety conditions allow.
"After the last few weeks of wintry weather, and with snow continuing to fall over Hurricane Ridge, we think this is an appropriate time to share information on the first two-and-a-half months of weekday winter access to the Ridge," Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin said.
A fundraising effort spearheaded by the City of Port Angeles and the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce last year raised more than $75,000 from local business, civic organizations and individual contributions. Complemented by $250,000 from the National Park Service, the partnership allowed Olympic National Park to hire and train an additional four-person plowing crew, cover increased fuel and equipment costs, and restore daily access to the 12-mile stretch which leads to Hurricane Ridge (elevation 5,242 feet.)
Hurricane Ridge Road provides the only paved-road access to the subalpine zone of the Olympic Mountains, and is one of Olympic National Park's most popular year-round destinations.
Weather permitting, the road was open Friday through Sunday (plus Monday holidays) in previous winters from 2006-2010. Prior to 2006, the road was also open on a set Friday-Sunday schedule, with some additional weekday access when no plowing or road maintenance was required.
Hurricane Ridge Road is scheduled to open at 9 a.m. and close at dusk, weather permitting. The road may also close on short notice due to sudden severe weather, unsafe conditions or a full parking lot at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.
Over the last five years, Hurricane Ridge Road has been open approximately 80 percent of the time.
Since seven-day access began late last year, the road has opened on 66 out of 84 possible days, or just over 78 percent of the time. There have been 22 days where winter conditions have either made it unsafe or impractical for plowing and sanding operations to continue—and dangerous for park visitors to use the road.
"Hurricane Ridge is named for the extreme force of its winds, but it's also home to severe winter weather conditions including white-outs, drifting snow and avalanche danger," Gustin said. "Throughout the planning and implementation of seven-day access, 'weather permitting' has been the operative phrase—the safety of the road crew and our visitors continues to be the most important consideration in determining whether the road will open."
Olympic National Park road crews encounter these types of challenges on a daily basis, the same as many others throughout the region. Each crew must also deal with site-specific conditions and inherent challenges, and Hurricane Ridge is no exception.
As of March 11, there were 132 inches of snow at Hurricane Ridge. Continued snowfall at the summit, combined with high winds gusting over 50 miles per hour, have created massive snowdrifts, ranging from 10 feet to 25 feet tall, for plowing crews to contend with.
The park sustained a "near-miss" situation in late February due to low-visibility and other conditions. A sanding truck veered off the hard paved surface of the road, stopping short of tipping over. Road crews immediately halted operations, inspected the equipment and began reviewing procedures on how to further enhance road safety and prevent a similar event from occurring in the future.
In response, plow operators have ceased plowing as wide in order to better differentiate the paved road surface from the soft shoulder, which had caused the sand truck to get stuck and nearly overturn. Prior to this occurrence, some patrol and visitor vehicles had also become stuck after pulling over onto the shoulder.
For recent photos of mammoth snowdrifts at Hurricane Ridge, see the park's website here:
Road Open: Who's Coming to Hurricane Ridge and When?
According to the National Park Service Public Use Statistics Office, 9,933 people visited Hurricane Ridge in January 2011. In January 2009, there were 8,039 visitors to Hurricane Ridge. (A January 18, 2010 landslide forced an emergency road closure for the end of January through most of February last year.)
The monthly public use report for February 2011 is not yet available.
A traffic counter, located at the Heart O' the Hills entrance station, transmits road data to the National Park Service's Denver Service Center, where it is compiled and tracked. Olympic National Park receives road traffic reports for several park roads on a monthly basis.
As expected, Saturdays and Sundays bring the heaviest traffic and largest crowds. An average of 127 vehicles per day uses the road on the weekends. Peak visitation has occurred on holiday weekends: 2011's busiest days fell over President's Day weekend, with 435 vehicles on February 19 and 434 on the following day. New Years' Day and January 2 also saw record traffic, with 427 and 348 vehicles each day, respectively.
While the vast majority of visitors to Hurricane Ridge come on weekends and holidays, some make the trip on weekdays. Between January 24 and February 22, 2011 an average of 41 vehicles per day used the road from Monday to Thursday. Traffic and visitor counts fluctuate depending on the day and week, but Mondays appear to have the least amount of traffic.
For weekends within that same date range, an average of 127 vehicles per day used Hurricane Ridge Road past the Heart O' the Hills entrance station.
Averages do not include Olympic National Park patrol, administrative or employee vehicles.
Entrance station data indicates the majority of weekday visitors are from the local area: 78 percent of Hurricane Ridge weekday visitors enter Olympic National Park using an annual pass. Out of the weekday visitors, 31 percent used an Olympic pass, 30 percent used a seniors' pass and 17 percent used the America the Beautiful inter-agency.
On weekends, 67 percent of visitors enter the park with an annual pass, while 33 percent of visitors purchase a day pass. Forty-four percent of visitors used an Olympic pass, while 10 percent used the America the Beautiful seniors' pass and 13 percent used the National Parks and Public Lands pass.