An Administrative History of Mount Rainier National Park
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In the decade and a half following World War II, the NPS wrestled with the problem of winter use at Mount Rainier National Park. The heart of the problem was this: to what extent should skiers shape the physical development and budget priorities of the national park? The problem concerned several other national parks as well—notably the California parks—but nowhere was the situation more vexing than at Mount Rainier. As a result, the problem of winter use at Mount Rainier received a great deal of attention from both Newton B. Drury and his successor in the directorship, Conrad L. Wirth.

Some of the dilemmas which winter use presented were not new but were merely a resumption of problems that the NPS had been contending with in the 1930s. There was the problem of public safety when so many people engaged in a hazardous sport so far from hospitals. There was the issue of how far up the mountain the road should be plowed, how to provide adequate parking space at the end of it, and how to justify the large expense of this maintenance operation if downhill skiing was in any way incidental to the NPS mission. There was the matter of weighing the skiers' desire for some kind of uphill lift against the summer visitors' desire that there be no visible traces of such a device on the landscape. Finally, there was the problem of making the park concessioner stay open through the winter when experience showed that the winter season was not profitable.

Yet the postwar years formed a new and distinct context for the problem of winter use, too. When the park administration revisited these familiar issues after 1945, the debate was generally more contentious. Two underlying factors explain this important difference in the climate of policymaking. First, it was difficult to disentangle the problem of winter use from the larger problem of rehabilitating the park's infrastructure. After World War II, the NPS faced a backlog of deferred maintenance problems, a critical shortage of personnel housing, a recalcitrant concessioner with only a few years left on its twenty-year contract, and a collection of old visitor-lodging structures that failed to meet the needs of a changing pattern of summer visitation. Poised to begin rebuilding, the NPS did not want winter use requirements to drive master planning at this critical juncture in the park's development. Chiefly at issue was the NPS proposal to move overnight accommodations from Paradise to a lower elevation in the park, where the visitor season would be longer and the weather would be less severe on the buildings.

The second factor that created a new context for winter use policy after World War II was the growing political influence of skiers. With the return of prosperity in the late 1 940s and 1950s, the American political economy became increasingly consumer-oriented. Politicians showed a heightened interest in public recreation and leisure. Senators, congressmen, and governors of the state of Washington advocated winter use development of Mount Rainier National Park as a way to win voter approval. They relied on groups like the Pacific Northwest Ski Association and the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs to inform them of consumer interests. These groups, in turn, had strong ties to local chambers of commerce. Thus, demands for all-year road access to Paradise, all-year overnight accommodations at Paradise, and a chair lift or aerial tram above Paradise became increasingly linked together. The NPS found itself in opposition to a powerful pro-development lobby led initially by ski groups, later by the Washington Automobile Club, and staunchly supported by the state governor.

This chapter seeks to explore the various administrative challenges of winter use at Mount Rainier: public safety, snow removal, concession operations, proposed chair lift development. Since the overall problem of winter use was such a contentious one, it will be helpful to approach the problem chronologically as it unfolded through four phases. The first phase, from 1945 to 1948, saw the NPS and the pro-development lobby become polarized over the issue of Paradise's suitability as a winter use center. The second phase, from 1948 to 1953, involved an unsuccessful search for alternative sites in and outside of the park. The third phase, from 1953 to 1955, marked the high tide of the long campaign for a chair lift or aerial tram, and culminated in Director Wirth's persuasive report to the Secretary of the Interior recommending against such a development. The fourth phase, from 1956 to 1962, saw the construction of a new all-year road from Marmot Point (above Narada Falls) to Paradise, and then a gradual decline in winter use as another ski resort was developed at Crystal Mountain outside the northeast corner of the park.


Park officials fully expected winter use of Mount Rainier to swell after World War II. During the last winter season before the United States entered the war, in 1940-41, approximately 136,000 people visited Mount Rainier. Most people used the Paradise area; a smaller number went to Cayuse Pass. Due to wartime budget cuts for the national parks, the NPS did not attempt to keep the road to Paradise open during the winters of 1942-43, 1943-44, and 1944-45. In the first winter after the end of the war, the road was closed above Longmire from December through February yet the park still recorded 102,000 visitors between October 1 and April 30. A large number of these people came in the months of March and April, when the road to Paradise was reopened and the 600-foot rope tow was put back in operation. Superintendent Preston stated that it was not uncommon that season to have 500 or more people in the Cayuse Pass area and 2,000-3,000 people in the Longmire-Paradise area on weekends. [1]

National Park Values, Skiers, and Winter Use Policy

Skiers presented NPS officials with a quandary. Park officials wanted to make Mount Rainier' s winter scenery available to the public. Not everyone came to Mount Rainier in winter to use the ski slopes; a significant minority came to enjoy other forms of winter recreation such as snowshoeing, skiing across country, or a quiet stay at the National Park Inn during the off-season. Nor were the thrill-seeking downhill skiers oblivious to the scenery. Nonetheless, most NPS officials agreed that downhill skiing stretched the parameters of appropriate recreational use of the national parks, and they were not comfortable with the increasingly crowded conditions on and around the ski slopes. Yet to explain why this was so required fairly arcane statements of policy.

Director Cammerer attempted to circumscribe appropriate winter use developments in two office orders of April 7, 1936 and January 27, 1940. [2] Director Drury did the same with office orders of August 13, 1945 and March 21, 1946. [3] Each revision of policy was born of a combination of philosophizing about the fundamental purposes of national parks and a desire to ameliorate the demands of an increasingly vigorous ski lobby.

Drury's first statement of policy, issued one day before V-J Day and the end of hostilities in World War II, paralleled Cammerer's statement in its reaffirmation of the Park Service's longstanding commitment to encourage winter use of the parks. But it adopted a somewhat more conservative stand toward ski installations such as runs, tows, jumps, and warming facilities. Tows and jumps, for example, had to be completely removable at the end of the winter season, and warming facilities would be strictly oriented to day-use. In an effort to define the appropriate "spirit" for winter recreational use of national parks, Drury wrote:

This Service desires to develop a program of informal skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and tobogganing, in which all those who desire to do so may participate. Winter carnivals, crowning of "Queens" and "Kings", highly competitive, and other spectacles designed to attract large crowds of spectators with the resultant overcrowding of available accommodations, will be avoided. Such a situation is a detriment to family and other groups who come to enjoy the use of the slopes, rinks, and other facilities themselves and not with the intention of standing on the sidelines while someone else performs. [4]

Drury's intention was to reach out to the amateur ski enthusiast who was drawn as much by the park environment as by the sport itself. Regional Director Tomlinson made the same distinction when he advised Superintendent Preston not to equate ski clubs with mountaineer clubs. "We know that the majority of ski organizations are interested only in skiing as a sport," he wrote, "as distinguished from the general enjoyment of the park values where skiing is incidental to the broader use of such park values." [5] The NPS wanted to develop winter use sites for the casual skier while encouraging competitive and resort skiers to go elsewhere.

If the state of Washington had had more ski areas in 1945, local skiers might have found this policy acceptable. Unfortunately, Paradise remained the foremost ski area in the region in the minds of most Pacific Northwest skiers. Newer ski areas at Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass, and Mount Baker still lacked basic facilities, and that was the full extent of ski development for an estimated 150,000 skiers in the state. [6]

Washington skiers began to develop their own agenda even before the end of World War II. As early as the spring of 1944, the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs (FWOC), an offshoot of the National Ski Association, began goading the Park Service and the Forest Service to produce postwar recreation planning studies for each state. The FWOC wanted national parks to play an important role in the development of ski areas. In the first months following the end of World War II, the FWOC, the Pacific Northwest Ski Association, various local ski clubs, and even The Mountaineers criticized the new winter use policy announced by Director Drury. These groups wanted overnight accommodations, and they thought the prohibition against "highly competitive" events too restrictive. [7]

When Drury issued a revised statement of NPS winter use policy on March 21, 1946, he sought to placate skiers while quietly reducing their influence. The statement began by explicitly retracting Drury's earlier opposition to the holding of competitive events in national parks. Rather, the statement could now be read as embracing the downhill ski fraternity. "It is recognized that important recreational benefits are available during the winter months in areas of the National Park System having a heavy fall of snow and where the climate is otherwise not too severe," Drury wrote. "It is further recognized that, if made available under proper controls, the use of our areas for healthful out-of-door recreation during the winter months is a very desirable way to make the scenic and other natural values of the System available for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." The other modification of his policy was subtle but significant: Drury deleted a provision that would allow ski clubs to operate their own ski tows under special permit, reserving this privilege instead for the park concession. [8]

The Rise of a Pro-Development Lobby

Pacific Northwest skiers discovered their political influence during the winter of 1945-46. In October 1945, Superintendent Preston announced that the Paradise area would be closed through another winter, as the NPS was still operating on a wartime budget and no funds were available for snow removal. Several community, high school, and university ski clubs were alerted to the prospect of yet another winter passing without access to the state's leading ski area. The sports editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Royal Brougham, who had been instrumental in promoting the Silver Skis event at Paradise in the 1930s, lobbied Senator Warren Magnuson on behalf of the state's skiers to secure road maintenance funds for the park. Magnuson succeeded in getting a special supplemental appropriation of $11,500 for snow removal (Mount Rainier was the only park so favored), but it did not clear Congress until January. In the meantime, Governor Mon C. Wallgren pledged the assistance of his State Department of Highways. This calculated move received good press coverage while the governor's later retraction of the offer, on the advice of his attorney general, went unnoticed. Park Service maintenance crews went to work on the road in midwinter and had it open on March 3, in time for the spring ski season. [9] Magnuson and Wallgren, both seasoned Washington politicians, had found that intervening in the administration of Mount Rainier National Park earned them the public's gratitude. Ski clubs, for their part' learned that their special interest in Mount Rainier carried weight with politicians.

Chambers of commerce were quick to perceive this and to find some common ground with the ski clubs. Both groups wanted a larger commitment to visitor accommodations at Paradise by the RNPC and the park administration. Preston noted this in his annual report for 1947. "Ever since the end of the war there has been a concerted effort, led by ski clubs, chambers of commerce, sporting good stores and other organizations and individuals, to have accommodations at Paradise available through the winter season." [10] In 1948, leaders in the tourist business reestablished the Rainier National Park Advisory Board, defunct since 1936. The purpose of the new advisory board was to bring together representatives of the Pacific Northwest Trade Association, the State Hotel Association, the State Restaurant Association, the Washington Automobile Club, and other organizations interested in the development of Mount Rainier. Although the advisory board's resurrection was short-lived, NPS officials viewed it warily as one more sign of a growing lobby for commercial exploitation of Mount Rainier National Park. [11]

Plowing the road to Paradise, June 2, 1954
Plowing the road to Paradise, June 2, 1954. (Photo courtesy of Mount Rainier National Park.)

A Commitment to Paradise

The pro-development lobby succeeded in its effort to influence park planning. On June 17, 1946, Secretary of the Interior Julius A. Krug met with Governor Wallgren and various Seattle and Tacoma business leaders in Seattle to discuss the postwar use and development of Mount Rainier National Park. The business community wanted all-year overnight accommodations at Paradise. They envisioned a new, government-built hotel together with a chair lift similar to the Timberline Lodge and ski area on Mount Hood. Krug indicated his firm commitment to an all-year development of some kind at Paradise. This meeting set in motion new development plans by the NPS. [12]

Chief Landscape Architect Thomas C. Vint duly outlined what the NPS would need to redevelop the Paradise area for all-year use. Vint based his plan on two central assumptions. First, the aged structures at Paradise would be replaced by one structure that would be of fire proof construction and designed to hold up under heavy snow loads. Second, the new building would be planned and built with the understanding that all-year accommodations at Paradise were unprofitable and must be subsidized by the federal government. Specifically, Vint proposed that the Paradise Inn, Paradise Lodge, and Community House would be torn down and replaced by a $2,000,000 structure designed for efficient, practical hotel operations. The building would include approximately 100 guest rooms; six large dormitory rooms; accommodations for 60 to 80 employees; a dining room, cafeteria, and kitchen; and lobby, lounge, gift shop, store, and other public facilities that would be large enough to accommodate day-users as well as overnight guests. [13]

Vint's proposal served as a working plan as the NPS negotiated with the RNPC over the terms of their new concession contract. As these negotiations grew more and more strained and complicated, it became evident that the commitment to all-year facilities at Paradise had placed the NPS in an awkward position. Not only were all-year visitor accommodations infeasible without government subsidy, the NPS would be hard-pressed to make road access safe and reliable through the winter. So concerned were the Park Service's engineers that they began to look again at the alternative of a tramway. Still another alternative was to build snow sheds along the most avalanche-prone sections of road in Paradise Valley. (A third alternative, to build a new winter access road to Paradise that would avoid Paradise Valley altogether, was not yet proposed at this time.) Vint advised the director in May 1948, "To keep the road open the year round is almost in the 'stunt' class." Even a generous commitment of funds to snow removal would not eliminate the potential for frequent emergency road closures, or worse, a fatal avalanche. Vint bluntly protested:

The first error is the assumption that all year operation of facilities in Paradise is reasonable. It is not. Therefore, if the first error is to be maintained, others must follow such as a tramway as a substitute for the road as a means of reaching the area.

I can not recommend the tramway—nor can I recommend the road as a means of access during the winter season for reasons of public safety. [14]

Vint wanted Director Drury to reconsider the Park Service's position and perhaps to contest the popular assumption that winter use of the Paradise area was both feasible and appropriate.


Between 1948 and 1953, the NPS considered various alternatives to Paradise, in and outside the park, for use as a winter sports center. One area, the Cayuse Pass-Tipsoo Lake area, was actually developed; others were given study. Although no viable alternative was found, this activity afforded a greater perspective on the challenges that the Paradise area posed. At the same time that park planners investigated alternative sites, the park administration experimented with other concessions for the winter operation.

The Tipsoo Lake Ski Area

Skiers first made use of the Cayuse Pass-Tipsoo Lake area in the mid-1930s, when the State Department of Highways began maintaining the road as far as Cayuse Pass throughout the winter. Skiers used portable ski tows at Cayuse Pass in the winter of 1945-46, and at Tipsoo Lake the following winter. In the winter of 1948-49, Preston had a survey made of the area and pronounced it the equal of Paradise from the standpoint of topography and snow conditions. [15] In the late summer of 1949, Drury allotted $15,000 for the development of ski facilities at Tipsoo Lake. The funds were to cover the installation of a temporary warming hut, first aid station, and ranger's office, the use of portable toilets, and the cost of keeping a parking area plowed at Cayuse Pass. [16] NPS officials hoped that the ski area would provide a practical alternative to Paradise, which had been rendered inaccessible through most of the previous winter by an unusually heavy snowfall. At the opening of the winter season, park officials invited press representatives to the Tipsoo Lake area in the hope of deflecting criticism of the decision to close the Paradise road that winter. Indeed, the cost of developing the Tipsoo Lake area was less than the annual cost of snow removal on the road to Paradise. The new ski area received good coverage in the local press, and Preston noted that public criticism of the Paradise closure was "less powerful than expected." [17]

Unfortunately, the Tipsoo Lake ski area did not prove to be popular with skiers. The park recorded 13,556 visitors to the area during the winter of 1949-50, compared to 54,067 visitors to Paradise during the winter of 1947-48. Superintendent Preston pointed out that the latter figure included many non-skiers. Moreover, an abundance of stormy weather during the winter of 1949-50 probably lowered public interest in winter sports overall. Nevertheless, Drury concluded that the experiment had not been a success. [18] The most likely explanation was that Cayuse Pass was a longer drive from Seattle and Tacoma, and offered no more amenities than were available at Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass. [19]

The Winter Use Committee

After the Tipsoo Lake ski area proved a disappointment for a second straight season, the NPS formed a winter use committee to investigate other alternative sites. Chaired by Park Landscape Architect Harold G. Fowler, the committee visited six actual or proposed ski areas during the last week of March, 1952. The committee's report offered two major findings. First, adopting a regional perspective on winter recreation, the committee affirmed that there was a need for one or more major ski areas in the state of Washington. Second, the committee stated that, if the NPS were called upon to develop a ski area in the park, it would then have to recommend Paradise as the most suitable area. [20]

The committee described four principal ski areas in the state of Washington. These were Stevens Pass, Snoqualmie Pass, Ski Acres (a mile east of Snoqualmie Pass), and Mount Baker. The four areas were equipped with a total of 26 rope tows, one chair lift (at Ski Acres), and one T-bar lift (at Stevens Pass). Stevens Pass and Mount Baker had lodges; the other two areas had warming huts and a limited food service. During the winter of 1950-51, the four areas drew from 30,000 to 60,000 visitors each. In addition, two proposed ski areas also showed promise: Corral Pass and White Pass, near the northeast and southeast corners of Mount Rainier National Park. None of these areas was preeminent the way Paradise had been in the 1930s, yet perhaps any one of them had the potential to be developed into a major ski area. [21]

Within the park itself, the committee investigated two areas in addition to Paradise: Tipsoo Lake and the Tatoosh Range. The Tipsoo Lake ski area could be developed into a first class ski area, the committee reported, particularly if runs were developed on both sides of the Cascade Crest. The view of Mount Rainier was outstanding. The disadvantages of the area were the shortness of its ski runs, the need for a chair lift from Cayuse Pass uphill to Tipsoo Lake, and the fact that the ski slopes intersected the road over Chinook Pass so that snow-plowing of this state highway each spring would bring an early end to the ski season. As for the Tatoosh Range, the committee found that the bowl between Pinnacle Peak and Reflection Lakes was too small and steep to be suitable for a major winter use development. [22]

This left Paradise. The committee cited four factors favoring a major ski development at Paradise: 1) there was public demand for a sizable hotel or lodge facility at Paradise anyway; 2) many skiers preferred to ski on the actual slope of Mount Rainier rather than some nearby mountain; 3) the heavy snowfall at Paradise provided excellent spring skiing; 4) keeping Paradise open for skiers allowed the public to visit an alpine area in all seasons of the year. Factors opposing such a development (strictly from a skier's point of view) were the area's southern exposure, and the fact that the mountain produced unusually stormy weather. [23]

The committee recommended six items needed to develop Paradise as a major ski area. First, a new approach road would be required to avoid the avalanche danger where the present road entered Paradise Valley. Second, overnight lodging and meal service must be provided. Third, the new hotel should have basement parking for at least 100 cars. Fourth, outdoor parking spaces must be increased to accommodate 1,000 cars. Fifth, the lodge must have a game room so that visitors could amuse themselves during stormy weather. Sixth, a chair lift would be required, as this was "an absolute necessity to a major ski area." [24] The winter use committee did not endorse this type of development. It was merely stating what would be needed if the NPS were required by lawmakers or the Secretary of the Interior to develop Paradise as a winter sports area. Indeed, in contrast to Vint's principled protests against the development of Paradise as a winter sports center, the committee's analysis of what such a park use would require was starkly matter-of-fact. Perhaps this cold presentation was calculated to stir the blood of administrators higher up in the organization. Perhaps, on the other hand, the committee could be faulted for passing up an opportunity to comment critically on the whole idea.

Winter Concession Activities

Another dimension of the winter use problem was the strain it placed on the park administration's partnership with the concession. The RNPC made no secret of the fact that it opposed a winter season at Paradise. Winter use was even more weekend-oriented and weather-dependent than summer use. The heavy expense of transporting employees in and out of Paradise for the weekend business and keeping the operation going even when stormy weather drove most people off the mountain invariably added up to a financial loss for the season. Moreover, the RNPC had gone on record that it was not interested in building a lift of any kind unless it could be used in summer, too. Add to this the fact that the NPS and the RNPC were in the midst of negotiating a new concession contract and a government purchase of all the RNPC's buildings, and it will be seen that providing food and lodging for winter visitors was a very delicate matter.

The RNPC suspended winter operations after the winter of 1941-42, and did not resume this service through the first peacetime winter of 1945-46. In the fall of 1946, the NPS obtained an agreement with the RNPC to provide overnight accommodations and meal service at Paradise during the coming winter. In view of the RNPC's past misfortunes with the winter season, the agreement was no mean feat. Company officials consented to the plan only after a meeting in September with Assistant Secretary Girard Davidson, NPS officials, and local skiers' representatives. The concessioner operated the Paradise ski lodge on weekends and holidays from November 30 through April 6, reported a 65 percent occupancy rate, and showed a loss for the season of $18,961.97. Everyone recognized that it was a stopgap arrangement, pending a decision whether to rehabilitate the Paradise Inn and Paradise Lodge or raze the old buildings and construct a new hotel. [25]

all-steel passageway at Paradise Lodge entrance to provide access under deep snow
A crew installs an all-steel passageway at Paradise Lodge entrance to provide access under deep snow, October 13, 1954. The passageway was afterwards covered by wood framing. (Photo courtesy of Mount Rainier National Park.)

In August 1947, the RNPC's board of directors decided unilaterally that the company would not provide overnight accommodations at Paradise through the coming winter, but only a cafeteria service on weekends in the Paradise Lodge. Losses for the winter of 1947-48 nevertheless came to $16,788.41. The RNPC provided similar service for the winter of 1948-49, with similar unhappy results. A company history summed up the year 1949 this way: "The net operating profit from June 1st thru Sept 30 was $13,733.07 and the net operating loss Oct 1, '48 through May 31, '49 was $16,819.81, so the winter operation continued to be the leech sucking out the life blood from the summer season operations." [26]

With the RNPC threatening to shut down permanently at the end of its one-year contract extension through December 31, 1949, the NPS made hasty arrangements in the fall of 1949 to open an alternative ski area at Tipsoo Lake, contracting with the Naches Company to operate rope tows and provide a sandwich-and-hot-coffee type of food service. At the end of the year, the RNPC and the NPS agreed to a further two-year extension of the contract, with the stipulation that the RNPC did not have to provide winter services at Paradise. In August 1952, the government purchased the RNPC's buildings and the RNPC agreed to continue operations under a new lease arrangement, but this still did not clarify what, if anything, the NPS would do to redevelop Paradise for winter use.

During the winters of 1949-50, 1950-51, 1951-52, and 1952-53, the Park Service closed the road above Narada Falls. [27] Initially there were some objections to this in the local press, but park officials generally felt that public criticism was milder than anticipated. [28] With the advantage of hindsight, it would seem that public disappointment with the winter road closure did not fade but rather smoldered, awaiting the right combination of personalities to fan it back to life.


On February 6, 1953, the Seattle and Tacoma newspapers reported a speech by Washington's Congressman Thor Tollefson, delivered on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, deploring the lack of ski facilities at Mount Rainier National Park. [29] Overlooking several statements of winter use policy by the NPS, as well as one NPS study particular to winter use in Mount Rainier National Park, Tollefson claimed that the park was languishing under a "lack of policy." He implied that it was Congress's job to make one.

Nothing illustrated so well the new politics of Mount Rainier National Park administration. Energized by their success in getting a bill passed that provided for the federal government's purchase of the RNPC's buildings, Washington's politicians now focused on getting a federal appropriation for the construction of a new overnight lodge and chair lift at Paradise. As long as local opinion favored it, they seemed deaf to the Park Service's warnings that such a development would be morally doubtful and economically unsound. For more than a year, Washington's Governor Arthur Langlie and Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay seemed to be ignoring, or at least discounting, the Park Service's advice as well. It was only by arguing against a chair lift in the strongest possible terms—risking his job in the process—that Director Conrad L. Wirth was able to save the park from this development.

A Polarization of Thinking

The resurgence of public interest in Mount Rainier National Park development during 1953-54 was led not by skiers but by local merchants who wanted the road to Paradise kept open all year. In the fall of 1953, a group known as Greater Tacoma began calling meetings on the subject of reopening Paradise for winter use. The meetings brought together business leaders, resort owners, ski clubs, and others with a view to lobbying Washington's senators and congressmen. At the same time, a group called the Roads to Paradise Resort Association organized for the same purpose. Meanwhile, in the town of Eatonville, a group of citizens launched what they called "Operation Bootstrap," an effort to assemble data on the cost of snow removal between Longmire and Paradise, which they thought would strengthen their case for getting the road reopened for winter use. [30]

Governor Langlie addressed the subject of Mount Rainier National Park development in a letter to Secretary of the Interior McKay on October 16, 1953. Langlie observed that the park was the state's outstanding tourist attraction, and alleged that park use was severely restricted by NPS policies. If the park were adapted for use by skiers, Langlie argued, it would be usable for more than three months out of the year and would once again attract capital investment. Paradise had greater potential for ski development than Sun Valley, but skiers would not use the area unless it had some kind of permanent, uphill transportation. Langlie favored a chair lift or tramway for passenger transportation to at least 10,000 feet elevation, for use in both winter and summer. [31]

Secretary McKay's reply to the governor, drafted by the NPS, acknowledged that Paradise was the most promising area in the park for winter use, but did not indicate what type of uphill transportation was favored. Wirth proposed to save that information for a follow-up letter, when it would be stated that ski lift facilities would be limited to demountable T-bar tows. Sending a copy of the correspondence to Regional Director Lawrence C. Merriam, Wirth confided: "The important point at this stage is that we are approaching a commitment, all things being considered, for winter sports development in Paradise Valley... .I definitely want to avoid the impact of chair lifts and aerial tramways and the related pressures that would come for summer operation of them." [32] Wirth was already staking out what he hoped would be a defensible middle ground.

But as correspondence between the governor and the secretary continued through the winter of 1953-54, the issue became more and more polarized. In December, Governor Langlie formed a Mount Rainier National Park Development Study Committee. The committee was comprised of some of the most rabidly pro-development men in the state: Elmun R. Fetterolf, former chairman of the Rainier National Park Advisory Board; Joseph C. Gregory, an official of the Automobile Club of Washington and editor of The Washington Motorist; Roger A. Freeman, advisor to the governor and a chief exponent of the proposed aerial tramway. [33] That same month, Wirth received a resume of the Park Service's Mount Rainier winter use studies from Regional Director Merriam. Merriam' s report underscored the difficulties of developing Paradise for winter use. Even if a new winter access road were built and the cost of a new hotel were surmounted, Merriam cautioned, there would still remain the problem of Paradise's stormy weather, which would probably prevent Paradise from ever becoming an economically successful major ski area. [34]

In February 1954, Joseph C. Gregory announced in The Washington Motorist that the Automobile Club of Washington was launching a campaign for the full development of Mount Rainier National Park. The club claimed to have polled its 43,000 members and found a mandate to "change the thinking of the NPS." According to the club's polling, an overwhelming majority of club members favored the construction of a complete, all-year resort at Paradise. The club's essential program called for (1) all-year accommodations, (2) all-year road access, and (3) all-year uphill transportation (either a chair lift or tramway). After devoting the whole February issue of The Washington Motorist to Mount Rainier, Gregory kept up a drumbeat of criticism of the NPS in subsequent issues. In his most strident articles, Gregory demanded a modern hotel at Paradise with swimming pool, tennis courts, and spacious green lawns. He also lambasted the NPS for not yet completing the Stevens Canyon Road and objected to its charging of fees for use of the Eastside Road. [35]

The National Parks Association (NPA) responded by defending the status quo and blistering the Automobile Club in two editorials in the spring and summer issues of National Parks Magazine. "Mount Rainier National Park Needs Your Help At Once," wrote the NPA's executive secretary, Fred M. Packard, in a newsletter to all NPA members. The Automobile Club of Washington was agitating for a "permanent steel chairlift" on the flank of Mount Rainier. Packard urged members to write at once to Secretary McKay and insist that chair lifts were out of place in a national park. [36]

Wirth held a series of public meetings in Seattle and Portland in August 1954. He met privately with the governor's committee, received its report, and conferred with the Automobile Club's board of trustees. He exchanged ideas with The Mountaineers, the Mazamas, the ski clubs, the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs, and the local chambers of commerce. [37] His visit to the Pacific Northwest was not only a fact-finding mission but also an effort to rally public opinion against the chair lift scheme. The NPS did not want "a Coney Island at Mount Rainier," Wirth told his audiences. [38] A little more than a month after returning to Washington, Wirth submitted a 29-page report on the proposed developments at Mount Rainier to Secretary McKay.

Conrad Wirth's Report to the Secretary

There can be no question that Wirth's report to the Secretary was the product of his own deliberate thought on the subject. While the middle fourteen pages of the report on development plans came directly from Regional Director Merriam, Wirth front-loaded the report with so much of his own material—introduction, review of policy, conclusions and recommendations—that the report became his own statement. Moreover, Wirth attached such a strongly-worded cover letter to the report that McKay could not have missed its import. The issues addressed in the report, Wirth explained, were so close to the heart of the national park idea that the idea itself was on the line. "Whatever the money considerations may be, I am sure—just as sure as I can be of anything in this world—that [the national park idea] must endure as one of the basic American philosophies," Wirth wrote. "The national park concept is one of the important natural assets. If we destroy that concept we alter a point of view that I believe is basic to our American philosophy and way of life." [39] Back me up on this, Wirth seemed to be telling the secretary, or you will need to appoint a new director of the NPS. [40]

Wirth recommended that the secretary approve a plan for the development of Mount Rainier National Park containing the following principal items:

1. Completion of the Stevens Canyon Road by the summer of 1957.

2. More accommodations for the visiting public, especially at lower elevations, perhaps located outside the park.

3. A new section of road between Marmot Point and Paradise which would allow winter closure of the most avalanche-prone section of road entering Paradise Valley. Also a new parking area on this new road at Barn Flat.

4. Rehabilitation of the Paradise Lodge for day-use during the winter season.

5. Demountable T-bar type lifts that would be both economically feasible and unobjectionable to summer visitors.

6. Encouragement of more winter and summer use of the east side of the park.

Wirth strongly recommended against any permanent uphill transportation (tramway or chair lift) in the Paradise area, giving the following reasons:

1. Construction of a permanent lift to the 10,000-foot elevation on Mount Rainier would pose serious engineering and maintenance difficulties and would be economically unsound.

2. The suddenness and severity of storms on the mountain would make the ninety minute round trip unpleasant, if not hazardous, for people caught in adverse weather conditions.

3. The ride would not provide an appreciably different view than what could already be obtained at Paradise, and the thrill of the ride itself was not an appropriate use of a national park.

4. A majority of Pacific Northwesterners would undoubtedly be opposed on principle to the idea of a tramway on Mount Rainier.

5. Construction of an all-year mechanical lift would violate the principles established by Congress to govern the preservation and use of national parks.

In case these points were not persuasive enough, Wirth added a lengthy discussion at the end of his report on the physical and economic problems associated with the proposed chair lift or tramway.

Secretary McKay delayed his decision nearly three months, but finally gave the NPS director his full support. In a letter to Governor Langlie, the secretary carefully laid stress on the developments that were programmed or presently underway. For the present, McKay wrote, Paradise was again open for winter use, with the concessioner operating rope tows and day-use services at the Paradise Lodge. The Paradise area was to be further developed for winter use by the construction of a new approach road, and for summer use by reconditioning of the Paradise Inn and the addition of new campgrounds near Paradise Lodge and Barn Flat (so-named for the horse shelter and corral situated there). The Stevens Canyon Road was expected to reach completion by the summer of 1957, and in accordance with the governor's committee report, the NPS was no longer charging a fee for use of the Eastside Road. McKay concluded with the decisive statement that the Department of the Interior did not intend to give any further consideration to the construction of a chair lift or tramway in Mount Rainier National Park. [41]

Conservationists' Reaction to the Secretary's Decision

Wirth had won the crucial battle. All experts agreed that without a chair lift Paradise could not become a major ski resort. In contrast to many other public use issues, the Park Service actually had time on its side in this case. With the growth of other ski areas in the region, pressure for this type of use in Mount Rainier National Park would ease. Wirth's endorsement of a demountable type of ski lift merely reiterated what his two predecessors, Cammerer and Drury, had both maintained: if the concessioner wanted to put up the capital and handle the job of taking the contraption down at the end of each ski season, the NPS would authorize its installation. The development plan even left open the possibility that overnight accommodations would be moved to a lower elevation at a future time. The only new item in the development plan for Paradise was the alternate road from Marmot Point to Paradise via Barn Flat, and the additional campgrounds and parking areas associated with it. This certainly seemed preferable to the construction of snowsheds or tunnels along the existing road.

Nevertheless, some conservationists interpreted the secretary's announcement of development plans for Paradise as a setback for national park principles. It seemed to them that the secretary had approved the development of a ski resort at Mount Rainier. It tended to confirm their suspicions about the rumored Mission 66 program—that it was a misguided plan for overdevelopment of the national parks. The proposed T-bar appeared to be a capitulation to the ski clubs and a grave compromise of national park standards. One local conservationist, Polly Dyer of The Mountaineers, suggested to Superintendent Macy that the T-bar at Paradise, like the notorious Echo Park Darn in Dinosaur National Monument, belied a fatal lack of commitment to wilderness preservation by the government. [42]

The National Parks Association was torn by the secretary's announcement. Some NPA officers thought the director had acted courageously. But Devereux Butcher, editor of National Parks Magazine, thought that Wirth had given up too much and proposed to rebuke him publicly in a signed editorial. The NPA's president, Sigurd F. Olson, and its vice president, Charles G. Woodbury, both tried to persuade Butcher not to print the editorial, arguing that it would cause a breach between the NPA and the NPS. Butcher printed his editorial anyway in the January-March issue of the magazine. In February, Wirth commented on the editorial to Sig Olson and suggested that the magazine might publish in its next issue two letters of support that he had received from other NPA officers, [43] The NPA's executive secretary, Fred M. Packard, assessed the political damage this way:

Connie is quite perturbed about what may be said in the editorial in April. As far as I can figure out the matter, I think he feels he went way out on a limb and risked his job to convince McKay he should disapprove the chairlift. If now our organizations publish statements implying or stating criticism of the Secretary's decision, Connie may well fear that the Secretary will say there was no point in his cooperating as he did, and that could well lead to a request for Connie's resignation. [44]

Wirth did not lose his job, of course, but the souring of relations between the NPS and conservation groups carried a price. The chair lift controversy set the stage for a subsequent battle over Wirth's Mission 66 plan to remove overnight accommodations from Paradise to a lower elevation. In that battle, regrettably, conservation groups like the NPA and The Mountaineers provided the Park Service with precious little support. Conservationists failed to understand the range of administrative concerns surrounding these issues, and reacted myopically to such developments as the new road to Paradise and the completion of the Stevens Canyon Road as if they were signs of a new wave of park development. [45] In this particular instance, their aloofness from the Park Service hurt their own cause.


Just as NPS planners had predicted, winter use of Mount Rainier National Park declined as other ski areas sprang up in the region. As early as the summer of 1955, the Yakima Ski Club announced its intention to install a ski lift at White Pass, outside the southeast corner of the national park, while the Olympia Ski Club began construction of a ski lodge at the same location. [46] Meanwhile, plans were taking shape for the development of a major winter use area northeast of the park. Focused on Corral Pass initially, planning efforts shifted to Crystal Mountain following a survey of the area by a team from The Mountaineers. [47] Both developments boded well for those who opposed downhill ski developments at Mount Rainier.

Indeed, it was doubtful whether anyone would bite on the Park Service's offer to allow the installation of demountable T-bar lifts at Paradise. Prospective concessioners who had earlier discussed the possibility with the park administration now informed Superintendent Macy that they would await the completion of the new road to Paradise before making that kind of investment. Ostensibly the delay was necessary in order to design the best possible layout of ski runs, parking areas, and day-use facilities in combination with the new road. But the growing competition from other ski areas probably weighed on their minds as well. [48]

A Bureau of Public Roads crew surveyed a route for the new road in the late summer of 1955. NPS landscape architects, meanwhile, assessed where a new day-use facility should be built if such a building were included in the park's Mission 66 program. Four sites came under consideration: the lower campground site, the old Community Building site, the area below Paradise Inn used for bus parking, and Barn Flat. The development of this important building (the eventual Paradise Visitor Center) is covered in a later chapter, but it is worth noting here that the four sites had various advantages from the standpoint of winter or summer use. Strictly from the standpoint of skiing, Barn Flat made the most sense because it would provide the most extensive parking area and one long ski run down from Alta Vista. This site was abandoned in favor of the old Community Building site, however, when it was found that the nearby Paradise Lodge would have to suffice for as much as a decade until the $1 million day-use facility could be built. Thus, even as the BPR designed the new winter road from Marmot Point to Paradise, winter-use planning was made to conform to the broader concerns of the Mission 66 program. [49]

The changing orientation of Paradise development plans was fortuitous. Use of the area by skiers declined as the decade advanced. In 1960, Superintendent Macy happily reported that plans were going forward to develop a ski resort at Crystal Mountain, outside Mount Rainier National Park. The Forest Service entered an agreement with the BPR for construction of an access road, and development of the Crystal Mountain ski resort began in 1962. [50]

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2000