An Administrative History of Mount Rainier National Park
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From an administrative standpoint, Mount Rainier National Park has been a relatively quiet park since the Mission 66 era. Issues of resource protection and visitor access have not attracted a great deal of public comment, nor have any development proposals arisen to challenge the park's fundamental purposes. Yet the relative absence of controversy in Mount Rainier's recent administrative history should not be mistaken for a lack of challenges. Mount Rainier's past five superintendents have had one overriding concern—how to manage the growing number of visitors.

Superintendent William J. Briggle aptly described the park's administrative context in a 1995 newsletter on the general management plan:

The Puget Sound area's population has grown tremendously since Mount Rainier was designated a national park in 1899. Today, it is one of the nation's largest and fastest growing metropolitan areas. With this growth, Mount Rainier has taken on the complexity and problems of a park in an urban setting. Growing threats to park resources and changes in the neighboring area accompany the two million annual visitors. Issues such as transportation to and within the park, along with protection of Mount Rainier's irreplaceable resources, must be addressed. [1]

These issues have been dominant for 25 to 30 years. The growth of complexity in managing Mount Rainier has been evolutionary rather than sudden, quiet rather than politicized.

Visitor use of Mount Rainier National Park grew 33 percent from 1965 to 1993. Although an upward trend is evident, the growth has been uneven. In 14 of those 28 years the park saw a decrease of visitor use over the previous year. In the two years 1976-1977, visitor use grew a whopping 54 percent above the level in 1975, and Mount Rainier posted a record-high visitation in 1977, when 2,437,332 people visited the park. In the recession year 1982, visitation fell 22 percent below the level in 1981. Increases of 12 to 15 percent occurred in 1986, 1989, and 1991, and visitation in 1992 approached the record high of fifteen years earlier. Mount Rainier's superintendents ascribed the year-to-year fluctuations in visitation to a variety of causes, including changing economic conditions, rising or falling gasoline prices, unusual weather, and even the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Figures for total park visitation obscure some of the particular stresses that increasing public use has placed on Mount Rainier National Park. For example, automobile use grew at more than double the rate of overall visitation as the average number of persons per vehicle declined. While Mount Rainier's lodging and campground facilities bore the increases in visitation relatively well, park roads and parking areas grew more and more congested. Backcountry use grew rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, then declined somewhat in the 1980s. The most dramatic increase in public use of the park occurred on the upper mountain itself, where the number of climbers attempting to reach the summit rose from 1,376 in 1965 to nearly 9,600 in 1993—an increase of nearly 600 percent.

The pressure from increasing visitation forms a backdrop to many of the administrative decisions of the past thirty years. Other changes in Mount Rainier administration are attributable to changes in the Park Service bureaucracy, some of it to new technology. The first section of this chapter provides an overview of the modern staff and discusses some new features of personnel management in the period 1965-1995. The second section describes the evolution of the resource protection division. The third section traces developments in the interpretive division. The final section highlights some changes in the maintenance division.


Changes in the Mount Rainier National Park staff organization since 1965 are mostly a reflection of changes in the Park Service as a whole. Major trends include staff specialization, reliance on technical support from regional offices, use of volunteers and Friends groups, and service-wide standardization of personnel training and safety standards. The size of the staff has grown modestly compared to the 33 percent increase in park visitation.

The Superintendents and a Management Overview

Five men have served as superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park since 1962. Their tours of duty have averaged about six years. John A. Rutter served from 1962 to 1967, John A. Townsley from 1967 to 1972, Daniel J. Tobin, Jr. from 1972 to 1977, William J. Briggle from 1977 to 1984, and Neal G. Guse, Jr. from 1984 to 1991. In 1991, Briggle returned for a second tour of duty as superintendent.

Mount Rainier National Park is one of a handful of national parks in which the superintendency is funded at a GS 15 grade level, and the park's recent superintendents have all been men of high standing in the service. Two of these individuals were second-generation Park Service (Tobin and Guse), three had prior experience in the Washington office or one of the regional offices (Rutter, Tobin, and Briggle), two went on to become regional directors (Rutter and Tobin), and one followed Roger W. Toll's career path to the Yellowstone National Park superintendency (Townsley). These five superintendents all shared a level of experience, competence, and career ambition that lifted them to the top ranks of the service.

Rutter's years as superintendent of Mount Rainier spanned the completion of the Mission 66 program and the beginning of the boom in outdoor recreation. Rutter's first interest was the front country—the roads and developed areas where the vast majority of visitors spent their time. He wanted the national park to "sparkle." Rutter's superintendency marked a time of transition in the national park from the Mission 66 emphasis on new development to the contemporary emphasis on backcountry management and protection of natural resources. [2]

Townsley was the first superintendent of Mount Rainier to concentrate on the park's backcountry resources. He initiated the backcountry management plan and revived the proposal to expand the park southward to include the Tatoosh Range. Townsley's interest in the backcountry stemmed in part from his own preferences and in part from the growing influence of the new wilderness preservation system on the NPS mission. In this sense he might be considered the first Mount Rainier superintendent whose tenure reflected the service's shift in emphasis from visitor services to resource management.

Tobin's superintendency saw the height of the boom in wilderness recreation during the 1970s. More than Townsley or Rutter, Tobin oversaw the beginning stages of a profound change in the way the NPS managed natural resources. As Tobin himself described the change, resource protection policies were increasingly tied to scientific research and data collection rather than simple observation of the resource. [3] Biologists would begin to supplant rangers as key advisors to the superintendent on issues of natural resource management. Under Tobin's direction, biological research was begun on Mount Rainier's elk herds, forest community types, and alpine ecosystems.

Following Tobin's superintendency. Briggle managed to augment these programs in spite of cutbacks in Park Service funding in the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s. A handful of resource issues came to the fore—wilderness designation, elk overpopulation, rehabilitation of historic structures—but by and large Mount Rainier continued to be a park without major management controversies during Briggle's first tour.

The trend toward greater use of scientific method in the management of Mount Rainier's natural resources, which had first become pronounced in the mid-1970s during Tobin's superintendency, accelerated in the mid-1980s during Guse's superintendency. Tobin, as director of the Pacific Northwest Region, tapped Guse for the Mount Rainier job because of Guse's scientific background. Tobin wanted Guse to take a fresh look at the elk situation in Mount Rainier and evaluate whether the elk were really a problem after all. Guse had worked on a similar elk problem in Rocky Mountain National Park involving summer range in the park and winter range in the surrounding national forests which required coordination with state wildlife officials. Shortly after Guse started at Mount Rainier, the problem of day hikers' effects on subalpine meadows emerged as the most serious natural resource issue confronting park management. For help with this issue Guse turned to social scientists as well as biologists. [4]

Since his return to Mount Rainier in 1991, Briggle has made it the theme of his second tour to prepare the park for its centennial in 1999. A new general management plan for the park is in preparation at this time (1995) and major initiatives during the past four years have included staffing up the park's natural and cultural resources division, developing new ties between the Park Service and large financial donors in the private sector, and broadening the park's regional planning efforts particularly with reference to public transportation and tourist accommodations in gateway communities.

Volunteers and Friends Groups

The Park Service began to make considerable use of volunteers and friends groups in the 1970s. Reflecting the service-wide trend, the Mount Rainier National Park administration recruited employees and volunteers through various programs, including the Youth Conservation Corps, Young Adult Conservation Corps, Student Conservation Association, and Volunteers in Parks. These inexpensive employees and volunteers worked in all administrative divisions and all areas of the park during the summer season.

The Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), authorized by Congress in 1972, provided a valuable source of labor for rehabilitation projects in the backcountry. Teenage boys and girls and adult supervisors worked in crews of about ten individuals each, performing rehabilitation of backcountry camps, reconstruction of trails and backcountry ranger stations, roadside brushing, vista clearing, replanting of shrubs, and other tasks. These projects made it possible to accomplish many labor-intensive jobs that might not otherwise have been attempted. Generally the YCC program had about an eight-week duration from mid-June to mid-August, with crews moving from place to place in spike camps. In at least one year YCC crews occupied the Macy Dorm at Longmire. [5]

The amount of YCC activity declined over the years. In its first year, the park enrolled 50 YCC volunteers. The number fell to around 40 youths through most of the 1970s and about 10-20 in the 1980s as funding for the program dwindled. In 1987, the last year that the YCC was active in Mount Rainier, the park administration received 93 applications for 13 funded positions. Total program costs in that year were $26,808 for completion of projects with an appraised value of $42,211. [6]

The Student Conservation Association (SCA), established in 1957, had a continuous presence in Mount Rainier until about 1984. The heyday of the program came in the 1970s. Two kinds of SCA activity occurred side by side in the park: high school students enrolled in 2-3 week "wilderness workshops," during which time they performed rehabilitation work in the backcountry similar to the YCC; and college-age "resource assistants" worked with NPS personnel on a variety of tasks. The park administration sought the latter group in particular. At a program cost of $2,000 per resource assistant for twelve weeks of labor, SCAs were a good deal for the NPS. The last year Mount Rainier hosted a high school-age SCA group was 1984. NPS officials found the group contentious and inadequately supervised, and park officials were dismayed when the group made campfires in a backcountry meadow. [7]

The Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC) had only a brief presence in Mount Rainier in 1979-81. YACC enrollees numbered about 25 each summer and worked on more substantial projects than the younger YCC or SCA work crews. The program was terminated by Congress in 1981. [8]

Volunteers in Parks, or VIPs, contributed the largest single contingent of volunteer labor to Mount Rainier National Park. Under the Volunteers in Parks Act, the NPS was authorized to pay incidental expenses such as transportation costs, meals, and uniforms for volunteers who served without salary. [9] The number of VIPs varied, but generally fell within the range of 75 to 150 individuals per year. VIPs came with a wide range of talent and experience, from medical doctors to Boy Scouts and from retirement to high school age. VIPs worked in a variety of fields including interpretation, backcountry management, environmental studies, resource management, visitor protection, and clerical. Most VIPs worked during the summer season but the park also utilized VIPs during the winter season for ski patrol, supervision of the snowplay area, and operation of the hiker center. [10] Despite a very aggressive effort by the park administration to use VIPs, there were usually more VIP applicants than the park could use.

In recent years one or two VIPs were employed in supervising the VIP workforce, liberating NPS personnel from this duty and effectively jump-starting each summer's volunteer program. [11] In 1994, VIPs logged more than 30,000 hours of work. This was an impressive achievement. It was emblematic of what could be called the era of entrepreneurial management at Mount Rainier.

Personnel Management

Personnel management has grown considerably more complex in the past thirty years. Diverse kinds of employee training, increased emphasis on employee safety, and greater reliance on middle management are some ways in which it has changed. Changes in personnel management in Mount Rainier National Park have mostly reflected service-wide trends, although the relatively large size of Mount Rainier's staff has sometimes placed it in the vanguard of new developments.

Training. For many years the training of summer seasonals has followed an established pattern. Each June the park administration directs its efforts to two weeks of formal training of the new employees. Seasonal rangers receive fire management, search and rescue, and law enforcement training; interpreters receive training in public speaking. These are frenetic days as the park races to complete the new staff training in time for the July 4 weekend and the start of the main visitor season. [12]

In addition to this intensive training exercise, the park administration has facilitated other forms of training for permanent staff members throughout the year. The park administration has conducted much of the staff training in-house, using permanent employees as instructors for training other employees. Some training courses held at Mount Rainier have drawn NPS employees from other areas; for example, an avalanche fundamentals seminar held in 1977 drew rangers from Olympic, North Cascades, and Crater Lake. The Mount Rainier staff likewise has availed itself of training opportunities outside the park. [13] Law enforcement, emergency medical, safety, and management training has accounted for most of this professional training afield, which can total a few thousand man-hours in a year.

In recent decades, rangers have received the most on-the-job training. Each ranger has to have a minimum of 40 hours of law enforcement training per year. Characteristically Mount Rainier rangers have attended law enforcement training with other NPS rangers at Fort Worden, Washington, supplemented by a set amount of time on a firing range. For many years park rangers practiced weapons firing on a local range at Tahoma Woods, but this range was closed down due to lead contamination in June 1994. The activity was moved to a local police firing range, thus ensuring that firing qualifications would be maintained. [14]

Safety. Reflecting another service-wide trend, the park administration has placed increasing emphasis on employee safety since the 1970s. The drive for efficiency underlay the safety program, as rising costs of health care, disability benefits, and liability cases made safety precautions more and more cost effective. An early indication of this trend in Mount Rainier was the appointment, in 1977, of a seasonal safety technician who conducted safety inspections and assisted park personnel in improving the safety management program, followed a few years later by the appointment of a full time safety officer, the only such position in any park in the Pacific Northwest. The park administration formed a loss control management team to hear and act upon employee safety suggestions. The park administration also sponsored frequent "tailgate" safety meetings and distributed thousands of safety booklets and pamphlets to employees. As a result of these various efforts, the number of employee accidents and the amount of lost work days resulting from injuries decreased. [15]

The safety program targeted a variety of concerns. One area of special concern was motor vehicle safety. The informal tailgate meetings placed strong emphasis on driving safety and the park charted a general decline in the employee motor vehicle accident rate. Another area of special concern was hearing loss prevention. In 1981, Mount Rainier instituted a hearing conservation program for employees who worked with loud heavy equipment. Setting up the program involved the purchase of a testing booth and testing equipment, the compilation of baseline audiograms for all heavy equipment operators, and the recording of sound levels for each item of heavy equipment with a noise dosimeter. [16] In 1988, the park implemented a comprehensive hazardous waste plan. The plan included the designation and training of hazardous waste coordinators and the construction of a hazardous materials storage facility. [17] Other safety programs included asbestos removal, safety instruction for the use of explosives, and safety education on blood-born pathogens. [18]

Computerization. Beginning in 1984 with the acquisition of its first five IBM computers, Mount Rainier National Park established itself as a pace-setter in the use of computer technology. A full-time computer specialist was added to the park staff in 1985. Personnel and accounting were the first administrative functions to become computerized, followed by the backcountry reservation system in 1986. Mount Rainier was the first park to link personal computers in a network, beginning with those at headquarters at Tahoma Woods and soon including all of the personal computers in the park. By 1995 the park had 114 computers, or virtually one computer for every employee with a desk. Employees were linked by electronic mail with other NPS employees throughout the nation. [19]

Mount Rainier National Park adopted Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, as soon as it became available in the Park Service. This computer program provides the means for cataloguing biological data by location within the park in a way that makes the information readily accessible. In 1993 the system was substantially upgraded with the purchase of Arc/Info, Arc/CAD, and Arc/View GIS software, and a permanent GIS specialist position was added to the park staff. [20]

Employee Morale. In recent decades employee morale in Mount Rainier National Park has been uneven. Many intangible factors are involved in raising or lowering a park staffs morale, including the vagaries of climate, housing conditions, the receptivity of local communities to service employees, and the personalities and management styles of park superintendents and their division chiefs. Remedying low employee morale is as difficult as pinpointing its causal factors.

Park managers have always recognized the effect of climate on employee morale. Mount Rainier's cold and damp weather, together with the deep shade found in such heavily forested areas as Longmire and Ohanapecosh, generally make for difficult living conditions. The push to develop staff housing outside the park at Tahoma Woods has improved the situation somewhat, but Mount Rainier's climate continues to be an inescapable burden for the park staff.

Arguably the quality of staff housing in and outside the park has not kept pace with the rising standard of housing in the surrounding region. Certainly the service has attracted an increasingly diverse personnel in the past thirty years for whom substandard housing represents more of a hardship. While the problem of NPS housing is hardly unique to Mount Rainier, high property values in the fast-growing Puget Sound region exacerbate the situation for members of this park's staff.

The contrasting management styles of Mount Rainier's recent superintendents and their division chiefs have also affected employee morale. Disgruntlement over personnel management led staff members to vote 38 to 10 in favor of forming a union. This vote, taken on December 1, 1980, gave the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) the exclusive right to represent park employees as their collective bargaining agent. Union representatives negotiated the park's first labor-management contract agreement in July 1981. [21] Since then, a wide array of personnel issues have been covered under biennial agreements between park management and Local No. 1501 of the AFGE. The union agreements have addressed such issues as the contesting of position descriptions and classifications, procedures for performance standards and appraisals, procedures for disciplinary and adverse actions, and provision for an employee counseling service program. [22]

Friction between employees and management continued after the union was formed. In 1983, an operations evaluation team interviewed 23 employees on the subject of employee-management relations. The team found that there was a significant employee morale problem which appeared to stem from the management style of the superintendent and the administrative officer. The interviewees made two principal complaints. First, the superintendent's method of giving employees direct and specific orders, by-passing intermediate levels of supervision, had a demoralizing effect on some lower level supervisors and employees who complained of being "caught in the middle" between their supervisors and the superintendent. Second, and more seriously, some employees complained of mistreatment by the superintendent, "management by intimidation," and "flagrant personal assassinations." [23] Perhaps in tacit acknowledgement of how mercurial and subjective the problem of management-employee relations could be, the operations evaluation team did not recommend any specific action to the regional director, and none was taken.

The employee union still exists. It has not raised any grievances against the superintendent for several years.


Traditionally the ranger or protection division formed the core of the park staff The full title of the ranger division—the Division of Resource Management and Visitor Protection—hinted at its wide-ranging scope. The ranger performed a variety of duties from law enforcement to fire management, wildlife surveys, backcountry trail construction, and search and rescue. The versatile "do anything" ranger had traditionally been the backbone of the Park Service, and the ranger who acquired a variety of skills and experience was rewarded with advancements in the ranger organization. In the years since 1965 this picture began to change; the ranger's stature declined relative to that of various specialists. By 1991, proper training and professionalization of the ranger force had become a topic addressed in the Vail Agenda. [24]

There have been two salient developments in Mount Rainier National Park's Protection Division since 1965. The first development has been the need for redistricting as park managers have had to trim the Protection Division's budget and staff and shift resources from the backcountry to the front country in response to changing visitor use patterns. The second development has been an increasing emphasis on law enforcement and law enforcement training as the service has sought to redefine the ranger's role.

Ranger Districting and Staffing

Superintendents Rutter, Townsley, and Tobin presided over a steady growth of the ranger force during the 1960s and 1970s. As Rutter pointed out in the early 1960s, growing public use of the backcountry required a larger number of backcountry patrols. The backcountry management plan of 1973 required more rangers to handle meadow restoration work. The number of seasonal rangers reached an all time high in the mid-1970s, when the park had as many as seven rangers assigned solely to the backcountry. [25] In the early to mid-1980s, increasingly diverse demands on the Park Service budget forced this number steadily downward. Moreover, nearly ten years of restoration work in the backcountry had had a pronounced effect. Visitor impacts were now most evident in front country areas such as the Paradise meadows, suggesting the need to redirect priorities once more.

It fell to Superintendent Briggle to address the twin problems of the budget squeeze and the changing visitor use pattern. In 1983 Briggle reorganized the Protection Division by reducing the number of ranger districts from three to one, eliminating two district ranger positions. The chief ranger, who had formerly supervised day-to-day operations, was reassigned to long-term planning activities, while the remaining district ranger took charge of day-to-day operations of the division. [26] Briggle brought the number of seasonals back up and obtained a $51,300 addition to the park's base funding for ranger staffing of high-use visitor areas during the summer season. [27]

Briggle instituted a second reorganization of the Protection Division in 1994. The superintendent divided the park into two districts, Mather District and Muir District, embracing front country and backcountry. Whereas the reorganization of 1983 had kept a semblance of the old division of the park into geographic units, the latest reorganization swept that away altogether in favor of functional units. The Mather District covered entrance stations, campgrounds, fee collection, structural fire protection, law enforcement, emergency medical aid, and search and rescue in the front country. The Muir District covered backcountry patrols, wildland fire management, wilderness management, climber registration and human waste management in the alpine zone, search and rescue in the backcountry, and maintenance of all backcountry structures. A notable innovation was the transfer of trail maintenance from the maintenance division to the Protection Division in order to consolidate all backcountry activities under one administrative unit. [28]

Law Enforcement

In the past ten years, Mount Rainier's rangers have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of time they devote to law enforcement. Once again the change in Mount Rainier National Park reflects a service-wide trend. Everyone agrees that the change is an unfortunate one; opinions vary as to whether the emphasis on law enforcement has gone too far. Some park employees feel that the effort is disproportionate to the level of crime, that police duties tarnish the ranger's public image, and that the emphasis on law enforcement may be driven in part by the protection division's need to carve out a distinct and indispensable role for itself. [29] Others see the increased emphasis on law enforcement as a necessary evolution of park adminstration since crime has infiltrated Mount Rainier and a more diverse visitor population is committing more resource violations. [30]

Park officials began tracking the frequency of criminal cases in the park during the 1970s. The most prevalent criminal cases involved vehicle break-ins or "car clouts." Incidents of theft or vandalism rose approximately twenty-five percent from 1980 to 1990. [31] Park officials thought that a considerable percentage of car clouts were the work of a single professional thief who systematically worked national park campgrounds across the nation. [32]

Probably the most memorable single incident of theft occurred in 1973 with the disappearance of a valuable Indian dress from the Longmire Museum. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation apprehended the thief the next year and the artifact was returned to its owner, the University of Washington. [33]

Despite the common perception that national parks were no longer the sanctuaries from crime which they had once been, violent crimes remained relatively rare in Mount Rainier National Park. In 1978 a double rape and armed robbery occurred on Rampart Ridge which led to an extensive manhunt both inside and outside the park. The perpetrator, a soldier from Fort Lewis, surrendered to authorities outside the park. In 1981 an armed robbery occurred at the National Park Inn. In 1987 park rangers and FBI agents carried out a joint investigation of a homicide after a body was discovered on the east side of the park. The victim had been shot in the back of the head. The unsolved murder case was thought to have been drug-related. [34]

Drug trafficking was another concern. Tipped off by both the Washington State Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Administration, park officials believed that migrant workers were running illegal drugs from the Yakima Valley via Highway 410 to the Puget Sound area. They also learned through two seasons of undercover investigation that concession employees were buying, selling, and consuming a significant quantity of illegal drugs at Paradise. The park obtained a special appropriation for drug control efforts in 1991. [35]

Two other areas of law enforcement, traffic and resource violations, were certainly not new to the park staff. Rangers issued the largest number of citations for driving infractions, including speeding and driving under the influence. Through-traffic on Highways 410 and 123 accounted for a considerable percentage of these offenses. Rangers also investigated several dozen motor vehicle accidents each year; sometimes these involved fatalities, criminal charges, or both. Park officials found a correlation between law enforcement and vehicle accidents: when rangers issued more citations, the number of accidents went down. On the other hand, each additional citation involved a lot of staff time. Rangers had to fill out incident reports and make a court appearance for each citation, and when the U.S. Attorney's Office eliminated the magistrate position at Mount Rainier in 1992, rangers had to attend court in Tacoma. If this was not frustration enough, numerous visitors failed to appear for their court date and the magistrate, rather than issue an arrest warrant, usually dismissed the case. Faced with these constraints, the park administration had to find the lowest level of law enforcement that was effective. [36]

The park administration cracked down on poachers in the late 1970s. Park officials jointly investigated a 1977 incident involving an elk shot in the park with officials of the Washington Department of Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Three individuals were fined and sentenced to the maximum jail terms allowed under the Lacey Act. Two more hunters were found guilty of poaching and fined in 1979, and six separate incidents involving illegal hunting on the boundary of the park were turned over to state authorities the following year. [37]

While wildlife poaching was brought under control, however, another kind of activity began to threaten park resources. People started harvesting certain plants in the park to sell. Rangers recorded instances of people bringing bushels of mushrooms out of the forest, or cutting acres of beargrass which they loaded into their pickups, or collecting moss which they sold to floral shops. Rangers faced two challenges in dealing with this problem: first, scientific information was lacking on how these activities would impact the park's ecology, and second, the harvesters by and large came from a sector of the population which had not frequented national parks before and did not have a recognizable preservation ethic. If scientific investigation indeed confirmed that there was a need to prohibit these harvests, it was clear that educating the harvesters about the purposes of the park and obtaining their cooperation would not be easy. [38]


Mount Rainier's interpretive program was fifty years old in 1970. The basic interpretive themes of the park—mountain-building, glacial action, and biodiversity (the "arctic island in a temperate zone")—were well-established. The interpretive program's infrastructure was mostly completed, and consisted of four museums, a system of wayside exhibits and self-guiding nature trails, and campground amphitheaters. The principal factors influencing the interpretive program such as the predominantly local origin of park visitation, the park's intensive weekend use, its status as a "destination park," and its large amount of inclement weather remained unchanged. In the years since 1970, the central challenge for the interpretive division has been to continue updating this long-standing program so that it will remain interesting to a local public and at the same time use the interpretive program as a vehicle for instilling a preservationist ethic among park visitors.

Major Programs and Staffing

In recent decades the interpretive division has comprised a staff of four to six permanent full time individuals plus 25 to 30 seasonal ranger-naturalists. As the program goes into high gear each summer, most of the activity focuses on the four main developed areas of Paradise, Longmire, Sunrise, and Ohanapecosh. Characteristically, the interpretive division has made visitor contacts through a variety of activities including guided walks, slide programs in the visitor centers, campfire programs in the campground amphitheaters, roving interpretation (allowing ranger-naturalists to seek out concentrations of visitors) and point duty (assignment of ranger-naturalists to specific sites).

More than in the Mission 66 era, the interpretive division in recent decades has striven to separate the park visitor from his or her automobile. Whereas NPS planners and park officials had earlier displayed an enthusiasm for wayside exhibits and a highly mobile visitor use pattern, now the interpretive division sought to disperse visitors by getting more people onto self-guiding nature trails and guided walks. A statement in the interpretive prospectus for Longmire (1976) indicated the change in attitude toward the automobile:

One of the real tragedies of American life is the attachment of Americans to their automobiles. Often a visitor will only experience a beautiful natural area through the windows of his car. Not only does he fail to use his nonvisual senses—smelling, hearing, touching, tasting—but his visual world is often marred by greasy fingerprints and false images. We must entice the visitor to leave his car. [39]

Yet the tradition of the drive-through park persisted. The same prospectus recommended the development of an audio message system for automobilists:

Signs just outside the Nisqually entrance gate will notify visitors to turn on their car or transistor radios for information concerning the park. Pretaped messages will come on at an appropriate distance from the next point of interest so that people can decide beforehand whether or not to stop... .It will.. .enable the driver and passengers to enjoy the environment without having to follow an interpretive message in a brochure—a distraction that might lead visitors to ignore the interpretive message altogether. [40]

Ostensibly the purpose of the audio message system was to advertise local attractions such as could be found at Longmire and provide inducements for getting the automobilist to stop and explore. At the same time, however, it pandered to the automobilist's desire for autonomy; the driver could make decisions about his or her park itinerary without getting out of the car. [41]

In addition to the standard fare of museum exhibits, slide presentations, and campfire programs, visitors have been able to take advantage of an ever changing selection of ranger accompanied outdoor activities. A "living history" presentation, featuring two VIPs who demonstrated the evolution of climbing equipment, clothing, and technique, drew appreciative audiences at Paradise in the summer of 1972. Beaver watches, consisting of walks around the Longmire meadow to observe beavers, attracted several hundred participants each summer during the late 1970s and early 1980s—until the natural succession of the meadow made the beavers go elsewhere. The park staff first offered guided snowshoe walks at Paradise during the winter of 1973-1974 and this popular program has persisted for more than twenty years. Popular guided walks to the Paradise ice caves, a favorite of the interpretive program for more than fifty years, had to be suspended after 1981 due to deteriorating ice conditions; in that summer two visitors were injured by chunks of ice falling from the ceiling in two separate incidents. Naturalist-rangers tailored walks to specific age groups and audiences, including walks for the elderly, walks for children, early morning walks for birdwatching, and night walks for encountering sounds and smells. [42] Each year the interpretive division devised new programs and eliminated others which seemed to be losing their public appeal.

Some new interpretive programs developed out of servicewide initiatives. For example, Chief Naturalist Norman A. Bishop added night sky interpretation to the repertoire of programs in 1972 following a two-day workshop held in the park by Michigan State University astronomer Dr. Von Del Chamberlain. This circuit-riding astronomer conducted similar two-day seminars in other western national parks that summer. Night sky talks proved popular with park visitors, who recognized that the exceptionally clear air often found at Mount Rainier was a valuable park resource. [43] Another example of a servicewide initiative was Mount Rainier's participation in the National Environmental Education Development (NEED) program in the early 1970s. While the NPS worked with the Educational Consulting Service on environmental education materials for schools, parks such as Mount Rainier established Educational Study Areas (ESAs) for use by school groups using the NEED materials. In 1974, the interpretive division set up two ESAs at Tahoma Woods and Carbon River. [44]

In the 1990s Chief Naturalist William Dengler and Education Specialist Loren Lane developed a new outreach program for Mount Rainier aimed at bringing more naturalist talks and slide presentations to schools and other venues outside the park. Early park naturalists including Schmoe, Brockman, and Stagner had conducted similar activities, and the new program represented the latest wave of enthusiasm for exporting national park values to surrounding communities. By 1995 Mount Rainier had received two grants for developing the new outreach program under a systemwide initiative called "Parks as Classrooms." [45]

Until recently the interpretive division was organized geographically into two districts, a Nisqually District which included Longmire and Paradise, and a Pacific Crest District which included Sunrise, White River, Ohanapecosh, and Box Canyon. The chief naturalist gave overall direction to the park interpretive program, while two district naturalists supervised day-to-day operations. Other permanent staff positions—the librarian-curator, Longmire area naturalist, audio-visual specialist, and secretary—were duty-stationed at Longmire. About two- thirds of seasonal ranger-naturalists were assigned to the Nisqually District and one-third to the Pacific Crest District. [46]

In 1992 the interpretive division was reorganized. After two resignations and a retirement left three of the seven permanent staff positions vacant, the two districts were abandoned and the district naturalist positions were converted into assistant chief naturalist and education specialist positions. The education specialist supervised outreach activities, the assistant chief naturalist directed day-to-day operations in the park, while the chief naturalist devoted more time to parkwide issues as a member of the superintendent's staff. Meanwhile, the separate librarian and Longmire area naturalist positions were combined into one position, the audio-visual specialist position was left unfilled, and seasonal ranger-naturalists were assigned more or less to the four main developed areas of Paradise, Longmire, Sunrise, and Ohanapecosh. [47]

Museums, Waysides, Amphitheaters, Nature Trails

The interpretive division developed a prospectus for each of the four main developed areas of Paradise, Longmire, Sunrise, and Ohanapecosh in 1962-1964. [48] The focal point of each prospectus was the new visitor center planned for that area. While the park dedicated new visitor centers at Ohanapecosh and Paradise in 1964-1965, new visitor centers planned for Sunrise and Longmire were never built. Instead, existing museum exhibits in the administration building at Sunrise and in the old administration building at Longmire were updated in the 1970s and 1980s. Meanwhile, the park developed self-guiding nature trails in all four areas and added more wayside exhibits around the park road system.

The exhibits in the Sunrise Visitor Center acquired a facelift in 1974. The park remounted the old exhibits to make them more appealing, installed new touch tables, bulletin board materials, and a pair of mounted viewing telescopes, and added a publications display rack. The park also obtained an inflatable auditorium which could seat 75 to 100 people and used it in the stockade behind the visitor center for screenings of the new film "Fire and Ice." [49] A few years later park staff collaborated with interpretive specialists from Harpers Ferry Center in redesigning the displays into a more free-flowing plan. This was part of the "new look" in exhibitry that the NPS was implementing throughout the system. The concept was to get away from the "book on the wall" approach by bringing forward a few arresting exhibits that would entice the visitor without impinging too much on the visitor's limited time. Another aim of the new look was to work environmental education into the content of the exhibits. At Sunrise, the geological story was broadened to include displays on high altitude tundra and visitor impacts in the subalpine and alpine zones. [50]

About the same time that the Sunrise visitor center was being updated, park staff worked with the Harpers Ferry Center and the Denver Service Center on a new interpretive prospectus for the Longmire area. Drafted in 1975 and finally approved in 1981, the prospectus sought to integrate the area's historical and ecological themes and to encourage use of the area as an alternative to Paradise. Originally the prospectus called for turning the administrative building into a new visitor center that would combine visitor information, audiovisual programs, and a publication sales area, while museum exhibits would be retained in the old museum building. [51] By 1981, park officials had decided to keep all but the front room on the ground floor of the administration building for administrative use and to make the front room a hiker information center. The museum, meanwhile, escaped the "new look" because the museum exhibits themselves became contributing elements in the Longmire historic district. With its historical ambiance and rustic architecture, Longmire was an ideal place to convey the national park story. As the superintendent reported in 1982,

The Longmire Museum received a new old-time look this year. All the exhibit cases were stripped down to raw wood, stained dark mahogany and varnished. The cases were complimented [sic] by off-white paint and Victorian lighting. The grey deck paint on the floor gave way to a light brown carpet. The overall effect is Vintage Early Museum. [52]

Loren Lane prepared a new exhibit for the museum entitled "Pioneer Naturalists of Mount Rainier," featuring former naturalists J.B. Flett, Charles Landes, Floyd Schmoe, and C. Frank Brockman.

The Park Service lost none of its enthusiasm for wayside exhibits after the Mission 66 era. It continued to add new wayside exhibits to road and trail overlooks throughout Mount Rainier's front country. A Wayside Exhibit Team, comprised of park staff, regional planners, and specialists from the Harpers Ferry Center, developed a plan in 1977-1978 for 41 additional waysides in the park. Installation of these wayside exhibits began in 1979, and continued for two more years. [53] The content of the wayside exhibitry covered the gamut from geology to history, but much of it reflected the Park Service's heightened emphasis on environmental education.

The virtue of wayside exhibits was that they interpreted park features at the actual points of interest. Their drawback was that the exhibits were exposed to all kinds of weather, from beating sun to freezing rain, from high winds to immense loads of snow. Wooden signs did not hold up under these conditions. The park used aluminum signage in the 1950s, then went over to fiberglass in the late 1970s, and most recently pioneered the use of porcelain enamel. Development of wayside exhibits involved not only the addition of new exhibits but the upgrading of existing ones with these new and improved materials. Currently most of the park's trailhead signs use the porcelain enamel finish, but many of the old fiberglass exhibits remain and need replacement. [54]

Another disadvantage of the use of wayside exhibits was the amount of vandalism that they incurred. Wherever roving interpreters or self-guiding pamphlets could convey the same information as a wayside exhibit, the cost of vandalism had to be taken into account. So far, vandalism of waysides in Mount Rainier National Park has remained at fairly low levels. Perhaps the most important test of vandalism and signing involves the recent installation of trailside exhibits along the Trail of the Shadows, which obviates the need for self-guiding booklets. As long as the signs are not wrecked by vandals, they are a superior and cost-effective alternative to booklets. [55]

The interpretive division has long staged evening campfire programs in campground amphitheaters at Longmire, Cougar Rock, Sunshine Point, Ohanapecosh, and White River campgrounds. As attendance rose at these ritual national park gatherings, and as interpreters worked audiovisual media into their presentations, it was necessary to enlarge and update some of the amphitheaters. [56]

The interpretive division took the initiative in proposing and developing new self-guided nature trails. The Trail of the Shadows, the oldest nature trail in the park, was redeveloped in the early 1980s to give more emphasis to the local history of the Longmire meadow. Park naturalists developed self-guiding booklets for nature trails at Nisqually Vista, Carbon River, Ipsut Creek, Ohanapecosh, Emmons Vista, and Sourdough Ridge, while the Grove of the Patriarchs trail was fitted with in-place metal photo plaques. [57] The interpretive prospectus for Longmire proposed adding a nature trail beginning on the south side of the road bridge across the Nisqually River, with small waysides focusing on the plants found along the river, the structure of the streambed, and effects of flooding. This project, however, never materialized. [58]

The Challenge of Visitor Diversity

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Mount Rainier's visitors have come from the Pacific Northwest in recent years, foreign tourists and recent immigrants have accounted for a growing number of park users. These groups present a special challenge for the park administration. Many are not fluent in English. More importantly, many are unaware of American cultural values pertaining to national parks and wilderness areas. Foreign tourists and recent immigrants often behave in ways that may be normal within their frame of reference but appear as insensitive to experienced national park visitors. Shortcutting on trails or spreading out picnic blankets in the Paradise meadows are common examples of this type of behavior. The challenge for the interpretive division is to reach out to these groups, make them feel welcome, and effectively inform them of the Park Service's efforts to preserve the resources.

The park administration recognized the special needs of foreign tourists and recent immigrants as early as 1977, when foreign-language interpretive handouts were prepared and distributed in German, Spanish, and Japanese. [59] By 1995, some printed materials were published in as many as eight foreign languages. The park administration also sought to reach non-English speaking visitors by hiring seasonals who were fluent in foreign languages. Recently, the park entered into an agreement with Recreational Equipment, Inc., to develop stay-on-the-trail signs addressed to foreign tourists. The aim was to come up with suitable messages that would not only convey the park regulation, but obtain the foreign visitors' compliance by appealing effectively to their cultural values. [60]

Another social group with whom the interpretive division took a special interest were local American Indians. In 1988, Chief Naturalist William Dengler initiated contacts with neighboring tribes to learn about their ancestral use and association with Mount Rainier. Cecelia Carpenter, a Nisqually tribal historian, provided a training session for all seasonal ranger-naturalists. The park administration invited Carpenter to compile Indian legends and myths regarding Mount Rainier for use by park staff. [61]


Mount Rainier's maintenance division has had a relatively large budget and staff for as long as the park administration has been divided into departments, or since the late 1920s. During the past decade the maintenance division has absorbed approximately 40-50 percent of the park's annual budget. [62] Several features of Mount Rainier National Park have contributed to the large scale of the maintenance operation: a well-developed physical plant, including one of the highest ratios of road miles to square miles among western national parks; aging buildings, many of which possess historic value; heavy snow fall, entailing high costs for snow removal and structural repairs; and a topography and climate which combine to create many powerful forces of erosion, including rockslides, snow avalanches, downed trees, washouts, floods, and mudflows.

Core maintenance activities in the front country have not changed very much since the division was created. The primary function of the division has always been to maintain buildings, roads, and trails, and it has always accomplished this work by a combination of contracts and in-house task directives. Since World War II, the maintenance division has also had responsibility for radio and telephone communications, power utilities, and water and sewage systems; these functions were formerly assigned to separate electrical and engineering departments within the park administration. More recently the maintenance division has shared responsibility with the protection division for youth programs, meadow restoration projects, and human waste management in the alpine zone.

The maintenance division's activities in the backcountry have changed more than its activities in the front country. In the first place, the logistics of hauling materials into the backcountry have changed dramatically. Until the mid-1980s the park still had its own pack stock and an animal packer for trail maintenance; now army helicopters do the work in a few hours that it would take a pack string and packer many days to accomplish. Helicopters not only airlift logs, supplies, and equipment for trail and bridge construction, but they also transport hundreds of sacks of gravel and dirt for use in meadow restoration—heavy materials that would be completely beyond the means of pack stock to carry into the backcountry. This use of helicopters is made possible through a joint U.S. Army Reserve-NPS training and resource management operation: the Army Reserve's helicopter pilots acquire high-altitude flight experience while the NPS gets these materials airlifted at no cost to the Park Service. [63]

The maintenance division's other responsibilities in the backcountry have always overlapped with those of the protection division. Trail maintenance, the rehabilitation of some backcountry buildings and the removal of others, meadow restoration around popular backcountry camp sites, the creation of new backcountry camp sites—all of these activities have been accomplished by both divisions during the past twenty to thirty years. In an effort to resolve this blurring of responsibilities, Superintendent Briggle transferred the entire program of trail maintenance from the maintenance division to the protection division's newly established Muir District in 1994. [64]

Helicopter and firefighters at Sunrise
Helicopter and firefighters at Sunrise, staging area for the Grand Park fire, August 1, 1965. Helicopters have had a large influence on park operations in the backcountry. (C.J. Gebler photo courtesy of Mount Rainier National Park.)

For a long time the maintenance division staff has been organized into two main bodies with a general foreman in charge of each. Buildings and utilities (B & U) forces include mechanics, painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and utility and sewage system operators. The roads and trails operation includes a force of motor vehicle and engineering equipment operators as well as a vehicle shop and sign shop. [65] For a number of years the maintenance division had a landscape architect and historical architect on board as well.

Major buildings and utilities projects during the past thirty years have focused primarily on rehabilitation and upgrading of the existing plant. The new visitor center at Paradise required a great deal of finishing work in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Wastewater treatment systems were reconstructed under contract at Ohanapecosh, Tahoma Woods, and Paradise between 1976 and 1979, and at Sunrise and Longmire in 1985. Rehabilitation of the Paradise Inn, including structural reinforcement, upgrading of the electrical system, and improvement of the fire suppression system, became a major priority of the maintenance division in the late 1970s, and this work continued into the 1980s. Rehabilitation of the National Park Inn, also under contract, was the outstanding accomplishment of the late 1980s. While tackling these projects somewhat sequentially, B & U forces attended to a swarm of minor projects each year, many of them arising on the cyclic maintenance program. [66]

The scope of road maintenance projects, even more than B & U projects, increased in years of severe weather. The amount of winter snowfall had a decisive influence on the cost of snow removal operations each year. After the record snowfall of 1972, for example, the Maintenance Division expended an extra 1,680 hours in the use of heavy equipment at a cost of $24,800. Heavy snowloads also destroyed trail bridges and an occasional road bridge and damaged roads. The division had to replace eight trail bridges and one road bridge, repair 340 feet of rock wall on the Stevens Canyon Road, and restore the road surface in twelve places where the pavement had subsided under the snowload. [67]

The worst damage to roads and bridges in recent years occurred in November 1990, when fourteen inches of rain fell in five days. The flooding damaged the dike at Longmire, undermined the bridge abutments at Kautz Creek, damaged the riprap protection above and below the Tahoma Creek Bridge, washed out sections of the Westside Road at and above Fish Creek, damaged the Stevens Canyon Road below Bench Lake, and wiped out a turnout on the Carbon River Road at Chenuis Falls. The estimated cost of repairs was $2,177,450; the park received a mere $487,814. [68] Consequently the Westside Road was closed at Fish Creek.

A significant innovation in road maintenance operations was the decision in 1984 to rent the park's entire motor vehicle fleet, including front end loaders, dump trucks, snow plows, and rotary snow plowers, from the Government Services Administration (GSA). This action allowed the park to upgrade all of its equipment without making an initial capital outlay. The system proved to be cumbersome, however, as NPS mechanics continued to service the GSA's heavy equipment in the motor vehicle shop at Longmire, and GSA officials tried to control the heavy cost of maintaining these vehicles. Ten years after the GSA agreed to this arrangement, the NPS remained the only federal agency which rented heavy equipment from the GSA, and most national parks still owned their own motor vehicle fleet. [69]

Commencing in the late 1980s, the maintenance division assisted with the human waste management program (Chapter XIX) by taking charge of installing and removing privacy screens and temporary toilets in the alpine zone each spring and fall. Privacy screens were installed at Camp Muir, Camp Schurman, and Ingraham Flats. A portable toilet was placed at Panorama Point each summer beginning in 1989. The maintenance division contracted with a helicopter outfit to airlift human waste off the mountain. [70]

The superintendent put the maintenance division in charge of a recycling program in 1990. In February 1991, representatives of Dow Chemical Company visited the park and proposed an enlargement of the recycling program along similar lines to Dow's partnership programs at Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, and Acadia National Parks. Dow assumed all costs for the first five years of the expanded recycling program at Mount Rainier, which was formally inaugurated at the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center in August 1991. [71]

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2000