An Administrative History of Mount Rainier National Park
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Nineteenth-century men of science marvelled at the mass of ice and the variety of fauna and flora found on the flanks of Mount Rainier, and described the mountain as "an arctic island in a temperate sea." This compelling metaphor has stood as the dominant interpretive theme in the national park down to the present day. Weather and topography conspired to reinforce the island imagery since the mountain was so often viewed or pictured from afar girdled by clouds or rising from a sea of low-lying haze.

In the 1960s, Mount Rainier's island imagery was joined to the image of national parks as islands of nature. With an exploding human population transforming and in many ways degrading the face of the earth, conservation leaders said that national parks would be held above this tidal wave of change. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, addressing the First World Conference on National Parks at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962, likened national parks to "nature islands for the world" in a latter-day Great Flood. National park managers, said Udall, might well "become the Noahs of the 20th century." [1] Picking up on this theme a few months later, Mount Rainier's superintendent, John A. Rutter, commented that new challenges lay ahead for backcountry management as the park became "more and more an 'island' in the midst of land management practices that are in sharp contrast to those of the NPS." [2] The new island imagery—more ominous than inspiring—persisted down to the 1990s, with defenders of the Pacific Northwest's old-growth forest declaring that Forest Service policies threatened to turn Mount Rainier National Park into "an island in a sea of clearcuts." [3]

As compelling as the island metaphor became, it was actually a way of communicating an almost opposite reality: that national parks could not be completely insulated from environmental changes occurring all over the planet. The most that could be achieved was to adapt national park management to a changing social and environmental context in order to minimize adverse environmental effects within the park. Far from being insular in their thinking, park managers had to concern themselves more and more with developments outside the park boundaries. Park management was becoming increasingly contextual, or devised with the larger region in view.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Park Service's master planning documents. A new master plan for Mount Rainier, prepared in 1972, contained three sections on (1) the region, (2) the park, and (3) the plan. The proximity of a major metropolitan area, an important factor in Mount Rainier National Park's development from the beginning, loomed even larger in the 1970s as four million people resided within a half-day's drive of the park. People were moving to the Pacific Northwest at such a rate that the region's population growth was on a level with some Latin American countries. This was a young population, with one-fifth of western Washington residents being between the ages of 15 and 24. Not surprisingly in such a youthful population, there was a high degree of interest in outdoor recreational opportunities and public services that would enhance the quality of life.

In response to this growth and development, federal, state, and local agencies came together to form the Puget Sound Government Conference. "The close interaction between the people in these cities and Mount Rainier makes it imperative that the Park Service expand its participation in a truly regional planning effort," the master plan stated. "Land-use planning and zoning, highway and mass transit planning, and many other aspects of regional planning should, at the formative stage, use input from management. Then, development and program planning can take guidance from completed regional plans." [4]

This chapter examines four areas of management in which the park administration formed new partnerships with entities outside the park, the Park Service, or both. The first section looks at the important relationship between the park and the adjoining national forests. The second section looks at the park's relationship with the private sector—the change in ownership of the major concession, the establishment of another concession for guided summit climbs, concessions for winter use, and the role of nonprofit cooperative associations in fundraising and publishing of interpretive materials. Finally, the third and fourth sections look at mass transit and commercial tourism development proposals which have involved the park administration in discussions with various other entities.


In 1963, high-level talks between the Park Service and the Forest Service on the proposal to establish a North Cascades National Park presented an opportunity for closer cooperation between Mount Rainier National Park and its neighboring national forests. Associate Director George B. Hartzog, Jr. and Deputy Chief Forester Arthur Greeley visited Mount Rainier with the North Cascades study team that summer to find out to what extent the two agencies coordinated planning at the local level. Afterwards, Hartzog and Greeley directed park and forest officials to consult closely with one another on planning in zones of mutual interest. This led to the preparation of an "exploratory coordinated planning report" in 1965, which dealt mainly with recreational development. Meanwhile, the North Cascades study team proposed some boundary changes between Mount Rainier National Park and the adjacent national forests. These efforts laid the groundwork for cooperation between the park and the forest on elk management and for improved communication on the contentious issue of timber sales along the park boundary.

Recreational Development

Superintendent Rutter and his counterpart, Snoqualmie National Forest Supervisor Leonard 0. Barrett, focused initially on recreation planning, an activity in which the two agencies shared essentially the same goals. In the Chinook Pass area, for example, they found that coordinated planning could eliminate duplication, cut costs, and better protect the resources. At Chinook Pass, the park dropped its plans for a hitching rack, loading ramp, and horse trailer pullout area when officials learned that the Forest Service had similar plans for its side of the boundary line. In addition, park and forest officials agreed upon the construction of a new segment of Cascade Crest Trail directly south of Chinook Pass which relieved some of the pressure on the Tipsoo Lake area, and they developed a joint plan for trail and interpretive signs in the Chinook Pass area. [5]

Coordinated planning between the park and Gifford Pinchot National Forest led to a number of innovative ideas. Forest officials expressed keen interest in the park's invitation to present joint interpretive programs at Ohanapecosh campground. They also supported a proposal to develop a joint wayside exhibit on Backbone Ridge, where the visitor could see and compare national park and national forest lands. This was an interesting idea: to call attention to the boundary and interpret the contrasting land management schemes on either side of it. Still another proposal was to construct trails across the Tatoosh Range (and across the southern park boundary) in order to encourage backcountry use of this area. [6]

The most ambitious example of coordinated recreational planning centered on the Silver Springs area outside the northeast corner of the park. Park officials were already looking to the nearby Crystal Mountain resort, founded in 1962, to relieve pressure on the Sunrise and White River areas of Mount Rainier National Park. [7] At the foot of the Crystal Mountain access road, the Forest Service planned to expand its campground development and lease sites for a motel and store. Superintendent Rutter had a mixed reaction to these plans; the Silver Springs development would ease the demand for camping sites in the park but would also increase the amount of day use. In any case, Rutter supported plans to develop a new visitor information center at Silver Springs jointly with the Forest Service. [8]

It fell to Rutter's successor, Superintendent John A. Townsley, to hammer out a memorandum of agreement with the Forest Service on the specifics of the joint development of a White River visitor information station. Less than a year after the agreement was signed, however, the station site was inundated with water from the White River during a two-day storm in June 1968. When studies indicated that the site could not be adequately protected from the flood hazard, both agencies backed off from the plan. [9]

By 1973 the U.S. Forest Service had built its own visitor center in the Silver Springs area and the NPS was invited to contribute exhibits. The Forest Service mostly operated the visitor center as an unmanned facility but the NPS provided a VIP (volunteer) on many weekends. [10]

Ten years later the Park Service and the Forest Service completed a joint visitor information station at the junction of highways 410 and 123. Superintendent William J. Briggle helped dedicate the new facility on May 27, 1983. [11]

In 1990, the Park Service undertook another significant cooperative effort: rehabilitation of the Mather Memorial Parkway (MMP). Superintendent Briggle participated in meetings of an MMP Steering Committee comprising representatives of the park, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Wenatchee National Forest, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Washington State Department of Transportation. A team of landscape architects and natural resource specialists from the Denver Service Center and Harper's Ferry Center prepared development guidelines. The objectives of the rehabilitation project, which was slated to cost an estimated $40 million, were to improve the recreational facilities throughout the parkway, provide a managed transition zone adjacent to the roadway that would minimize damage to natural resources, and develop guidelines for integrated roadside detailing, maintenance, signs, and interpretation. The plan was sensitive to the original purpose of the parkway, which was to provide a continuous, scenic driving experience for the whole 75-mile length of this Cascades highway. As the authors of the development guidelines explained, "The guiding philosophy for modifications along the parkway is to perpetuate and communicate the respect and protection of the aesthetic, natural resource, and recreational values that were common to land-managing agencies in the 193 0s." [12]

On paper, this looked like a good deal for the national park. Here was a plan of integrated design with preservationist underpinnings, prepared by NPS personnel with funding support from the Forest Service. But it had problems. State Highway Department officials wanted the parkway built to federal highway standards, with a relatively large "clear zone" on either side of the roadway. Briggle found himself alone among the members of the MMP Steering Committee in resisting the state's plan. When environmental groups learned that the plan called for widening the road corridor and cutting down hundreds of old-growth trees within the park, they attacked the Park Service's environmental impact statement on the project. Park officials thrashed this out with representatives of the Sierra Club, Mount Rainier National Park Associates, National Parks and Conservation Association, and others during 1992-93. Briggle decided to break away from the MMP interagency plan, even though that meant the forfeiture of Federal Highway Administration funds. [13]

The NPS proposed its own plan (to be funded out of the general NPS budget) calling for spot maintenance, vista clearance, and preservation of the forest canopy over the road. Determined to prepare a satisfactory EIS this time, the NPS deferred the project while it consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on the project's potential effects for spotted owls or marbled murrelets. Surveys of these two endangered species were scheduled for the summers of 1994 and 1995, after which the park might enter into formal consultation with the FWS as required under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. In the meantime, environmental groups turned their attention to the Forest Service's EIS, which contained similar deficiencies to that of the Park Service. [14] The controversy and breakdown of cooperation over the Mather Memorial Parkway rehabilitation served as a reminder that interagency cooperation could cut both ways, fostering an uncomfortable degree of interdependence as well as the desired influence over developments outside the park.

Timber Sales Adjacent to the Park

In the early 1960s, as the park administration strove to improve coordinated planning with the adjoining national forests, officials were careful to play down expectations with regard to logging activity adjacent to the park. Interagency discussions on this topic at that time were brief. The problem, as Park Landscape Architect Sherman D. Knight saw it, ''pretty much boils down to the fact that there are two distinct and separate functions to be served" by the two agencies. [15] Superintendent Rutter judged that NPS input on this problem was worthwhile only insofar as new logging roads fit into the Forest Service s recreational planning. [16]

The proliferation of access roads was in fact Rutter's primary concern with regard to logging near the park. It was Forest Service policy to make logging roads available for public use upon completion of timber sale contracts. These roads would soon turn areas of the park that were administered as backcountry into virtual front country. "Road systems being developed in Snoqualmie National Forest, in conjunction with timber sales, will approach as close as 330 feet to the Park's remote boundaries," Rutter informed the regional director. Rutter continued,

These developments have not suddenly confronted us. There has been a steady approach to the Park over the years as the Snoqualmie and Gifford Pinchot National Forests, particularly the former, have moved to more remote sections in their timber sale programming. Many sections contiguous to the Park's north, west and south boundaries lie in this last remnant of ripe timber that is being made available for sale. However, in recent discussions with Forest Service officials concerned, we have learned that the increased problems of unplanned access to remote sectors of the Park will become actual in two years. [17]

Rutter's answer to the problem was to assign more seasonal rangers to backcountry patrols. As the Forest Service proceeded with these timber sales in the 1960s and 1970s, it became evident that logging so close to the park had other effects as well. First, there was the negative visual impact when the park boundary was turned into a straight edge of forest bordering a clearcut. Beyond that sharp line, the patchwork of clearcuts on nearby hills blighted the views from many points in the park, such as Rampart Ridge, Gobbler's Knob, and Klapatche Point. Second, burning of slash during logging operations generated smoke, which impaired visibility. This not only affected the view out of the park, it generally reduced air quality inside the park too. Third, it was discovered that clearcuts could lead to changes in the forest ecology as much as one quarter of a mile away from the edge of the clearcut. In particular, abrupt forest edges were vulnerable to windstorms. Fourth, the young growth that grew back in clearcuts provided good browse for elk. This caused the elk population in the Cascade Mountains around the edge of the park to increase unnaturally. Some of the elk migrated into the subalpine meadows of the park during the summer, creating the specter that these areas could become overgrazed. All of these effects of logging made it imperative that park officials have some input on timber sale programming outside the park.

Fortunately, forest officials were fairly cooperative, allowing park officials to review plans for timber sales adjacent to the park. These areas were systematically mapped to show where the potential for blowdowns was most likely to develop or cause extensive damage, and timber sales were adjusted accordingly. In some instances, logging roads were closed to public use after the completion of a timber sale. By 1985, the Conservation Foundation could cite the cooperation between Mount Rainier National Park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as one of the "impressive examples of coordination among the park service and other federal and non-federal public agencies that administer adjoining lands." [18] Superintendent Guse met annually with the superintendents of Olympic and North Cascades national parks and the supervisors of national forests in western Washington to discuss problems of mutual concern. [19]

About that same time, however, the Forest Service began to increase timber sales in certain areas, purportedly in order to compensate for wilderness protections placed on other areas of the national forests in 1984. Critics maintained that the Forest Service was harvesting timber at an artificially high rate over and above what it needed to compensate for new land restrictions. Three new timber sale proposals along the northern boundary of Mount Rainier National Park—Lost Creek, Chenuis Creek/Cayada Mountain, and Fawn Ridge—raised considerable opposition in 1989-91. The areas contained old growth forest, sheltered wildlife that migrated in and out of the park, and fell within the viewsheds of such popular viewpoints in the park as Tolmie Peak Lookout. While the Park Service stopped short of taking the side of environmental groups who were attempting to block the timber sales through legal action, NPS officials pushed for various concessions. These included road closures following the completion of the timber sale, alternative treatments for disposing of slash, and a cutting schedule that would minimize logging-truck traffic on the Carbon River Entrance Road during periods of heavy visitor use. [20]

On May 23, 1991, Federal District Court Judge William L. Dwyer issued an injunction against any further timber sales in old growth forest on public lands until the Department of Agriculture developed new standards and guidelines for management of spotted owl habitat. Thus, the proposed timber sales along Mount Rainier National Park's northern boundary were held in abeyance. When the Department of Agriculture duly completed its new forest plan in 1994, it remained unclear whether the court would find this plan untenable under the Endangered Species Act as well. The plan established "late successional reserves" to protect old growth in the national forests and stressed recreational values over commercial timber values in a larger part of the national forests. But it reopened some old growth stands to harvesting. Moreover, as far as the national park was concerned, it did not resolve the old problem of public access roads in the national forests which led virtually to the park boundary. [21]

Interagency Wildlife Management

Park officials had long recognized that effective wildlife management required cooperation with land managers outside the Park Service. With the coming of each winter, deer and elk populations migrated out of the park to private and national forest lands where they were subject to sport hunting. For decades, park officials had worked with state and county game commissioners and wardens to ensure that limitations placed on sport hunting were adequate to protect these populations.

In 1962, Forest Service Biologist John Larson had made an aerial census of elk along the Cascade Crest, and counted a total of 466 elk, with over 300 of them located around Shiner Peak on the east side of the park. NPS officials at that time were surprised to learn that so many elk were summering in the park. Superintendent Rutter formed a task force among the park staff to study the elk situation and make recommendations for management. The task force built some exclosures and tried to assess whether elk were overgrazing the vegetation in the subalpine meadows. The task force finally had to acknowledge that it needed more sophisticated data to recommend anything. If one thing had become clear, however, it was the need for increased communication with other agencies on this issue. [22]

Accordingly, in 1968 Superintendent Townsley initiated an interagency committee consisting of representatives from the park, Snoqualmie National Forest, Wenatchee National Forest, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington Department of Game, Washington State Sportsmen's Council, and Weyerhaeuser Company. Meeting once or twice each year, the group called itself the Mount Rainier Deer and Elk Management Coordinating Committee, or later simply the Mount Rainier Wildlife Committee. Park officials made use of data collected outside the park during each elk hunting season, and shared data of their own after the commencement of rigorous scientific field studies in the mid 1970s. What emerged from this was a general recognition of the fact that forestry practices outside the park were influencing elk ecology inside the park. Elk population control would most likely rest on a combination of special hunting seasons set by game managers, careful monitoring by the Park Service, and enlightened forestry practices by the surrounding land managers.

This complicated situation grew still more complicated when the issue of Indian hunting rights was raised. In 1982, Superintendent William J. Briggle negotiated with the Washington Department of Game to initiate a special hunt of the "north herd" elk in Snoqualmie National Forest. A state senator, John D. Jones, inquired of the Washington Attorney General's Office whether this would bear on the right of Indians to "hunt on open and unclaimed land." An Interior Department solicitor commented that federal cases in Idaho and Oregon had found that national forests did constitute "open and unclaimed land," and further, that the state could only regulate hunting by Indians if such regulation was necessary for conservation. The solicitor found that the hunt which the Park Service proposed was aimed at controlling the herd rather than conserving it; therefore, a special hunt would in fact impinge on Indian treaty rights. [23] As a result, representatives of the Yakima Indian Nation and Muckleshoot Tribe were invited to join the Mount Rainier Wildlife Committee. [24]

Federal and state agencies and the Indian tribes continued to cooperate on this issue in the late 1980s and early 1990s, even as the Park Service's research findings indicated that the elk were no longer a priority resource issue.

Boundary Adjustments

The North Cascades Study Report of 1965 recommended that the southern boundary of Mount Rainier National Park be extended to include about eleven sections of national forest land along the south side of the Tatoosh Range. This resurrected a proposal which had surfaced before in the 1900s, 1930s, and 1940s. The main intent of the proposal was to afford greater wilderness protection to the area, which was both scenic and roadless.

The park administration made slow progress on the proposal. Forest officials agreed to the addition in principle but wanted to have close input on the final recommendation. They gave the project low priority. Superintendent Townsley budgeted for a cadastral survey of the south boundary, which was completed between 1970 and 1972; Regional Director Rutter advised Hartzog, "Due to nearby logging operations, it is extremely important that the boundaries of Mount Rainier National Park be firmly established as soon as possible." [25] But NPS officials could not summon much enthusiasm for the proposal among Washington's congressional delegation.

That the proposal once again got nowhere appears to have been due to public indifference more than anything else. Some local objection to the boundary addition developed among sport hunters in the Randle area, but forest officials assured park officials that this did not affect their agency's support for it. [26] Rather, it was the lack of enthusiastic support for the Tatoosh addition which undermined it. Perhaps the North Cascades National Park proposal absorbed so much of the environmental community's energy at this time that there was nothing left for the Tatoosh addition. [27] The NPS included the proposed boundary adjustment—together with a smaller boundary adjustment on Backbone Ridge so as to bring all of the Stevens Canyon Road within the park—in the Master Plan for Mount Rainier National Park in 1973. Public reaction to the proposal was favorable but hardly intense. Of 1,405 written responses to the master plan, comments on the Tatoosh proposal ran 245 in favor, none opposed, with another 1,160 expressing no opinion on that issue. The Mazamas' "favorable" comment, for example, was that either agency could manage the area as long as it was designated a wilderness area. [28] The area was designated as wilderness within the national forest system in 1984.

Proposed 1987 Boundary Adjustments maps
Proposed 1987 Boundary Adjustments

Superintendent Guse worked with his counterparts in the Forest Service to get three small boundary changes included in the Washington Park Wilderness Act of 1988. By this act, two small additions to the park, totaling 240 acres, were made where the Westside Road rounded Klapatche Point and the Stevens Canyon Road rounded Backbone Ridge, and one small 31-acre deletion was made where the Crystal Mountain ski area encroached on the summit of Crystal Mountain. [29]

Cooperation in Fire Management

The Park Service and the Forest Service routinely cooperated in fire suppression. During the unusually dry summer of 1977, several lightning storms between July 25 and August 21 started more than fifty forest fires. Two of the largest fires at Cougar Lake and Pigeon Peak required considerable manpower and flight time to suppress. With so many fires burning in the park at once, an "overhead team" from the Wenatchee National Forest arrived to assist in supervising fire crews. Despite the extreme fire hazard that summer, only 21 acres in the park burned. The total cost for suppression and presuppression came to $92,791. [30]

When the fire hazard in Mount Rainier was moderate to low—as was more often the case—rangers on the Mount Rainier staff were assigned to fire duty outside the park, both in the nearby national forests and farther afield. Mount Rainier's fire management personnel were integrated into an interagency plan called the incident command system (ICS), which broadened the scope of action from fire suppression to any emergency and from the NPS and the Forest Service to all federal land management agencies. [31] One Mount Rainier staff member, Chief of Operations Robert Dunnagan, headed an interagency overhead team which saw duty in various western states in the 1980s. As the appointed "incident commander," Dunnagan brought together fire managers in western Washington from the Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and other land management agencies. [32]

By the 1980s, cooperation between the park and the national forests extended to fire management planning too. Both agencies sought to make their prescriptions for natural fire—that is, their guidelines for deciding which fires would not be suppressed—more compatible with one another. Two factors were at work in bringing the Park Service and Forest Service into closer agreement on this issue. For the Park Service's part, there was a gradual turning away from an "isolationist" point of view as more and more rangers moved outside of the park's boundaries or got involved with volunteer fire departments in surrounding communities. The removal of park headquarters from Longmire to Tahoma Woods contributed to this, though the changing mentality was evident throughout the Park Service. [33] For the Forest Service's part' the agency's increasing commitment to recreational values relative to timber production changed the complexion of natural fire. In those national forest areas that were designated wilderness, the two agencies had little reason to take different approaches toward fire management. Thus, fire managers in the national forests and Mount Rainier National Park tried to "interlace" their respective fire plans to the fullest extent possible. [34]

Both agencies were in the process of formulating more comprehensive fire management plans in the mid-1990s, creating an opportunity for an unprecedented level of cooperation in the future. Mount Rainier's wildland fire management plan, which Superintendent Guse approved in 1988, was called back for review after the sensational fires in Yellowstone that year undermined public confidence in the Park Service's so-called "let burn" policy. Meanwhile, the Forest Service's fire management plans were undergoing review so that they would accord with the new forest plan for the preservation of old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest. The new forest plan called for "late successional reserves" to protect old growth and habitat of the threatened spotted owl. By 1995, both the Park Service and the Forest Service were revising their fire management plans in consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to ensure that they would meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. [35]


Concession operations in Mount Rainier National Park saw a marked improvement beginning around 1972. This was a most welcome change after four decades of poor business conditions, contentiousness over the terms of the concession contract, deferred maintenance on the buildings, uneven service to the public, and personality conflicts between concession management and the park administration. The marked improvement was attributable to the changing business climate for overnight accommodations at Mount Rainier (which was already improving as early as the late 1950s) and a change in ownership of the major park concession between 1968 and 1972. The change in ownership opened the door for separation of the mountain guide service from the hotel concession, an arrangement that served the park well for the next twenty years and more.

Fred Harvey, Inc. and Guest Services, Inc.

On October 4, 1968, Fred Harvey, Inc., purchased all the assets and liabilities of the RNPC. Fred Harvey was a Delaware corporation with restaurants, lodges, and retail stores in nine states, including concessioner facilities in five national parks and monuments in California and Arizona. To affect this transaction, Fred Harvey merged with Amfac, Inc., a diversified company with headquarters in Hawaii and a capital stock of $145 million. The terms of the RNPC buyout included a transfer of $225,000 worth of stock shares of Amfac to the shareholders of the RNPC, retention of all RNPC employees by Fred Harvey, and an effort by both the RNPC and Fred Harvey to obtain a new concession contract with the NPS "so that Fred Harvey could be provided an opportunity to properly consider additional investment requirements at Mount Rainier National Park." [36]

Fred Harvey operated the RNPC as a subsidiary from October 4, 1968, to June 20, 1972, at which time it sold its interests in the company to Government Services, Inc., or GSI. The company was renamed Mount Rainier National Park Hospitality Service, with Pat Davis serving as general manager. The parent corporation, GSI, was a non-profit organization which specialized in government employee food service in Washington, D.C. GSI requested that the ski tow and guide service be separated from the food and lodging service, and the NPS approved the request. [37]

The recruitment of a capable management staff, together with a steady improvement in occupancy rates and retail sales by the concession, laid the foundation for an effective partnership between GSI and the NPS. Alan W. Schramm served as GSI's general manager from 1976 to 1982, followed by Robert Seney from 1982 to 1985, and Elizabeth Marzano after 1985. In addition, the company employed from four to seven facilities and operations managers who were reassigned to other activities during the winter season in order to develop a more stable and experienced management staff. GSI's managers resided locally (the company purchased land three miles outside the Nisqually entrance and built three managers' residences, an office, a warehouse, and a laundry facility, in 1982) and worked closely with park officials. They helped to cultivate a good relationship by co-sponsoring an annual employee picnic for NPS and GSI employees. In 1989, the general and assistant general managers of GSI participated in a post-season meeting of park concessioners and NPS personnel at Olympic National Park, where topics ranged from labor pooling and tourism trends to the institution of an aggressive recycling program in Mount Rainier National Park. [38]

Capital returns for GSI were healthy. Occupancy rates reached 93 percent for Paradise and 84 percent for Longmire in the 1978 summer season. The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, resulted in one very poor season for GSI as there were large numbers of cancellations of room reservations by people who were wary of coming into the area, but economic losses were checked somewhat by consolidating all Paradise-area food service at Paradise in the Paradise Inn for that summer. The following year the Paradise Inn's occupancy rate rebounded to 90 percent. [39] A review of the concession operations by a team of specialists from the Denver Service Center in 1985 found the operation to be "a typical seasonal business from an expense and management perspective." The park concession was "well managed, with no significant opportunities to decrease expenses or increase operating efficiencies." Paradise was the best "profit center" in the park, as indeed it had been since 1917. [40]

During the 1980s, GSI successfully extended its operating season at Paradise into May and October. This was a project, it will be recalled, in which the RNPC had experienced repeated disappointment. In 1988, after obtaining a new 25-year contract agreement with the government, GSI hired a full time marketing director for its west coast operations (in Mount Rainier and Sequoia/Kings Canyon national parks) specifically to determine how the company could most effectively operate during these so-called "shoulder seasons." [41]

The new partnership between the park administration and GSI brought two tangible rewards. First, the public expressed a fair degree of satisfaction with food and lodging services in the park. Despite occasional problems with its high-spirited, young, seasonal employee staff, GSI consistently achieved an above average rating in meeting its contractual obligations. [42] In 1993, Superintendent Briggle gave the company "very high marks...for an aggressive employee recruitment program that resulted in a fine staff of service-oriented young people who garnered praise from many visitors during the summer." [43]

Second, GSI had the public-spiritedness to invest a considerable amount of its own capital in building improvements and to cooperate with government-funded building renovations that frequently reduced business revenues temporarily. GSI undertook a program of steady building improvements as early as 1973, with a remodel of the snack bar and gift shop in the Paradise Inn and kitchen improvements in both the Paradise Inn and the National Park Inn. GSI remodelled the food service area in the National Park Inn during the winter of 1977-78, and the gift shop/front desk areas in that building in 1979-80. Beginning in 1979, GSI embarked on a lengthy renovation of the Paradise Inn, focused mainly on replacing and updating the furnishings in all the guest rooms. GSI expended approximately $200,000 for this project in the first three years alone, and finally completed it during the winter of 1989-90. [44]

GSI cooperated with park officials and planners from the Denver Service Center in more extensive rehabilitation projects. These included structural stabilization of the Paradise Inn during the mid-1980s, renovation of the National Park Inn in 1989-90, and plans for replacement of the Sunrise Lodge with a new building, perhaps in 1996. GSI's role in renovating the National Park Inn was noteworthy for two reasons: first, because it entailed the complete suspension of overnight lodging and food service at Longmire for thirteen months (from April 1989 to May 1990); second, because of the way the project was funded.

Each year GSI contributed a percentage of revenues to the Visitor Facility Fund (VFF); the amount started at around 3 percent in the early 1980s and rose to around 6 percent a decade later. [45] The VFF was administered by the National Parks Foundation and was used to fund major building renovations throughout the national park system. [46] In 1985, the NPS transferred responsibility for the VFF to the Denver Service Center, and plans got under way to use VFF funds for a major renovation of the National Park Inn. GSI, as a contributor to the VFF and the inn's operator, actively participated in the planning process for renovating the National Park Inn. After a one year delay owing to a lack of successful construction bids, the renovation began in April 1989 and was completed on schedule thirteen months later. The remodel gave the inn several additional guest rooms and moved the parking lot and front entrance to the south side of the building. [47]

Over the years park officials usually accommodated GSI when the company requested the elimination of various peripheral operations from its contract. This pattern began in 1972 with the separation of the mountain guide service from the ski tow operation. It continued with the turning over of firewood sales in most of the park campgrounds to another concession, Mountain Wood Company of Tacoma, in 1976. GSI ceased operating the gasoline station at Sunrise after 1979, and gave up gasoline sales at Longmire in 1994. The superintendent's management assistant, Robert Hentges, invited GSI to take charge of the snow play activity at Paradise during the winter and was not surprised when GSI declined. [48] The Park Service showed more flexibility in dealing with GSI on these matters than it had with the RNPC earlier. The concession was not expected to provide various services at a loss; if a branch of the operation was unprofitable, it was eventually pruned from the concession contract.

Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.

In the 1960s the guide service developed into a significant commercial enterprise. By the end of that decade a handful of mountain guides were leading hundreds of clients to the summit each year. Park officials saw no reason to curtail this public use of Mount Rainier; Superintendent Daniel J. Tobin, Jr. observed that without a professional guide service many visitors would be denied the opportunity to attempt a summit ascent. "To climb the mountain," Tobin wrote, "is a compelling reason to visit and use the Park." [49] It only made sense to separate this growing and highly specialized enterprise from the lodging and food service provided by the RNPC.

The Park Service found two willing entrepreneurs in Lou Whittaker and Jerry Lynch. Whittaker had been guiding on Mount Rainier since 1951; Lynch had had a long association with the RNPC as horse guide and manager of the Paradise Inn before establishing a law practice in Tacoma. They were already partners in an outdoor equipment store in Tacoma called Whittaker's Chalet. In 1968, Whittaker and Lynch formed Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI). Their partnership was highly successful and the new company showed promise. In 1972, Whittaker got out of the outdoor equipment retail business and Lynch became an equal partner in RMI. "We made him president and me vice president," Whittaker wrote. "Jerry did the paperwork and I did the guiding. He's always been the detail man, I've always been the personality out front, hawking clients and guides... .It's been a natural division of labor for us, and a longtime friendship." [50]

Whittaker and Lynch worked aggressively to secure their position in Mount Rainier National Park, pressing the NPS for a five-year contract. When GSI bought Fred Harvey's interest in the RNPC in 1972, an opportunity appeared to present itself GSI announced that it wanted to divest the RNPC of all guide service, equipment rental, and the ski tow operation. That spring, while the Park Service was beginning to prepare a prospectus for the new guide concession, Whittaker and Lynch produced a flamboyant new brochure for RMI. The brochure angered Superintendent Townsley, who thought it was premature and in poor taste. The brochure embarrassed the Park Service because it made the Park Service's efforts to put a new concession prospectus out for bid look rigged. Moreover, the Park Service had not yet decided whether to roll the winter operation and the guide service into a single prospectus. This took Whittaker and Lynch by surprise for they did not want to operate the ski tow. [51]

After going full throttle into the guide business in 1972, Whittaker and Lynch had to run RMI on a yearly permit for three more years while they awaited the Park Service's prospectus. The main reason that the NPS delayed issuing a prospectus was that an environmental assessment of the prospectus raised the question of whether the busy corridor between Paradise and Camp Muir would be recommended for wilderness protection. This led NPS officials to postpone issuing the prospectus until after the park's new master plan and wilderness proposal had gone through the public review process.

RMI finally obtained its first five-year concession contract in 1975. It received another five-year contract in 1980, and a seven-year contract after that. In 1985, some climbers formed an organization called "Open Rainier" to protest what they perceived to be RMI's unfair climbing monopoly in the park, and park staff held at least two formal meetings with the organization to hear its concerns. But the park received only one application for the guide concession other than RMI's and it had no difficulty determining that RMI was the stronger candidate. In 1993, the concession contract was rewritten such that the concessioner would have to provide more help in search and rescue operations, environmental cleanup along the concessioner's primary guiding route, and funding for an engineering study for Camp Muir rehabilitation. The new contract was still pending in the spring of 1995. [52]

The number of visitors who attempted to climb Mount Rainier grew fairly steadily through the 1970s and 1980s, subject to variations in the amount of good climbing weather each summer. By the mid to late 1980s, RMI was leading about 2,000 clients on summit attempts each summer, with the success rate hovering around 60-65 percent. [53] Guided climbs accounted for approximately one fourth of all summit attempts. The guides not only provided a service to these many clients, they frequently helped park rangers rescue non-guided or "independent" climbers too. [54]

RMI placed a strong emphasis on client safety. Fatalities were rare. But on June 21, 1981, ten RMI clients and one guide were killed by an icefall on the Ingraham Glacier. Survivors of the tragedy said that they saw a big serac collapse about 1,000 feet higher on the mountain, triggering a massive avalanche. Half of the party got away; half were swept into a crevasse and buried under tons of ice. The event occurred shortly after sunrise. At 6:20 a.m., Superintendent Briggle was banging on Whittaker's door in Ashford, telling him there had been an accident on the mountain. Whittaker rode with Briggle up to the Guide House at Paradise, where rescue operations were already underway and the families of the victims would shortly begin to gather. The survivors, bruised and shaken but not badly injured, straggled in at midday. It was the worst climbing disaster in North American history. Weeks later, following a detailed investigation by park officials and a team of glaciologists, it was found that RMI's guides had acted in a reasonable manner and that the icefall had been an act of God. [55]

RMI guides generally served a three-year apprenticeship before they were given responsibility for whole climbing parties. An apprentice guide would work with two experienced guides, and if the new guide did not progress during the first season he or she would not be hired back the following spring. RMI looked for "people skills" as well as climbing ability; guides had to be perceptive toward their clients' level of confidence and fatigue. Apprentice guides could lead a rope of four or five clients, but RMI did not put them in charge of a whole climbing party. In 1994, RMI had nearly thirty guides who were qualified to lead parties to the summit. [56]

RMI's operations changed relatively little over the years. The Guide House at Paradise, Camp Muir, and the Ingraham Glacier-Disappointment Cleaver route to the summit were the concessioner's principal stamping grounds. The most significant changes occurred at Camp Muir, which RMI's guided parties used for an overnight stop on the way to the summit. In the early years, clients bunked with the guides in the stone shelter at Camp Muir known as the Cook Hut, or the guides would pitch tents on the ridge. But tents could not hold up in bad weather at that elevation, and needed to be repaired or replaced several times each summer, so the Park Service permitted RMI to build a "temporary" client's shelter at Camp Muir in 1970. RMI had the prefabricated structure airlifted to the site in pieces by helicopter. Thereafter, the guides occupied one room in the shelter, the clients the other, and the Cook Hut was used for meals. RMI hired "cabin girls" to do the cooking. [57] In 1981, the park administration shut down RMI's meal service at Camp Muir because the sanitary conditions could not meet U.S. Public Health Service standards for a food service facility; henceforth clients had to prepare their own meals, which generally consisted of freeze dried packages. [58]

Despite growing concerns about the water supply and human waste at Camp Muir (see Chapter XIX), the concession received average to high performance ratings from the park administration year after year. In 1986, RMI became the first guide service and climbing school to obtain accreditation by the American Mountain Guides Association. Superintendent Guse hoped that accreditation would help the guide service obtain affordable liability insurance—an overhead cost that was becoming increasingly expensive for high-risk outfits like RMI. [59]

Winter Use Concessions

From about 1965 to 1975, the predominant recreational winter use of Mount Rainier National Park changed from downhill to crosscountry skiing. If these two forms of winter recreation had once been quite similar, in the decade 1965-1975 they became very different from one another. As the sport of downhill skiing became increasingly commercialized, more and more downhill enthusiasts came to shun Paradise in favor of more developed ski areas in the national forests. Crosscountry skiing, conversely, enjoyed a growing appeal as outdoor recreationists sought an alternative to the crowds and commercialism that were becoming so much a part of downhill skiing. Not surprisingly, there was a rapid turnover of winter use concessions in Mount Rainier National Park during this time of transition. Winter use concessions not only contended with the old problems of bad weather, road closures, and a weekend-only clientele; they also faced a changing public demand.

To a certain extent, decisions by the park administration helped to reshape winter use of the park. Park officials felt a natural affinity for crosscountry skiers and snowshoers while they came to see downhill skiing as an inappropriate use. Park officials had a more ambivalent response to two additional winter uses, snowmobiling and sliding (snowplay). In managing most of these winter uses, the park administration sought help from new concessioners and volunteer associations.

Downhill Skiing. Even after the development of new ski areas at Crystal Mountain and White Pass in the early 1960s, a few thousand downhill skiers continued to use the slopes above Paradise. Superintendent Rutter, like his predecessor Preston Macy, wanted the concessioner to keep rope tows and a snack bar operating at Paradise to accommodate this winter use of the park. Reluctantly, the RNPC maintained a winter snack bar service in the Paradise Lodge until the old building was slated for demolition. [60] Winter snack bar operations were confined to the National Park Inn at Longmire in the winter of 1965-66, and were introduced in the new Paradise Visitor Center beginning in the winter of 1966-67. Paul Sceva restricted the RNPC's winter operation to weekends and holidays, grumbling to the company's stockholders that the winter season would never amount to much "as long as rope tows are the only means of up-hill ski transportation." [61] Proposals for a permanent chair lift at Paradise resurfaced for the last time in 1968. [62]

In the fall of 1966, the RNPC turned over the coming winter operation at Paradise, together with the following summer's guide service, to a subcontractor by the name of the Kendall Corporation. This was not a success. The Kendall Corporation made a marginal profit on the winter operations but lost money on its climbing equipment rentals and guided trips to the summit, glaciers, and Paradise ice caves. The Kendall Corporation filed for bankruptcy, the RNPC sued, and the rope tow equipment was turned over to the RNPC in a final settlement. [63] At this point Lou Whittaker and Jerry Lynch took over the guide service, while a separate subcontractor, John R. Anderson of Mt. Rainier Ski & Guide Service, Inc., purchased the ski tow operation. The guide service began to flourish, while the ski tow operation remained a marginal enterprise. The Park Service considered recombining the two in 1972, but decided against it. [64]

With the advantage of hindsight this was undoubtedly the correct decision, for the public's interest in summit climbs grew while its desire for downhill skiing at Paradise diminished. Despite a forty-year tradition of downhill skiing at Paradise, there was no strong sentiment for keeping the tradition alive. Indeed, there was a growing sentiment that the rope tow operation was an inappropriate use of the area. Although the four rope tows were taken down after each winter season, there remained the necessity of putting up pole markers each fall. Park officials noted that the equipment used in transporting the poles up the hill damaged the meadows. [65]

The last years of the rope tow operation may be quickly summarized. When GSI bought Fred Harvey's interests in the RNPC in 1972, it requested elimination of the ski tow operations from its concession contract. The Park Service obliged, issuing a one-year concession permit to Dick Vanderflute of Paradise Ski Tows, Inc. [66] The Park Service delayed preparation of a new prospectus for the winter concession for the same reason that it postponed issuing a prospectus for the guide service concession: it did not want to confound the public review process for Mount Rainier's master plan and wilderness recommendations. Three years after the winter concession had been divorced from the main park concession, on September 5, 1975, the NPS issued a prospectus for a five-year contract to operate the ski tow. It received one response, which did not meet the terms of the prospectus. [67] Paradise Ski Tows, Inc., meanwhile, operated under a year to year permit from 1972 to 1975 and then folded. [68] This marked the end of Mount Rainier's tradition of downhill ski use.

Crosscountry Skiing. Although the park did not keep statistics on the amount of crosscountry ski use, it undoubtedly increased during the 1970s. In 1972, park rangers marked a crosscountry ski trail from the Paradise Visitor Center to Nisqually Vista, and organized volunteers into a unit of the National Ski Patrol to assist in the protection of visitors in the Paradise area. Park officials estimated that crosscountry skiers outnumbered snowshoers by ten to one in the Paradise area in 1980. [69]

Crosscountry skiing remained solely an independent activity in the park until January 1979, when RMI initiated a program of ski and snowshoe rental and crosscountry ski instruction at Paradise. RMI ran the program out of the Guide House during the rest of that winter and the winter of 1979-80, but discontinued the program in 1980-81 for lack of public demand. On the east side of the park, meanwhile, Pete Sandvigen of Back and Beyond Trading Post, Inc., obtained a one-year permit in 1979 to operate a mobile crosscountry ski and snowshoe rental facility in the Cayuse/Chinook Pass area, but this venture was not commercially successful either. [70]

Following a winter without any ski rental service (1981-82), park officials asked GSI to provide this service. In November 1982, GSI opened a Ski Touring Center in the Hiker Center building at Longmire. The Ski Touring Center rented skis and snowshoes and offered skiing lessons at Cougar Rock and Paradise. Park interpreters led snowshoe walks from the Paradise Visitor Center, and park staff marked three crosscountry ski trails in the Paradise area. [71] GSI and the park staff maintained this cooperative program year after year. Beginning in the winter of 1993-94, the Washington Ski Touring Club provided weekend volunteers for ski patrols on the trails out of Paradise. This was the first such volunteer effort in nearly twenty years. With the use of volunteers and paid weekend seasonals, the ranger staff greatly increased the number of ranger patrols into the more distant areas around Paradise that were frequented by weekend skiers. [72]

A non-profit corporation called Mt. Tahoma Trails Association initiated a system of crosscountry ski trails and overnight huts on the west edge of the park in 1989. The association utilized existing logging roads, together with the Westside Road, to develop a trail system that grew to more than 88 miles in extent by 1994. It included three large huts plus a cylindrical shelter called the Colonnade Yurt just west of Sunset Park on land belonging to the Champion International Corporation. On November 20, 1990, Mount Rainier National Park entered a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Champion International, and Mt. Tahoma Trails Association outlining how the huts and trails would be managed. Trail grooming, ski patrols, hut reservations and handling of a refundable damage deposit for use of the huts was handled entirely by the Mt. Tahoma Trails Association. The Park Service's most important stipulation was that a hut located in the park would have to be dismantled and removed at the end of each winter season. [73]

The potential existed for an overnight hut on the Westside Road, half the 23-mile distance from the barricade on the Westside Road to the parking area on Champion International land west of Sunset Park. Several factors, besides the practical difficulty of arranging automobile transportation over the circuitous roads between these two trailheads, discouraged use of this spectacular route, however. Snow conditions for the first 6.4 miles of the Westside Road were problematic, the 4.8-mile stretch of trail through Sunset Park was rated "backcountry/expert" by the Mt. Tahoma Trails Association, and Champion International charged a $13 fee per person for entry upon its land. As a result, Mt. Tahoma Trails Association saw no need for investing funds and a lot of volunteer labor in a removable ski hut inside the park. The national park remained fairly peripheral to the Mt. Tahoma Trails system. [74]

Snowplay. In the 1960s Paradise became a popular place for parents to take their children sliding. [75] "Snowplay," as park officials termed this use, was in keeping with the park's legislated purpose as a public playground and with the longstanding administrative goal of spreading public use over the whole year. As early as 1972, the park administration encouraged this public use by preparing a run or runs and by coordinating with the Emergency Search and Rescue Scouts (ESARS) of Tacoma for weekend volunteers to supervise the snowplay area. [76] Although no accurate records on snowplay were kept before 1981, the number of sliders grew perceptibly during the late 1970s, reaching an estimated 5,000 during the winter of 1979-80. [77]

Unfortunately, snowplay was a public activity that entailed a significant rate of injury for the participants. Based on accurate estimates of the number of sliders and exact records on the number of injuries each winter from 1981 to 1991, park officials learned that the injury frequency rate could be held down to about 1 or 1.5 per thousand if the activity was closely supervised. Ranger supervision generally involved grooming the runs once each morning and restricting the activity to those few groomed runs. The issue then arose: to what extent should the park devote its finite resources to this public use instead of resource protection during the summer?

Superintendent Guse was a strong proponent of this winter use. He assigned the task of grooming the trails to the trails foreman in the maintenance division, and the task of supervising the sliders to four snowplay rangers. The latter assignment was not a popular one; spending a whole day on snow with dozens of parents and children was exhausting work. In 1987, Guse raised the grade level for snowplay rangers from GS-1 to GS-3 and increased their number from four to five so that these rangers could be rotated onto lighter duty one day in five. Guse thought that some of the rangers' resistance to snowplay as an "inappropriate use" was motivated by staff sympathy for these rangers. He felt that winter play was part of the cultural heritage in Mount Rainier National Park and must be properly provided for. [78]

Superintendent Briggle's position on snowplay was more ambivalent. During his first term as superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, Briggle initiated the program of ranger supervision of the snowplay area. This had a marked effect in reducing the number of injuries sustained by sliders each winter. But in his latter term as superintendent, Briggle found this use of staff resources increasingly difficult to justify. With the number of funded ranger positions shrinking year after year, Briggle wanted to redirect the funds used for the five snowplay ranger positions to other urgent park needs. In the fall of 1992, he instituted a major change in management of the traditional snowplay area at Paradise, ending the decade-old policy of trail grooming and ranger supervision. As a result, sliders used ungroomed slopes of their own making and the number of injuries rose from 4 in the winter of 1991-92 to 35 in the winter of 1992-93. Several of the visitors who were injured required ambulance transport out of the park. The following winter, Briggle once again assigned maintenance and ranger staff to the snowplay area but to a more limited extent than before. By the third winter, Briggle still thought that this was a highly questionable use of staff resources, but he now looked to resolve the issue under the aegis of the park's new general management plan. If the snowplay area were eliminated, he expected, it would be controversial. [79]

Snowmobiling. Snowmobilers first appeared in the park in the mid-1960s. They used both the Paradise and Chinook Pass areas. At first the park administration took the passive approach that snowmobiling did no significant harm to the environment and had a legitimate place in the park along with other forms of winter recreation. This greatly disturbed former park naturalist Frank Brockman, who sent a protesting letter to the park administration and copies to NPS Director George B. Hartzog, Jr., and Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas. "While your term 'oversnow vehicles' may give [snowmobiles] a nod of acceptance," Brockman wrote, "the fact remains that they are motor scooters on skis and that their exhausts are noxious and offensive to the sightseer and tourist who tries to find solitude and escape from city traffic and noises." Brockman went on to imply that there was nothing in the park regulations to prevent snowmobilers from using the crosscountry ski trails around Paradise. [80]

Over the years, the attitude of park officials toward snowmobiling remained about the same as it had been when Brockman penned his critical letter. Other than to restrict snowmobiling to designated park roads, park officials generally accepted this recreational use as long as the numbers of snowmobilers remained small. Mount Rainier National Park never experienced the wave of snowmobile use that overtook Yellowstone, where 4,000 snowmobiles entered the park in one weekend during the winter of 1969-70. [81] Mount Rainier officials were confident that the number of snowmobilers would remain small because Mount Rainier's winter use was virtually all local, and Washington residents did not take to snowmobiling the way residents of New England or upper midwestern states took to it, for Washington's climate and topography were generally not favorable for snowmobiling. Park officials refused to look for a problem where they did not think one existed.

Numbers of actual snowmobiles in the park have remained sketchy. The final environmental statement for the park's master plan, completed in 1976, stated that 707 snowmobiles entered the park in 1973, and described this use as "light." [82] Superintendent Tobin's statement for management in 1977 estimated the number of snowmobiles as from 50 to 60 annually, and described this use as "almost nil." [83] Subsequent statements for management offered no figures but maintained that snowmobile use was "very low" or "on the low side." [84]


Mount Rainier National Park had a longstanding partnership with the Mount Rainier Natural History Association, a non-profit organization founded by Park Naturalist Frank Brockman in 1940. The association published various interpretive brochures, field guides, pictorial books, and other items of interest to Mount Rainier visitors. After covering yearly expenses, the association turned over all receipts to the Park Service—mostly to Mount Rainier National Park. In 1972, for example, the association had gross receipts of $33,000 and a net profit of $5,000, most of which it turned over to Mount Rainier National Park to assist with the procurement of audiovisual materials, library books and periodicals, film and developing, and Yellowstone centennial year programs. Thus the association not only assisted the NPS in its mission to serve the visiting public, it also acted as a fundraiser. [85]

The staff of the Mount Rainier Natural History Association worked closely with the chief naturalist and his interpretive staff. In 1973, seasonal naturalists Jim Ross and Charlie Grimwood prepared a self-guiding nature trail and accompanying booklet, "Life Systems: The Forest and Springs of Ohanapecosh," which the association published. In 1976, seasonal naturalists worked with the association to acquire several historical costumes for use in "living history" presentations. In 1982, the association funded a botany seminar for park staff given by Ola Edwards. These were representative of the diverse projects on which the park staff and the association cooperated. [86]

The Mount Rainier Natural History Association amalgamated with other national park associations to form the Pacific Northwest National Parks Association in 1974. The new organization comprised branches at Mount Rainier, Olympic, North Cascades, Coulee Dam, San Juan Islands, Fort Vancouver, and Whitman Mission. The association expanded further to include national forests, becoming the Pacific Northwest National Parks and Forests Association (PNNPFA) in 1981. The association took in interpretive and visitor service programs of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1993, renaming itself the Northwest Interpretive Association. Throughout this evolution, the association maintained a separate account for sales relating to each park, and profits accruing to the Mount Rainier Branch of the association showed a steady growth. The Mount Rainier Branch took a "giant step forward" in 1990 with the opening of a bookstore in the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise. Sales increased by 11 percent for the year, exceeding $250,000 gross. All profits by the Mount Rainier Branch went into the park's Branch Budget and Special Projects fund. [87]

Superintendent Briggle and Olympic National Park Superintendent Maureen Finnerty launched the Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks Fund in 1993. The organization came to include Washington's third national park, North Cascades, in March 1994. The intent of this organization was chiefly to raise funds from the private sector for the benefit of the three parks—to form a more ambitious partnership between the federal government and private donors. Whereas the Northwest Interpretive Association focused on aiding the interpretive program, the Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades National Parks Fund would be used for a wide range of needs—what Briggle called the strategic objectives for taking these parks into the twenty-first century. Though not new, the concept had rarely been applied before in the western national parks. The National Parks Foundation provided a $25,000 grant in the way of seed money for the new organization and within two years Briggle and the superintendents of Olympic and North Cascades National Parks had enlisted the financial support of many powerful businessmen and politicians in the region. [88]


As recently as the Mission 66 era, park planners had still regarded the private automobile as a boon to Mount Rainier National Park. They assumed that the completion of the Stevens Canyon Road, together with a system of wayside exhibits, would improve visitor circulation in the park and relieve congestion at Paradise and Sunrise. They anticipated that many visitors would enjoy self-guided auto tours of the park, spreading use more evenly. By the early 1970s, however, park planners had reversed their thinking on the automobile. The 59-page master plan for Mount Rainier which park planners completed in 1972 could be read in part as a diatribe against the automobile. The plan called for a strong commitment to mass transit development, forebearance of any further development to accommodate the automobile, closures of portions of the Westside and Mowich Lake roads, determined efforts by the Interpretive Division to separate park visitors from their cars, and NPS involvement in regional highway and mass transit planning. The thousands of cars that entered the park each summer weekend were no longer a boon but a blight on the national park experience. [89]

But park planners overestimated the public's willingness to embrace mass transit, and Mount Rainier's superintendents by and large showed little inclination to get out in front on this issue. [90] Most of the master plan's proposals for limiting automobile use in the park went unfulfilled. Park transportation studies finally got under way in 1990, while the commitment to work with the cities of Seattle and Tacoma on regional transportation planning finally bore fruit in 1992—twenty years after the master plan was written. During that twenty year interval automobile use in the park increased by 40 percent. Nevertheless, there were indications in the early 1990s that the park administration was finally coming to grips with the longstanding problem of too many automobiles.

In 1992 Superintendent Briggle held discussions with City of Tacoma officials concerning a proposal to develop a Mount Rainier excursion train from Tacoma's Freighthouse District to a point a few miles outside the Nisqually Entrance. The city secured the rights from Weyerhaeuser Corporation, the present owner of the old Tacoma-Eastern Railroad line, to more than 67 miles of track, and proposed to build a new terminal somewhere between Elbe and Ashford. City officials estimated the cost of rehabilitating the line would be approximately $6 million; new depots and platforms would cost another $1 million. [91]


As visitation outstripped the capacity of concessioner and campground facilities in national parks in the 1950s and 1960s, so-called gateway communities began to spring up outside park entrances all over the nation. These gateway communities bristled with competing motel, restaurant, and gas station signs, while their curios shops and junk museums appealed to the tourist's worst instincts. The towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and West Yellowstone, Montana, were two notorious examples. There was a bit of tourist development outside the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, but for many years the approach roads to Mount Rainier remained relatively free of tourist traps because so much of the park's visitation was local.

The cityscape encroaching on Mount Rainier as seen from Fife
The cityscape encroaching on Mount Rainier as seen from Fife, forty miles to the northwest, September 1984. Park managers have become increasingly involved in regional environmental issues such as rural land use zoning, mass transit planning, and air quality control. (Bob Butts photo courtesy of Mount Rainier National Park.)

By the mid-1970s, some environmentalists were suggesting that the Park Service and other federal land management agencies should have the power to prevent uses on nearby private lands that detracted from public land values. In a few instances, notably in the Redwood National Park Act, Congress gave the Park Service statutory authority to prohibit certain land uses if those uses threatened to harm park resources. [92] Lacking any such statutory authority or tradition of involvement outside Mount Rainier National Park, park officials did not protest the creep of roadside tourist development between Elbe and the Nisqually entrance during the 1970s and 1980s. [93] Statements for management in 1977, 1985, and 1988 made no mention of the problem.

Two developments in the 1990s pointed to an incipient change of policy. The first development, ironically, cast the national park itself as the agent of unwelcome growth. When the park put forward a plan to establish a rest area and information center near the Tahoma Woods headquarters, seven miles west of the park entrance, local citizens objected. They formed a group called Neighbors Opposed to Park Expansion, or NOPE, and successfully blocked the plan. Although the park administration was thwarted in this instance, it gained overall by the fact that the creation of NOPE opened lines of communication between local residents and park officials. Superintendent Briggle recognized the value of opening lines of communication with other local citizen groups in Elbe, Greenwater, Puyallup, and other nearby communities. "There's some risk in getting involved in outside politics," Briggle told a Seattle Times reporter in an interview in 1994. "But the risk is greater if I don't." [94]

The second development that foreshadowed a change of policy toward gateway communities was the proposal for a large new resort near Ashford, tentatively called Mount Rainier Resort at Park Junction. When the plan was first announced, it consisted of little more than a golf course and a 150-room hotel. Later, in July 1993, the developers filed a county permit application in which they proposed to build a 250-room hotel, 220 homes, a recreational vehicle park, a forestry-theme visitor center, 70,000 square feet of retail space, and 120 cabins and apartments for employees. Still later, the developers filed further planning documents that added a second 150-room hotel, 50 more employee cabins, and as many as 400 additional homes to the development plan. [95]

The Park Service monitored this development proposal carefully. On a strictly practical level, the potential existed for a conflict over water rights, as the resort would require a large amount of water to be pumped out of the area near Tahoma Woods. More to the point, the huge resort development threatened to cause congestion and detract from the experience of driving to Mount Rainier; or worse, it threatened to form the nucleus for a sprawling new gateway community like Gatlinburg or West Yellowstone on the edge of Mount Rainier National Park. At the beginning of 1995 the park administration had yet to take a public stand on the issue, but some Park Service officials were predicting that the development loomed as one of the park's most significant challenges in the future. [96]

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2000