Thursday, July 24, 2008

Carbon River Rd II

I wrote about the National Park Service plans for the Carbon River road, and how people can submit their comments. Well, Jeffery Mayer, with the Tacoma News Tribune has published an interesting point of view, which kinda' shows there is no real answer here because the road is between the river and the rocks.

It's the proverbial between a rock and a hard place and history isn't on your side. The road was intentionally built along the river in the 1920's, decided by NPS Director Stephen Mather over the objections of the federal Bureau of Public Roads. The Bureau knew it was a disaster always waiting to happen every year of floods. And after the road had national historical landmark signifiance, the NPS was now stuck in a perpetual repair mode, until in November 2006 when nature destroyed 40% of it beyond repair.

So, now the NPS is trying to find an answer where there is no optimum solution. If you want the road, you'll spend a money every year to maintain it and a lot of money every few years after floods to rebuild it. And in many locations along the route the river is the road or will be at point in the future, the road is the path of least resistance rivers like to follow, the idea of least expended energy.

The problem is that road is 5 miles to the Ipsut Campground which is very popular with picnic areas along it. This shortens the high to the Carbon River glacier to 6-7 miles roundtrip, easily doable by many people. But now it's an extra 10 mile hike from the Carbon River entrance roundtrip just to get to the Ipsut campground, and then hike to the glacier. In short it's an overnight hike, and with the Ipsut campground severly damaged from the flood and now a backcountry campground (no facilities), it's not a family outing.

And now the NPS is following up on the General Management Plan (GMP) which opted to eventually remove the road in favor of a hike and bike trail to the Ipsut campground. But the floods moved that up to reality and one of the options is to repair the first 3 miles or so which were the least damaged section and convert the rest to the hike and bike trail. Except that's only a short-term alternative until better longterm solutions can be found.

This is because it doesn't really matter if you have a Carbon River road or hike and bike trail, the river is still the problem and the danger to it. It will washout on occasion from floods, it's back to the river and rocks situation where you can't win. But if you remove the road for the trail, the NPS will now be depriving many visitors from their rightful experience. Mt. Rainier NP was built as a drive-in National Park, to be experienced by car and walking.

And the reality doesn't match anymore, at any price. And so the choices are really the lessor of evils but also depriving many people of coming and enjoying the National Park. And my view since I haven't said? I wouldn't want to be the Superintendent who has to make the final decision alternative to propose to the National Parks Chief. You'll be standing in the spotlight with no protection from the public and Congressonal criticism.

So I haven't said, but I would opt for the intermediate, meaning maintain the first 3 miles until it's clearly not financially feasible in light of the river. And then maintain whatever road you can until the river controls the situation, be it only one to two miles, and the keep converting it to a minimal hiking trail. I am in favor of rebuilding the Ipsut campground, somewhere safer, to make it a destination with facilities.

But it's not my decision, only my opinion.

No comments: