Community input brings fresh attention to decades-old Mount Rainier resort proposal

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, Wash. -- Plans of a resort near Mount Rainier National Park received new attention after being halted for more than two decades. Officials with Pierce County invited the public to submit comments about the “Park Junction Resort at Mount Rainier,” which would be presented to project directors for review.

Sylvia Cleaver Shepherd, the resort’s project manager, said the idea of the 420-acre attraction was originally proposed to Pierce County in the 1990s. The $200 million project would include more than 200 hotel rooms, restaurants, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, fitness center, spa, conference center, and sewer plant. Shepherd said the resort would be more than just a tourist attraction for Mount Rainier visitors.

“A place for the people who live there, particularly the young people, to have a job that they could stay in the area that they love,” said Shepherd.

Shepherd mentioned housing for resort employees would be built at a sperate location.

The project manager said they thought the resort would have been built in five years once plans were approved. However, she said they’ve received push back from the environmentalist community and county for the last 25 years. Shepherd said most of their halt in development was regarding the preservation of wetlands.

When Shepherd mentioned their efforts trying to work with county biologists over the years, she said, “We just can’t come to an agreement for whatever reason. We believe that we have the best wetland biologist in all of the state of Washington working with us. It’s difficult for me to understand why the environmental community is against our project.”

The proposed resort would be located on State Route 706, in between Elbe and Ashford.

Jaki Hawkins owns the Rainier Mountain Sportz, an outdoor equipment rental store in Elbe. She said the resort would be great for her business. However, as a resident in the area, she said the extra tourism would become be a challenge in the small community.

“I’m not too fond of the idea. I like to live out here just to be away from the city life and all the buzz of that kind of thing,” said Hawkins.

The business owner said she would be willing to adjust to the changes if the proposed resort gets approved. Hawkins said she was “rooting” for the resort because she knows how much it would benefit her store.

“That’s just something that you have to progress with as we expand. And it’s something that will definitely be a change around here that I don’t think too many people who live out this way will be too excited about,” said Hawkins.

Project directors had a progress hearing with Pierce County officials in July 2019 about their ongoing development plans. The county extended a deadline for the public to submit input about the plans. Shepherd said she hopes the comments will be a step in the direction toward building the resort.

“We’re ready to turn dirt right now,” said Shepherd. “We spent over $12 million on this project thus far. So, we don’t want to lose that money. And the property as it is not worth $12 million.”

The deadline to submit public comment to Pierce County was scheduled for September 3, 2019. Shepherd said they would have two weeks to review them. She explained project managers would meet with county later in September to discuss the comments and project plans.

"I love the project. It’s absolutely necessary and it’s a wonderful project and I just can’t give up on it. So, we have to go forward," said Shepherd.