ASHFORD, Wash. - Businesses that rely on tourism near Mount Rainier National Park are concerned about tourism in the coming months.
Word of plans to keep the road that stretches from Longmire to Paradise closed Monday through Friday this winter leaked into the community in recent days.
A worker at the park told FOX 13 that staff were told on Monday that staffing issues would prevent them from keeping the gate to Paradise open, the goal will be to keep it open to the public on weekends only.
The National Parks Service confirmed the news on Tuesday that the road to Paradise would in fact be open only on weekends. The Longmire area will continue to be open seven days a week, barring any major storm events.
"Park staff will continue to revisit the Paradise access schedule should staffing levels change during the winter season," NPS said in a press release on Tuesday.
Nick Neville, who owns Mt. Rainier Cabins, a group of five rental cabins, said that a lot of businesses rely on tourism. The area beyond Longmire is a favorite for cross-country skiers and avid fans of snowshoeing. The park itself still has plenty of activities at lower elevations, but the heavy snow closer to the summit draws in plenty of regulars.
"Spring and summer are bigger seasons, but we still need winter tourism to support the local businesses and employees that are year-round," he said. "Otherwise, those areas aren’t accessible when the majority of tourists are in the area.
That also means sledding runs at Paradise will not be open this year. Sledding is not permitted anywhere else in the park.
According to NPS, daily snowplowing will continue seven days a week between the Nisqually Entrance and Longmire. Snowplow operators will also attempt to plow the 12 miles of road to Paradise to a minimum level throughout the week to limit snow accumulation and make road access more attainable on the weekends.
Bob Bailie, who owns a rental property, said he doesn’t remember a year where they planned to shut-off access to Paradise for days – let alone the majority of a season.
He’s owned property in Ashford dating back to the mid-70s.
"I think they’re going to say it’s because of staffing and COVID-19, but I don’t think that’s a really good excuse for the park," said Bailie.
According to a park employee, the park did lose a number of workers during vaccine mandates last year – it appears hiring hasn’t replaced that staff. Bailie said other companies in the area had similar issues, but that they planned better.
"They’ve had time to do their hiring, for me if people are coming up and they want to go up to Paradise – they should be able to do that."