Mount Rainier National Park officials are making plans to improve the Nisqually to Paradise road.
Parks superintendent Randy King said last week that an environmental assessment – part of the public review and approval process for such projects – has been prepared. It gives two alternatives: Skip the proposed repairs, which would allow more deterioration of the road that has a steady stream of visitors much of the year, or go forward with upgrades that would take four years to complete. Park officials prefer the second option, which would cost an estimated $32 million.
Many of the park’s approximately 1.5 million visitors per year drive on the road to reach Paradise, one of the park’s most popular destinations, as well as campgrounds and other recreation sites. The road begins at the park’s Nisqually entrance and winds 17.6 miles to Paradise, where attractions include the Henry M. Jackson Visitors Center, Paradise Inn, and trails that take hikers into the wilderness.
The federal-funded road improvement project would be broken into two parts lasting two years each. The first, from the entrance to milepost 6.5, is scheduled to start as early as 2013-14 and could include reconstruction of a guardwall on the Ricksecker Loop. The second phase of roadwork, picking up where the first left off, would start as early as 2015-16 and end at Paradise. It would include repaving the Paradise parking lots and Paradise Valley Road.
Park officials said the Nisqually to Paradise road has drainage problems that will continue to affect the roadway’s condition unless they’re fixed as part of the proposed project. Other improvements would include bridge maintenance, stabiliziing embankments, and utility upgrades.
Karen Thompson, an environmental protection specialist for the park, said it’s been decades since the last major renovations of the road. Most work on the road has been routine maintenance or emergency repairs, she said.
Drainage is the biggest issue being addressed in plans for the proposed project, Thompson said.
Mount Rainier National Park, established in 1899, is the fifth-oldest oldest in the country.