Photo by Daniel Warn: Park Junction Resort partners and project manager said these buildings will be preserved and restored.
Photo by Daniel Warn: Park Junction Resort partners and project manager said these buildings will be preserved and restored.

Park Junction Resort, near Mount Rainier has been in the works for nearly 30 years. Now, it's gaining momentum once again.

Gail Adams, owner of the proposed Park Junction Resort, said the business was actually conceived as a way to help alleviate the visitor pressure at Mount Rainier National Park during peak tourist season.

Rick Adams, a partner for the proposed Park Junction Resort, said that when the National Park Service put together the Vail Agenda, which is supposed to be the plan for national parks moving into the 21st century, it accounted for the development of visitor management systems that could use private parties to help mitigate the possible extreme concentration of visitors using park services.

“And (the Vail Agenda) was to begin the process of diminishing public services within their national park system and transferring those to the adjacent gateway communities outside the national park system,” Rick Adams said. “Primarily rural areas.”

He said that the area around Mount Rainier is certainly rural, but the national park currently has few to no private partners that can help responsibly handle the volume of visitors each summer.

For a park that sees about 2 million visitors annually, Rick Adams said that the proposed resort center would be a useful way to help spread out the concentration of visitors in the region. The resort could then provide parking and transportation via shuttle from its facility to Mount Rainier National Park. All of this would help mitigate the 5 miles of traffic backup that happens from time to time as mountain visitors bottleneck at the park’s entrance.

Rick Adams said that with the Vail Agenda, the national park was supposed to “work with the adjacent communities to help encourage the infrastructure and the transportation network (needed) to responsibly manage the visitor’s arrival. There is none of that here [around Mt. Rainier] today.”

But back in the 90s, representatives that worked on the Vail Agenda approached the Park Junction crew to see if they would help meter the guests into the park.

Sylvia Cleaver Shepherd, project manager for the proposed Park Junction Resort, said that the plans for the business really got rolling back in the early 90s, when a partner that purchased an additional 300 acres, to be combined with the resort’s 100 or so original acres.

So by 1994, the project was gaining momentum. Gail Adams and his partners, along with Cleaver Shepherd, really sank their teeth into the plans for the resort.

However, things began to go south for Park Junction as government officials reviewed the plans for the resort.

Specifically, opponents of the resort, like the local Adubon Society, panned the plans for it, citing the resort for its possible environmental impact.

“It was denied because the Audubon Society, I don’t really understand what their reason was, they didn’t bring the birds, the animals or anything, it was all that our conference center was so large," Cleaver Shepherd said. "It’s a sit down 500 place, sit down dinner conferencing, so its big, and they said it was a public assembly. A public assembly is not allowed in master plan resorts.”

After several public hearings, the resort did not receive the green light that it needed, triggering a court battle of appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, which finally approved the project in 2005 with a 2-6 vote, Cleaver Shepherd said.

However, the project hit another snag when the county called into question its plans regarding the property’s wetlands.

“We have tried since then to negotiate through the wetland process and it has just been one thing after another,” Cleaver Shepherd said. “We think we have an agreement and then submit it to them and then they come back with more decisions that we need to do something else, so it has just been a back and forth process with them.”

Finally, in 2017, the business submitted a revised plan to the county, with its use of wetland areas drastically reduced. For instance, the physical driving range that was going to be featured at the resort is no longer in the current draft of the plans because it would have impacted about 5 acres of the property’s wetlands.

The county has also required Park Junction to provide a wildlife corridor through the property to accommodate a local heard of elk. However, Rick Adams said that he and his associates included some of the resort’s preserved wetlands within the corridor that they plan to provide for the elk. Yet critics of the proposed resort claim that this plan is double dipping on the areas it is supposed to preserve, Rick Adams said.

Now that the Park Junction Resort plans are gaining momentum once again, Cleaver Shepherd said that she is willing to give in to just about any government-mandated stipulation for the resort because she feels like she and her fellows have already given everything there is to give.

“We are very environmentally sensitive,” she said. “We are keeping the Cedar Grove. We are enhancing. We have about 100 acres of wetlands and enhancement that we are doing. We feel like we have given and given and given, but here we are.”

While most of the 400-plus acres will remain untouched for visitor enjoyment, the resort is expected to boast a multitude of amenities, including 270 room lodge; 325 housing units of varying size and purpose; a 20-40,000 square foot retail center; a functioning train station with a possible link to Tacoma; an 18-hole championship golf course; tennis courts; a swimming pool; and an education center complete with an interpretive center, with all sorts of year-round educational programing and seasonal conferences ran by a partner company.

“People will sign up for a six-week course on butterflies of the Nisqually Valley, and they will do five weeks of their schooling online, and then come to the resort for the final week of their course,” Cleaver Shepherd said. We are working with the school, the community colleges, to make these courses credited so that they can be part of the education program.”

In addition, one idea that Cleaver Shepherd detailed was how conferences could start on the train so that clients can get a head start on their program before they even get to the resort.

“We would like to be the provider of food from the lodge to the train, just because we will have world-renowned chefs,” she said.

The latest hearing to the project was in July to make sure the Park Junction plans had shown enough progress for the court to grant an extension on the conditional use permit in needs for the resort’s success.