U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying something new on its popular spring wildflower tours on the normally closed portion of the Hanford Reach National Monument.
A highlight of the tour for many of those lucky enough to get a seat on the bus is a trip up Rattlesnake Mountain, weather permitting.
In 2013, the tours were so popular that it took just 21 seconds for the tours to fill using online registration.
This year, the seats on the tour will be filled using a lottery. Registration will cost $3 and the proceeds will be used to pay for the tours and make them affordable to everyone.
In addition, Fish and Wildlife is doubling the number of tours to eight, with 20 seats on each bus that heads out to the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve on the monument.
When tour seats were offered on a first-come, first-served basis in 2013, so many people tried to register that computer servers could not keep up and many people could not open the registration page.
This year, registration for the lottery opens Tuesday morning and closes at 3 p.m. April 14. Winners should be notified by April 16.
The $3 registration cost will include $1 that will be paid to a credit card processing company. The remaining $2 will cover tour costs, primarily the cost of the buses.
Fish and Wildlife decided to charge an application fee rather than charging those who went on the tour to make it affordable for everyone. It estimates the cost of a seat would be $40, which would price many families out of participation.
Fish and Wildlife is concerned that the wildflower display may be less impressive than usual this year, because of the dry spring. But even in a dry year the monument's plants are worth seeing, according to the agency, and Fish and Wildlife guides will have a wealth of information to share about topics related to the monument.
In addition to a possible trip up Rattlesnake Mountain to see the fragile flowers on the mountain top, other stops on the Arid Land Ecology Reserve are planned. Typical spring blooms there include lupine, balsamroot and Piper's daisy.
The tours will be offered at9 a.m. and 1 p.m. April 25, April 27, May 8 and May 10. They will last about three hours.
Sturdy hiking shoes and thick socks are recommended for uneven ground and cheatgrass seeds. Warm clothes and a jacket that blocks the wind are recommended, especially for the possible visit to Rattlesnake Mountain.
Participants also should bring any water or snacks they may want, plus cameras, binoculars and field guides to birds and flowers. There are no restrooms available on the tour after the buses leave Benton County's Horn Rapids Park.
To enter the lottery or for more information, go to www.fws.gov/hanfordreach/wildflowers.