Federal land managers have been caught unprepared for the rush of visitors after a low winter snowpack cleared Washington’s mountain roads and trails weeks earlier than usual.
The News Tribune reported that national parks and forests in Western Washington typically bring on hundreds of seasonal employees — many of them college students — to handle summer crowds. But this year the seasonal crews are already needed, and many are still in school.
Steve Johnson, the acting district ranger of the Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, said the trails along Interstate 90 are seeing crowds they wouldn’t usually get until June.
“Normally our field crews, we don’t bring them on until mid-April, or May first,” Johnson said. “We need them now. People are not hitting snow until they get to 5,000 feet, so they can get way up into the back country.”
The Washington state Department of Transportation announced that Chinook Pass and Cayuse Pass reopened late Thursday afternoon, which will open access to the Pacific Crest Trail and hundreds of square miles of back country east of Mount Rainier that’s usually accessible at this time of year only by snowmobiles or snowshoes.
“Historically, that’s the second-earliest for Cayuse and the earliest ever for Chinook, as far back as record-keeping goes,” said Tracy Swartout, acting superintendent at Mount Rainier National Park.
Swartout said some trailheads and parking lots will be snow-free before the park’s water systems and wastewater treatment plants have been dewinterized, meaning visitors will find no drinkable water or working toilets.