Mt. Rainier NP Considers Fate of Carbon River Road
The Road: The six-mile Carbon River Road provided vehicular access to the northwestern corner of Mount Rainier National Park and the Ipsut Creek Campground. Until closure in 2006, the road afforded easy access to the Carbon River glacier and day-hike access to several of the popular Irish Cabin Peaks. The Mountaineers has a long history of recreating in the Carbon River Road region, essentially the backyard of the Irish Cabin property.
The Floods: Washouts have plagued the Carbon River Road since it opened in 1925, even flooding twice during the four years of construction. The most dramatic flood occurred November 6-7, 2006, when 17.9 inches of rain fell in the park, triggering flooding that washed out several segments of the road. Floods damaged the road again in 2008. The road has been closed to vehicle use since 2006, but bikers and hikers have been using the trails.
Between 1933 and 2007, the Carbon River flooded 59 times, 24 of these events caused significant damage to the road. Aggravating the damage is the fact that the river bed is rising. Due to the accumulation of sediment and debris, the riverbed is now higher than the road in certain areas. The Carbon River stream gauge reflects a an increasing trend of higher flood frequencies and magnitudes – tied to recent weather patterns in the Pacific Northwest that result in more frequent rain-on-snow fall flooding. Climate change predictions suggest this pattern will continue to exacerbate the situation.
The Environmental Assessment: The 2001 Mount Rainier General Management Plan, endorsed by the Mountaineers, calls for the roadway to be closed upon the next washout and be maintained as a bicycle and hiker access trail. In September 2010, the MRNP released an Environmental Assessment outlining five alternatives for the fate of the Carbon River Road: Alternative 1: Take no action and continue current management of the road as unimproved trail for hiking and biking. Estimated cost: More than $1 million.
Alternative 2 (preferred): Reopen the road 1.2 miles to private vehicles as far as a turnaround at the Old Mine Trailhead. From there, the road would be converted into an improved trail. Estimated cost: $3.2 million.
Alternative 3: Reopen 3.6 miles of road, to Chenuis, to public vehicles. Beyond that, it would be an improved trail. Estimated cost: $10.8 million.
Alternative 4: Repair the road from the Old Mine Trailhead turnaround to milepost 4.4 to be used only by seasonal and weekend shuttle service. A trail would lead to the Wonderland Trail. Estimated cost: $11.4 million.
Alternative 5: Temporarily use the road as a hiking and biking trail while a 36-inch-wide wilderness trail is built. Bikes typically are not allowed on wilderness trails. Estimated cost: $4.5 million. Superintendent Dave Uberuaga endorses Alternative #2 as the preferred alternative, citing sustainability as the primary factor. It is notable that the MRNP is in the process of acquiring 800 acres to establish camping at Carbon River entrance; these facilities will replace the year-round drive-in camping that was lost at Ipsut. Under the preferred alternative #2, access to Ipsut Campground and the glacier will still be achievable by foot or bike along 5.4 miles of easy-grade trail.
The public comment period is open through November 3rd, 2010. For a complete look at the Environmental Assessment, or to submit comments electronically, visit the Mount Rainier park planning website.