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Population Growth Is Changing Mount Rainier National Park

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Mount Rainier with downtown Seattle in the foreground

The Puget Sound region's rapid population growth is affecting everything from traffic to housing costs.

Those effects are rippling as far as the wilderness of Mount Rainier.

Visitation at Mount Rainier National Park is up eight percent this year, continuing a multi-year trend of increasing traffic, park superintendent Chip Jenkins said Tuesday.

That trend is changing people's experience of the nation's fifth oldest national park, he said. 

Weekend visitors often braved two-hour waits in traffic this summer just to pass through the park's gates, Jenkins said. It regularly took another hour to find parking. 

"That is not an acceptable experience," Jenkins told Pierce County Council members at a meeting in Spanaway. "That is not what we want a visit to Mount Rainier to be."

Jenkins called for a dialog with officials in surrounding communities about issues affecting the park, such as transportation.

"We are going to have to see about trying to understand those problems in greater detail," he said.

Rising housing costs are another issue. Jenkins said at least 20 people turned down jobs at Mount Rainier this summer because they couldn't find places to live.

Jenkins assumed leadership of Mount Rainier National Park about four months ago. A 31-year veteran of the National Park Service, he previously served as regional deputy director in Seattle.

Jenkins also said the park has a $150 million backlog of maintenence projects. Of the park's $24 million annual budget, about three-quarters comes from the federal government while the rest comes from visitor fees.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.