Thursday, November 13, 2008

Flood Update

What a time to be out of the park on business! I'm in Portland for the National Interpreters Workshop, and am having a very productive time networking with other interpreters from all over the country and attending workshops. I'm especially pleased that there seems to be at least one volunteerism-themed workshop in each time period, so I'm gathering good ideas to bring back to the park.

Yesterday, it rained and rained here. I turned on the radio yesterday evening and was startled to hear National Public Radio report that the main entrance at Mount Rainier was closed due to flooding. I immediately checked in with the park and found that, indeed, due to flooding at Kautz Creek, the park road was closed and employees were granted administrative leave. Further word would come today when the road was further evaluated.

As of 6pm this evening, here's the official summary from Information Officer (and Chief of Interpretation and Education) Lee Taylor, who ironically decided to stay home from the Portland Workshop in order to get some work done in the office:

This is Lee Taylor, information officer for Mount Rainier National Park at 6 pm on Thursday November 13th with an update on information regarding the flood incident in the park on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

Here is a summary of storm damage caused by the rainstorm on Wednesday. The primary area of concern in the park is at Kautz Creek, where water covered the road to a depth of 8 inches yesterday and this morning. The river diverted 600 feet above the road, leaving the channel created after the 2006 flood. The new channel parallels the old channel and about 50 percent of the water is going into the 12 foot culverts underneath the road and the other 50 percent is following the road edge to the low point in the road. The road crews today installed sand bags along the road edge and successfully removed water from the road surface. However, Kautz Creek is still pounding against the road edge and threatening to cause further damage. Tomorrow park crews will work to divert the creek back into its previous channel. The Nisqually road will remain closed tomorrow but we are still hoping to have it reopened in time for the weekend.

There was other damage in the park, not as significant as what’s happening at Kautz Creek, but here’s a summary of that. The power line and the telephone line at the Kautz Helibase are out. At Sunshine Point the Nisqually River gouged a small section of riprap from the dike about five feet from the road edge. The Westside Road suffered one 300 foot section of erosion, which is going to be easy to repair. The Tahoma creek bridge has only about a foot and a half of freeboard; there’s been lots of sedimentation there and there’s not much clearance for the bridge. The paradise waterhead at Edith Creek is filled with sediment and a crew will dig that out tomorrow. Paradise is also without telephone service.

On the east side of the park there was a minor rockslide at Highway 123 at milepost 9. There is also a five foot cavity under the northbound lane at milepost 10.5. At milepost 10.6 there is a two hundred foot ridge of rocks in the northbound lane, so highway 123 remains closed. In the Ohanapecosh Campground there was water over the road in both the F Loop and G Loop with some erosion on the downhill side. The east side of the Grove of the Patriarchs suspension bridge was pulled off its sills and that bridge is now closed to hikers. At Carbon River the road washed out at milepost 6 outside the park near the old mountaineers campsite. Approximately 200 feet of both lanes is completely gone. Some land was lost behind the ranger station and the northwest corner of the maintenance yard was washed away. The old residence building washed downstream approximately 200 feet.

Weather permitting, a helicopter flight tomorrow will provide us with more information on backcountry trail and bridge conditions.

In an internal e-mail, Lee notes that "although the park sustained some damage it doesn't compare in magnitude to the devastation of two years ago. We can all be glad for that!" She also adds that Highway 410 was closed by a 100 foot landslide east of Enumclaw and may not open until after the weekend.

There are a thousand questions, for which I have maybe one or two answers. Are we looking at losing all of the work we did to repair the last flood? Probably not. Will there be additional damage that will need to be repaired? Probably. Will it require as big a volunteer effort as we've had the past two years? That question is completely up in the air until we have a better assessment of the damage. I can tell you for sure, however, that volunteers will be involved at a substatial level, whatever needs to be done, so stay tuned, and I'll keep you as up to date as I can from this distance, and more so when I get back to my office next week.

Undoubtedly any flood repairs involving volunteers will not begin until next spring. Winter snow will bury the park any day now, and our teams will be working hard to document as much of the damage as possible before it does so we can be prepared when the snow melts again next spring. That's when the work will begin. Begin again, really, though of course there is always storm damage to repair after each winter, and there is always a need for volunteers to help with it. The only question is magnitude. Stay tuned.

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