Thursday, April 29, 2010

$10,000 Park Service grant supports bringing history to life at Longmire

This summer, and hopefully for years to come, history will come alive even more than usual at Mount Rainier National Park. Making it all possible is a new $10,000 grant of "special project funding" from the Park Service's national volunteer program, which will pay for additional staff time, training, volunteer reimbursements, and, of course, historical costumes.

People will see the new program in operation in two ways. Every Saturday throughout most of July and August, visitors will be treated to either an evening performance of the park's famous "Shadows of the Past" program, or to historical "vignettes" acted out at the National Park Inn, Longmire Museum, and nearby shuttle stop. Vignettes will be short, but the Shadows of the Past program is an hour-long venture through time, a 0.7 mile guided trek by lantern light to meet John Muir, James Longmire, Fay Fuller, and other characters from the park's past.

The new program will be provided almost entirely by volunteers: volunteer actors, volunteer lantern-bearers, volunteer script writers, volunteer historical researchers, and volunteer costumers. Join our company of actors and supporters! We're still recruiting people to help, so spread the word to your neighborhood community theaters and those characters at work who are always stealing the spotlight at the company barbecue. Come out, yourself, and get a front-row view of the action, even if you're working behind the scenes!

If nothing else, come see us in action. Here's a complete schedule of performances. Times and specific locations for the vignettes have yet to be determined, but Shadows of the Past programs will begin at dusk from the Transportation Exhibit at Longmire:

July 10 - Shadows of the Past
July 17 - Historical Vignette
July 24 - Shadows of the Past

July 31 - Historical Vignette
August 7 - Shadows of the Past

August 14 - Historical Vignette
August 21 - Shadows of the Past

August 28 - Historical Vignette

For more information, contact West District Interpreter Lee Snook at 360-569-6043.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Planning for National Trails Day

National Trails Day is June 5, 2010. As that date approaches, several projects are beginning to take shape. Pencil these into your calendar, and watch for details, coming soon on this blog!

Glacier Basin Trail Construction: Our major "Trail" project will be on the Glacier Basin Trail under the direction of our partner, the Washington Trails Association. This project isn't on WTA's project calendar yet, but it's being planned, and will be one of the major kickoff events for this year's trail volunteer program.

Longmire Campground Opening: Utilities are tentatively scheduled to be turned on in the Longmire Volunteer Campground about May 22nd. We're working on final arrangements to hire a pair of campground hosts who would begin about that time, and who could use some assistance, off and on through the week, in getting winter storm debris picked up and the bath house cleaned and ready for volunteers to use. On June 5, we'll tip the plywood platforms down onto their foundations and set up our collection of wall tents. Unlike last year, there shouldn't be any snow to shovel first in order to make that happen!

Picnic Table Relocation: A long-term goal for the Longmire Campground has been to install historic-style picnic tables (the heavy "half-round" log style common throughout the park) in the campground's 32 sites. Funding for this project, and for installation of additional concrete grills, has been hard to come by; but a solution has finally been approved (one first suggested by a volunteer a year ago): Dig out the picnic tables buried in silt at Sunshine Point, and move them to Longmire. This will be a major project, involving digging, carrying, transport, and probably disassembly and reassembly.

Signing up: As soon as WTA posts its National Trails Day event, volunteers can sign up through their website. Watch this blog for details of how to register, as an individual, for events at Longmire, which will be posted as soon as we work out the logistics of our projects. Groups should call me to express their interest, at 360-569-2211 ext. 3385, with information about approximately how many people to expect.

Join us for National Park Family Day in Seattle (or Vancouver)

This Sunday, May 2nd, Mount Rainier National Park will be one of 30 groups participating in the first annual Northwest National Parks Family Day at Seward Park in Seattle. The event, which will run from 10am to 3pm, is sponsored by the National Parks Conservation Association and will be packed with booths, exhibits, and activities oriented to families. The theme of the day is "Bringing the Parks to the People." Our own both, for example, will have exhibits, puppets, and a demonstration campsite with information about this summer's Camping Adventure with My Parents (CAMP) program.

Mount Rainier will also be one of several groups presenting "demonstrations" in the picnic pavillion. Ours will feature campfire songs and stories as told by rangers Jim Ross (a 40+ year veteran of telling campfire stories at Mount Rainier) and Kevin Bacher (me). Other demos include a banjo performance from San Juan Island Historical Park; nature hikes; a program called "Lost but safe and sound" by Lewis & Clark National Historical Park; a live raptor demonstration by Sarvey Wildlife Center; and a Leave No Trace camping demonstration by REI. For complete details, visit the Family Day page on NPCA's website.

If Seattle's a little far for you, but you live close to Vancouver, Washington, a similar National Park Family Day will be held at Fort Vancouver on May 15. Ranger Jim Ross will be there, too, representing Mount Rainier National Park.

Bring the kids, and we'll see you all at the park!

Volunteers still needed for Roadside Assistance program

Mount Rainier National Park is still recruiting full-time volunteers for this summer's Emergency Roadside Assistance program at Paradise. If you're interested in a position that includes housing and involves helping visitors in need, then this program is for you! Follow this link for details and an online application, or call ranger Jordan Mammel for more information.

Rangers to the rescue

Some of you may recall the recent feature on this blog about high ropes rescue training by our climbing rangers. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) those rangers had an opportunity to put that training into practice yesterday morning, as they rescued two climbers who had strayed off the route to Camp Muir and fallen over a steep slope. The climbers suffered hypothermia and other injuries, but are expected to recover.

These incidents don't always end well, so we're glad that this one did, and that our rangers were able to put their training to good use in saving a couple of lives.

Here's a link to an interview with Incident Commander Glenn Kessler on KIRO radio.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rangers volunteer too

Every year, on Earth Day, Mount Rainier National Park employees step out of their offices and volunteer. Well, not exactly volunteer, because it's all on paid work time; but instead of processing paperwork, updating budgets, and answering e-mails, it's working on projects like roadside cleanup. This year, those projects included cleaning up not only National Park Service roadsides, but litter along the Forest Service roads adjacent to the park as well. That can be considered "volunteering" for our partner agency, right?

Our cleanup crews retrieved discarded televisions, propane tanks, and plenty of beer cans along State Route 706 and Forest Service Roads 79 and 52. Good work, everyone!

Later that day, ranger Kevin Bacher visited Columbia Crest Elementary School for two dramatic performances of Dr. Seuss's story The Lorax, for the entire group of 135 students.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Reaching Out: Help us represent Mount Rainier at community events!

How do you invite people to a National Park?

On one hand, that may seem like a silly question. Why would anyone need an invitation to visit one of the crown jewels of the greatest national park system in the world? How else would you see the Northwest's greatest volcano, its greatest collection of glaciers, its pristine forests and extraordinary meadows?

Yet we all know many people who have lived their whole lives in the shadow of The Mountain and have never visited. For some, it's simply benign neglect. For others, the barriers are cultural, or economic. Driving to the end of the road for a day or two of contemplation, scenery, hiking, and camping just isn't in the range of options for everyone.

The problem may even be getting worse. A recent article in The News Tribune by Jeff Mayor notes that "just over 1.7 million people visited the park in 2009, but that was down 2.01 percent from the 1.73 million visitors in 2008. That decline ran counter to a trend seen across the National Park Service last year, when visitation was up 3 percent." 2009's visitor totals were some of the lowest in decades.

As Mayor points out, "More visitors means more revenue for park projects. It also means a larger pool of supporters who will advocate for the park," and about 60% of those visitors come from the Puget Sound region.

Mayor didn't mention it, but the U.S. population is also growing increasingly diverse, both ethnically and economically. Neither national park visitors nor employees have kept pace with this change. How do we make the parks a place that is both relevant and welcoming to everyone, regardless of background, culture, and economic standing?

Mount Rainier National Park has chosen to invest more and more of its efforts into community outreach: reaching beyond the borders of the park, to take The Mountain to the people and to make them feel welcome when they visit the park. We speak at community gatherings, we participate in community fairs, and we offer special programs for groups that visit the park. This summer, for the second time, we'll offer our "Camping Adventure with My Parents" (CAMP) program, for families of all kinds who have never been camping before and may never have had an opportunity to have such an experience.

It's all relevant to our volunteer program because, ultimately, what better way is there to "connect" with a national park than to give of your time and energy to help protect it, by serving as a volunteer? But the goal, first of all, is simply to bring people in, to make them feel welcome. When we say "this is your park," we want people to feel that that sentiment is entirely inclusive.

This is where you come in! Mount Rainier has a full calendar of events in communities throughout the region this summer, from the Tacoma Outdoor Challenge to the Puyallup Fair to the National Parks Family Day in Seattle. We've hired an intern, Hilary Gaddis, through the Student Conservation Association, who is helping us to build community partnerships and schedule events.

Consider joining us to represent our National Park at these events! Help us staff a booth, lead an activity for kids, or talk to people about your experience as a visitor and volunteer at Mount Rainier:
  • April 23-25: Enumclaw Spring Fair
    The park will have a booth. Stop by and say hi!
  • April 24: Seattle Earth Day Project
    We'll be volunteering with the Student Conservation Association at the Washington Park Arboretum. Come give us a hand!
  • May 1 and June 5: Activity day at the Woodland Park Zoo
    We'll be in Seattle talking to people about Mount Rainier and our CAMP program. June 5 is Bear Day!
  • May 2: Northwest National Park Family Day
    Join us at Seward Park in Seattle, with the National Parks Conservation Association, to talk about all of the great opportunities our national parks provide.
  • May 8: Annual Meadow Rover Brunch
    Join us at the Tacoma Mountaineers Clubhouse to learn about volunteering at Mount Rainier.
  • May 15: Tacoma Outdoor Challenge
    We'll be at Point Defiance for Tacoma Metro Parks' first annual program. It's The Amazing Race in Tacoma! We'll be running a camping challenge as part of the program's obstacle course.
  • May 15: National Park Family Day
    Outreach Ranger Jim Ross will travel to Fort Vancouver National Historical Park in Vancouver, Washington to participate in this annual event.
  • May 22, May 29, June 5, and June 12: Camping Adventures orientation days
    The centerpiece of our outreach program this summer is our second annual Camping Adventures with My Family program. More about that soon, but meanwhile, check out the new web page and get as excited about it as we are! CAMP participants will choose from one of four orientation dates. May 22 and June 12 will be at the Tacoma Nature Center, while May 29 and June 5 will be at Discovery Park in Seattle.
  • June 19: Hidden Jewel Volunteer Day
    Join us to help refurbish Camp Long in Seattle, with Seattle Parks and Recreation.
  • June 22-24, July 9-11, July 23-25, August 6-8, and August 17-19: Camping Adventures
    We'll be camping with five groups of 25 people throughout the summer, and will welcome assistance!
  • July 24-25: Tacoma Ethnic Fest
    One of the most colorful and interesting festivals of the year!
  • September 10-26: Western Washington State Fair
    The Puyallup Fair is our largest outreach event. We'll be looking for volunteers to staff three shifts a day for the duration of the Fair--in return for free admission and parking!
For any of these events, please contact Kevin Bacher, Hilary Gaddis, or Jim Ross at 360-569-2211 ext. 3385 to offer your assistance. Join our team--and help spread the word!

Monday, April 19, 2010

First National Park Associates work day coming up

One of our most dedicated partners, the Mount Rainier National Park Associates, will be leading their first volunteer project in the park this weekend, on Saturday April 24. John Titland, volunteer coordinator for the group, writes that they will be working on the Boundary Trail, which begins at the Carbon River entrance, meeting at 8:30 a.m. "Be prepared for an uphill hike to the work site," he says, and "as always, bring your lunch and plenty of fluids to drink, work gloves, and a full set of rain gear."

If you plan to attend the April 24th trails work party and have not yet contacted John, please do so right away at indicating that you are coming and letting him know the number of volunteers you expect to accompany you. He needs an estimate of the number of volunteers so that Park staff can be sure to have enough tools for everyone.
The Mount Rainier National Park Associates leads projects monthly throughout the summer, so if this project doesn't work out, mark your calendars for the others. Upcoming projects include May 22 (trails); June 12 (trails); July 10 (exotics removal or alpine gardening); August 7 (trails, with a campout); September 11 (revegetation); and October 2 (trails).
Find out more about MRNPA, check out photos and stories from past projects, and contact the group to sign up for any project through their website at You can also search our blog for past stories and photos about their work. The Associates are a great group to be a part of, and dedicated partners to Mount Rainier, and we're grateful for their support!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Volunteers walking backward the edge of a cliff!

I got a call Friday afternoon from ranger Daniel Camiccia, inviting me to join him in witnessing a training exercise by the park's climbing team above Christine Falls. One of the members of this year's team is Arlington Ashby, who has served for several years as a volunteer climbing ranger.

David Gottlieb, who was running the exercise, enthused about several other volunteers who will be joining the team later this summer, as part of a partnership with the Khumbu Climbing School in Phortse, Nepal. Last summer the climbing program hosted one such Nepali climber, and David is optimistic of working with several more this summer. Our rangers gain a lot from working alongside these expert Himalayan climbers, and they, in turn, get experience on our great northwest volcano.

David explained that today's exercise was a psychological one, as much as anything: the team had been practicing on 20-foot walls earlier in the week, and needed a reminder that 80 feet is, for all practical purposes, no different, despite looking more dramatic. The risks are the same, and the techniques for effecting a rescue safely are the same as well. If such a rescue is ever needed, it needs to feel familiar.

Meanwhile, our rangers were carefully roping up, setting up belays and other complicated spiderwebs of equipment that I don't have the vocabulary to describe. Arlington was designated the ranger who would go over the cliff, and another ranger volunteered to be the "victim," packaged into a litter to be lowered over the edge and hauled back up. I took up position on the other side of the canyon and watched as Arlington carefully backed off the edge, guiding the litter down the cliff as Van Trump Creek thundered below. To my right, I could see occasional visitors walking on the Christine Falls bridge, taking photos with the waterfall behind them, just out of sign of the climbers spidering down the precipice above.

Arlington reached the bottom of the cliff and turned to flash me a thumbs up; then, after a few minutes, began climbing back up the cliff again, as his teammates hauled on the rope above.

The whole exercise took about half an hour to set up, and less than that to carry out. As the rangers set about dismantling their ropes, I gave them a wave across the canyon and returned to my car at the trailhead. All in a day's work for our climbing rangers and volunteers. Here's hoping the summer is full of training and empty of practical application!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Characters Welcome! (and Needed!)

Ever wish for the simpler days? Does today’s fast pace and impersonal electronic age have you down? Well, Mount Rainier National Park is looking to take a few select folks Back In Time! This summer we are expanding our living history program and we need people passionate about the park, history, and people, and who have a penchant for dressing up, to join us for some fun. We need volunteers to fill a variety of roles to bring history to life this summer for our Shadows of the Past living history programs and a variety of vignettes at Longmire. Volunteers are needed for the following:

Characters – Have a flair for the dramatic? Ever wanted to wear a fake beard and talk with a Scottish brogue? We need people to fill a variety of roles from Mount Rainier’s history, memorizing scripts and portraying characters in at least one Shadows of the Past program and one character in a roving vignette.

Guides – Do you like to answer questions and play follow the leader? Guides are needed to lead visitors through the Shadows of the Past program by memorizing a script and monitoring the group. We also need guides to introduce vignettes and answer visitor questions.

Writers – Like to write short stories? Vignettes need to be written for 15-minute programs involving three to five characters. Topics will revolve around the 1899 – 1920s history of Mount Rainier. Specific topics will be discussed and assigned to writers.

Lantern bearers – Want to be involved, but want to stay behind the scenes? Lantern bearers are needed for Shadows of the Past programs to illuminate the path for visitors and the characters during the program.

Researchers – Have a general curiosity about Mount Rainier in the late 1800s to early 1900s? Researchers are needed to create a general outline and bibliography of background information about Mount Rainier and characters from 1889 to the 1920s.

Mark your calendars! Shadows of the Past performances will be the evenings of July 10th and 24th and August 7th and 21st. Vignettes are scheduled for July 17th and 31s and August 14th and 28th during the day.

For more information on the program or any of the positions listed please contact Lee Snook at or 360.569.2211 x 6043. You can also submit an application online at

The dam breaks

As you may have notice, it's been a while since I've posted anything on the blog. It isn't because nothing has happened--on the contrary, so much has been going on that I haven't had time to squeeze in a blog entry! With the help of a few assistants (thank you, Hilary and Kaila!) I am beginning to finally catch up. Watch this space, over the next week, for lots of new news: New volunteer opportunities; new partnerships; news from past volunteers; several exciting outreach events that are coming up; even a major new grant announcement. Happy reading!

Let me start by introducing you to two names you'll hear more of this month and in coming months. Kaila Johnston is a seasonal member of Mount Rainier National Park's revegetation crew, who is working as a volunteer this month and next before her summer job starts. She's helping me this month to catch up on volunteer paperwork, including logging in new volunteer agreements and hours and responding to correspondence.

Meanwhile, Hilary Gaddis arrived on April 5, and will be working with us through September to develop our Camping Adventures program. More about that in a future blog entry; but suffice it to say that she's already incredibly busy setting up community partnerships, planning events, and recruiting participants.

Thank you, Kaila and Hilary, for all of your hard work, and for helping to make time for me to update you all on what's been happening with our program!