Carbon River Road to become a trail
On February 11, Mount Rainier National Park announced its final decision to convert the Carbon River Road into a trail for hikers and bicyclists.
Last Friday, Mount Rainier National Park announced its final decision to convert the Carbon River Road into a trail for hikers and bicyclists.
The road has been closed to vehicles just inside the park boundary since a massive storm washed it out in 2006. This has added nearly 10 round-trip miles for visitors wishing to get to the the Ipsut Campground and several trailheads, including the popular Carbon River Glacier trail.
Work will start this summer on the road-to-trail conversion, and will cost $3.2 million over several years. In some places, sections of the historic road will remain intact and the trails connecting these sections will be improved to better accommodate bicycle use.
The park will convert Ipsut Creek Campground into a walk-in only campground, complete with bicycle racks. When funding becomes available, the park plans to put in a new car-accessible campground away from the threat of flooding, on properties that currently lie outside the park boundary area.
When the Mount Rainier National Park initially sought public comments back in 2008, WTA reluctantly supported closing the road and developing an upslope wilderness trail with continued hiking and biking access on the existing road. By placing the trail above the river's flood zone, we felt that this was the best way to ensure long-term access to this corner of the Park.
While we preferred the upslope trail model, WTA is pleased that hikers and bikers will have improved access to this area of the Park. What's more, we believe that the Ipsut Creek Campground will emerge as a wonderful backcountry camp for beginners and experts alike.
Of course, we will miss having vehicle access, but Mother Nature has clearly had other ideas. The Carbon River Road has flooded more than 40 times since it was built in the 1920s. The last three flood events - in 1990, 1996 and 2006 - were the three largest floods ever recorded on the Carbon River, with the most recent (and largest) flood washing out the road in three locations.
These and other floods have changed the river dramatically, raising the river bed by as much as 31 feet since the Carbon River Road was constructed. In some places the road is now lower than the the river, making it increasingly vulnerable to flood damage.
Replacing the road would have cost $11.3 million, with no guarantee that it would not wash out during the next major storm. Establishing a trail in its place will be more sustainable over the long-run.
Interested in hiking the road this spring and working to restoring the Wonderland Trail to the Carbon River Glacier? Sign up for one of WTA's Volunteer Vacations. We'll be there May 28 to June 4 and June 4 to 11.