Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Public Input Requested On Alternatives For Management Of The Crater Trail In Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is considering options for management of the Crater Trail, which originates near Milner Pass and extends to above tree line east of the Continental Divide. Park staff will be preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) and invites public input in advance of preparation of the EA. The Crater Trail in its current configuration is resulting in harm to park resources and is not sustainable from a trail construction and maintenance perspective. The public scoping process has begun and comments are invited through October 3, 2016. The EA will analyze a range of alternatives to meet project objectives, evaluate issues and impacts on park resources and values, and identify mitigation measures to lessen the degree or extent of these impacts.

The Crater Trail is a one-mile-long trail on the east side of Specimen Mountain. It differs from other trails in the park in that it is an informal route that was not designed and constructed, but developed over time. As a result, the trail is steep and severely eroded in sections, impacting the alpine tundra and cultural resources. The trail is in designated wilderness and is part of the Specimen Mountain Research Natural Area. The trail is typically closed annually from May to August 15 during the bighorn lambing season. For the past two years, the Crater Trail has been closed year-round pending the outcome of the EA process.

Preliminary options that have been identified for management of the trail and surrounding area include reconstructing the trail within the current alignment, rerouting the trail to a less steep gradient, or permanently closing the trail. Also under consideration is allowing continued use of the current trail and implementing minor improvements within the limits of the existing trail maintenance program (the no action alternative). If the trail or segments of the trail were abandoned due to reroutes or closure, abandoned trail segments would be restored to natural conditions through active replanting or natural revegetation.

The park is hosting a meeting about the proposed project on Tuesday, September 13, 2016, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Grand Lake Fire Protection District Station located at 201 W. Portal Road in Grand Lake. This will be an opportunity to express ideas, concerns, and recommendations about alternative actions and have questions answered. There will be a short presentation at 6:15 p.m., and park staff will be available to answer questions until 7:30 p.m. The public is invited to visit at any point during the scheduled time to review materials and provide written comments.

Park staff encourage public participation throughout the planning process. There will be two opportunities to comment formally on the project – one starting now during initial project scoping and again following release of the EA. Comments received during the scoping period will be used to help define the issues and concerns to be addressed in the Environmental Assessment, while also assisting with analyzing the different alternatives.

Comments must be received in writing by close of business on October 3, 2016. Comments can be submitted at the public open house described above or online by visiting: Look for "Crater Trail."

Comments may also be sent to the following mailing address: Superintendent, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, CO 80517

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. Although you can ask in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, the park cannot guarantee they will be able to do so.


Monday, August 29, 2016

U.S. Forest Service Releases Draft Decision on Improved Trail System Near Nederland

The U.S. Forest Service has released its final environmental assessment and a draft decision for the Magnolia Non-Motorized Trails Project.

More than 300 people participated in the comment process, submitting upwards of 1,300 comments about the project.

The draft decision would approve a 44-mile, non-motorized trail system across about 6,000 acres in Boulder and Gilpin counties in an area along the Peak to Peak Highway known as East Magnolia and West Magnolia. Currently there are only 16 miles of existing National Forest system trails in the area and about 46 miles of non-system or “user-created” trails.

“At the start of this project, we inventoried the trails in the area and discovered that there were all these user-created routes out there in addition to our system trails. Basically, on a map it looks like a spaghetti-bowl of unsustainable trails,” said Recreation Manager Matt Henry with the Boulder Ranger District.

“The goal is to turn that spaghetti bowl into a sustainable, non-motorized trail system that provides a better user experience that’s more in tune with what users are seeking,” Henry said. “We are hoping to do that by improving trail location, alignment and connectivity in a way that also minimizes the impacts to wildlife habitat.”

The project includes building new trail, adding some user-created trails to the system and obliterating all other user-created routes. A total of 29 miles of user-created routes will be obliterated following this decision. Any additional user-created routes found during project implementation will be obliterated as well.

New signage to help keep visitors on the system trails; improved trailheads, including bathrooms and expanded parking at West Magnolia and Front Range trailheads; and facilities for horse trailers at West Magnolia Trailhead are also components of the draft decision.

The draft decision eliminates snowmobiles in the project area and restricts bikes and horses to designated trails. It also provides an opportunity for a special use permittee to groom non-motorized trails in winter for Nordic skiing and fat tire biking – a sport that has seen a remarkable increase in popularity since this project was initially proposed in 2012.

One key component of this draft decision is that it includes an adaptive management approach, which allows the U.S. Forest Service to make adjustments in the implementation of this project as needed.

“Our goal is to enhance the recreation experience for non-motorized users, which includes those on horseback, bicycle and foot,” Henry said. “As we go through the process of implementation, which could take 5 to 10 years, we might discover that there are better ideas for where to locate a trail or how to manage traffic flow. The adaptive management component of this decision will allow us to make those adjustments.”

The project will be implemented in phases by working with partners on both fundraising and implementation, starting on the West Magnolia side of the Peak to Peak Highway as outlined in the decision. Work on the Magnolia trails project where it overlaps with the proposed Forsythe II forest health project will be postponed until analysis is complete and the decision on that project is finalized.

The draft decision also facilitates access from the trail system to the community of Nederland through connecting trails that don’t currently exist, allowing trail users to easily visit a restaurant downtown.

Other regional trail connections outlined in the draft decision include connecting the Magnolia Trail System to the Toll Conservation Easement Trail to Jenny Creek Trail, which would allow non-motorized connection all the way to the Continental Divide on trails; and providing connectivity to Boulder County Open Space’s Reynolds Ranch as that trail system develops over time.

Those who previously provided written comments on the project now have until midnight on Oct. 11 to review the documents and submit written objections. The complete draft decision, final environmental analysis and information about the objection process are available online at


Friday, August 26, 2016

Vehicle Break Ins At Rocky Mountain National Park

On Sunday, August 21st, between 11 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. two vehicles were broken into at the east Alluvial Fan parking lot in Rocky Mountain National Park. Vehicle windows were broken and purses containing credit cards were stolen. Several of these credit cards were used in local area businesses immediately after the break in.

An image of a man purchasing a variety of camping equipment with these stolen credit cards was captured on video surveillance. Park rangers are working in conjunction with the Estes Park Police Department and Larimer County Sheriff's Office, since the fraudulent credit card activity took place outside the park.

Park rangers are seeking assistance from the public in identifying this person of interest. If you have information concerning this incident or this person of interest, please call the following recorded tip line at Rocky Mountain National Park at (970) 586-1290. If you wish, you can remain anonymous. Or call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.

When parking at trailheads in Rocky Mountain National Park please be alert for any suspicious activity and do not leave valuables in vehicles.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Colorado Parks Partners with DMNS to offer IMAX Tickets in Backpack Program

Beginning this week, families enjoying the Check Out Colorado State Parks Library Backpack program will find an extra perk in their packs. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has partnered with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to offer two complimentary museum/movie vouchers to use at the museum and/or IMAX movie National Parks Adventure 3D.

82 library locations in the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District counties (Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson) are receiving 24 museum/movie vouchers for distribution over the next 5 weeks. Any family that checks out the state park pass and backpack may use the vouchers at the museum and/or IMAX National Parks Adventure 3D, ending Sept. 22, or any of the other IMAX films.

“We thought adding to the CPW and State Library partnership would be a great way to celebrate the national parks centennial movie at the IMAX,” said Allison Lippiatt, Denver Museum of Nature & Science Marketing Specialist. “It also gives people an opportunity to continue to learn about the natural world around them by visiting the Museum after they’ve visited one of Colorado’s beautiful state parks.”

The Check Out Colorado State Parks Program is an initiative offering residents the ability to check out a hang-tag park pass and adventure backpack from their local library for entrance into any of Colorado’s 42 state parks. There are over 570 library locations in the program.

Based on user feedback to CPW, both the usage and patron experience of the Check Out Colorado State Parks program has been very positive this summer.

For more information go to:


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Katahdin Woods & Waters - Our Newest National Monument

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis today applauded the designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the first national monument to preserve the landscape and honor the history and culture of Maine’s North Woods. The Antiquities Act, which was used to make this designation, permanently protects 87,500 acres of lands donated to the National Park Service earlier this week by the Elliottsville Plantation, Inc., (EPI). This land donation includes the East Branch of the Penobscot River and its tributaries, one of the most pristine watersheds in the Northeast.

This weekend, Secretary Jewell will visit the national monument lands in Penobscot County, Maine, to celebrate the designation with state and local officials and members of the public. National Park Service staff will be on site to assist with the first steps to open the park.

EPI is the nonprofit foundation established by Roxanne Quimby and run by her son Lucas St. Clair. Their gift of land is accompanied by an endowment of $20 million to supplement federal funds for initial park operational needs and infrastructure development at the new monument, and a pledge of another $20 million in future philanthropic support.

The new national monument – which will be managed by the National Park Service and is now the 413th park unit in the National Park System – is located directly east of the 209,644-acre Baxter State Park, the location of Maine’s highest peak, Mt. Katahdin (5,267 feet), the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The boundaries of the new national monument also include 4,426 acres of private land owned by the Baskahegan Company, which requested inclusion should the company in the future decide to convey its lands to the United States or a conservation buyer, on a willing seller basis, for incorporation into the monument.

The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument designation is the result of a years-long effort by Quimby and her son. Quimby purchased the lands with a portion of the wealth she created as a co-founder of Burt’s Bees in 1984, and developed the idea of gifting the lands to the American people as part of the National Park System. St. Clair, raised in Maine and dedicated to preserving the landscape and access for recreational activities, and a small EPI staff, have been operating the lands as a recreation area for several years.

The new national monument includes the stunning East Branch of the Penobscot River and a portion of Maine’s North Woods that is rich in biodiversity and known for its outstanding opportunities to hike, canoe, hunt, fish, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski. These and other traditional activities will continue to be available in the new national monument.

The new monument is also a storied landscape. Since the end of the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago, the waterways, wildlife, flora and fauna, night skies, and other resources have attracted people to the area. For example, the Penobscot Indian Nation considers the Penobscot River watershed a cultural and spiritual centerpiece and since the early 19th century, logging has been a way of life. Artists, authors, scientists, conservationists and others – including Teddy Roosevelt, Henry David Thoreau and John James Audubon – have also drawn knowledge and inspiration from the area’s resources.

National Park Service staff will hold a series of public listening sessions throughout the Katahdin region starting the week of September 12 to begin work on the management plan that will be developed during the first three years. Details of the listening sessions, including dates and locations, will be shared with local newspapers and posted to the monument’s website ( NPS’s planning will be done with full public involvement, with special emphasis on understanding the ideas and concerns of the local communities.

The approximately $100 million total gift to the American people from the EPI, was facilitated by the National Park Foundation as part of its Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks.

“This extraordinary gift sets the stage for a strong and vibrant second century for America’s national parks,” said Will Shafroth, President of the National Park Foundation. “Through their vision and generosity, Ms. Quimby and her family are carrying on the philanthropic tradition from which the national parks were born 100 years ago, and which helped create Grand Teton, Acadia and Virgin Islands National Parks.”


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mesa Verde National Park Proposes Entrance Fee Increase

Mesa Verde National Park will hold an Open House on September 13, 2016 to discuss proposed entrance fee increases in 2017. The Open House will be held at First National Bank Conference Room, 2258 E Main Street, Cortez, Colorado at 6 p.m. and will include a public comment session. If you would like to attend the Open House, please contact the park at 970-529-4682 by Monday, September 12, 2016.

Interested parties who are not able to attend the open house may also submit comments to the park at Comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. Thursday, September 15, 2016.

Before including your address, telephone number, electronic mail address, or other personally identifying information in your comments, you should be aware that your entire comment (including your personally identifying information) may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us to withhold your personally identifiable information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

The proposed fee changes would start January 1, 2017. Fees are good for entrance to Mesa Verde National Park for up to 7 days. Entrance fees are not charged to persons under 16 years of age or holders of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, Senior, Access, Military, or Volunteer Passes or the Annual 4th Grade Pass. These passes may be obtained at the park. There will be no changes to commercial or tour fees at this time.

"We are committed to keeping the park affordable, but we also want to provide visitors with the best possible experience," said Mesa Verde National Park Superintendent Cliff Spencer. "The money from entrance fees is used to improve visitor facilities and amenities. The revised fees will help us offset increased costs for construction and rehabilitation that keep these facilities in good condition."

Entrance fees have previously allowed for purchasing and installing water bottle filling stations and drinking fountains; providing additional visitor educational opportunities at Wetherill Mesa; construction of new restrooms; and stabilization work at Spruce Tree House and Cliff Palace cliff dwellings. Additional revenue raised by a fee increase would help with the upcoming rehabilitation of the Morefield Amphitheater, additional stabilization work at archaeological sites throughout the park, maintaining and updating infrastructure, and continue to provide additional visitor educational opportunities.

Mesa Verde National Park is a strong economic engine for the surrounding area. In 2015, more than 547,325 park visitors contributed $55.4 million to the local economy and supported 814 jobs related to tourism.

Following the Open House, feedback will determine how, or if, a fee increase would be implemented.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Highest Point East of Rockies Gets New Name

Last week the U.S. Geological Survey announced that Harney Peak in South Dakota will now officially be called Black Elk Peak on all federal maps. This unanimous decision was made on August 11th by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN). The mountain is not only the highest point in the state, but is the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains.

The summit had been labeled Harney Peak on all federal maps since 1896. The feature is located in the Black Elk Wilderness of Black Hills National Forest in Pennington County in southwestern South Dakota.

The name Black Elk Peak was formally proposed to the BGN in October 2014. The BGN sought opinions from the U.S. Forest Service and the South Dakota Board on Geographic Names (SDBGN), which in turn sought opinions from the county government, numerous local, State, and Tribal organizations, and the general public.

In making the decision, the federal BGN acknowledged the recommendations by the SDBGN and a number of state legislators to retain the name Harney Peak. However, the BGN also recognized the wishes of native peoples and many non-native South Dakotans that a new geographic name should be given to this feature that is regarded as a sacred site by several Tribes.

U.S. General William S. Harney (1800-1889) fought against native peoples in the Black Hills region of South Dakota and in the Seminole Wars in Florida. Black Elk or Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) was a revered Oglala Lakota (Sioux) holy man.

One of the guiding principles for the BGN is to adopt for official federal use the names found in present-day local usage. However, an exception to this principle occurs when a name is shown to be highly offensive or derogatory to a particular racial or ethnic group, gender, or religious group.

"The Board’s understanding was that the name Harney Peak for a traditional sacred site was distressing to Tribal people. For that reason, there was a unanimous decision to change the name of the peak to Black Elk Peak," said Lou Yost, executive secretary of the BGN.

The new name is now considered official for use in federal maps and publications. State and local governments as well as commercial entities generally follow the federal use of geographic names as a matter of efficiency, although there is no law requiring this.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is the geographic names authority for the Nation. It is a coordinating body made up of representatives from federal departments, agencies, and organizations who receive no additional compensation for this specialized work. The BGN standardizes and approves geographic names so that geographic references can be used consistently in federal publications and communications.

President Benjamin Harrison established the BGN by Executive Order in 1890 to resolve conflicts in geographic names. In 1947 Congress re-established the BGN in its current form by public law.

The standardization of names not only serves to preserve a record of geographic names across the Nation, but it enables the use of uniform geographic names in many digital settings — for example, it makes navigation by GPS possible by facilitating standard location references.

My wife and I hiked to the top of Harney Peak Black Elk Peak a couple of years ago. It's a very nice hike.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rescue Operation Conducted For Injured Man Near Lake Haiyaha

Yesterday afternoon, park staff were notified that a 45 year old man suffered a leg injury roughly 1,000 feet above Lake Haiyaha. He was scrambling on rocks, fell in a deep hole and a boulder pinned his leg. He was hiking with two other people who were able to move the boulder to free his leg. The injuries he sustained prevented him from walking.

Park rangers reached him late afternoon. Two park rangers, including a paramedic, stayed with the man overnight. This morning, members of Rocky Mountain National Park's Search and Rescue team began a low angle scree evacuation. After the teams evacuated the man down through the rocks and boulders he was transported via inflatable raft across Lake Haiyaha. Teams then brought him down the trail with a wheeled litter. He reached the trailhead at 3:30 p.m. and was taken by ambulance to Estes Park Medical Center.

Rocky Mountain National Park's Search and Rescue team members were assisted by Larimer County Search and Rescue and Rocky Mountain Rescue members. Thirty personnel were in the field for this rescue operation. The man is a U.S. Citizen currently living in Paris, France.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Special Evening Program: Longs Peak Experience - the Keyhole Route

Do you aspire to reach the summit of Longs Peak? Are you inspired by the lofty rock faces and pinnacles of Rocky Mountain National Park's highest mountain? Join climbing rangers Everett Phillips and Mitch Musci, on a photographic journey to the top, and back down safely. This free program will be held Thursday, August 18th, and Friday, August 26th, at 7:30 p.m. at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. Mitch and Everett will present aspiring mountaineers with a realistic picture of the challenges encountered on Longs' most popular adventure; the Keyhole Route. Topics covered will include a detailed description of the route, an understanding of proper preparation, and strategies for a safe ascent.

Everett Phillips has been involved in mountain rescue work for over a decade. He has performed rescues with the park service at Denali, Mount Rainier, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park. As a ranger on Longs Peak his interest in rescue has expanded to include risk management and accident prevention. He is inspired by the challenge of maintaining his sense of adventure while also becoming more responsible in his mountain excursions.

Mitch Musci grew up in Austin, Texas, and quickly gained an appreciation for the mountains through his family's annual summer trips to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. At the age of 12 he signed up for summer camp in Estes Park, and spent the next 6 summers hiking and backpacking throughout Rocky Mountain National Park. These experiences inspired Mitch to study Outdoor Leadership at Western State College, and after graduation he began his career as an outdoor educator and climbing guide. Years of extensive climbing experience helped steer Mitch into his current position as a Longs Peak Climbing Ranger.

This program is free and open to the public. For more information about Rocky Mountain National Park please visit or call the park's Information Office at (970) 586-1206.

For more information on the hike to the Keyhole itself, please click here.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Decision Reached on Sprague Lake Dam Repair

The Director of the Intermountain Region, National Park Service (NPS), has signed a decision document that will enable the NPS Dam Safety Program to repair the Sprague Lake Dam in Rocky Mountain National Park. Although the dam is classified as having a Low Hazard Potential by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), repairing the dam would help to protect park natural resources, cultural resources, and infrastructure such as trails, roads, and bridges in the event of a flood.

An Environmental Assessment (EA) was prepared to evaluate alternatives and the potential impacts associated with repairing the dam or maintaining the status quo.

The repairs to the Sprague Lake Dam consist of adding a seepage control berm, spillway improvements, slightly increasing the elevation of the dam crest in select locations, stump and tree removal from the dam, and construction of an inlet control structure that will limit flows into Sprague Lake to the capacity of the spillways. Flows greater than a 10-year flood will be diverted over Sprague Lake Road and conveyed via an existing drainage to Glacier Creek. The lake side of the dam will be armored with riprap to prevent erosion. Upon completion of the spillway improvements on the north side of the lake, a new pedestrian bridge will be constructed over the spillway.

A temporary access road will be constructed in the fall of 2016, to provide access to the dam. The dam repairs will be done in the fall of 2017. During the fall of 2017, portions of the accessible trail around Sprague Lake will be closed during the repair work.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Repairs Begin on Alluvial Fan, Ypsilon Lake and Lawn Lake Trails

The Director of the Intermountain Region, National Park Service (NPS), signed a decision document earlier this summer that enabled Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) to conduct repairs to the Alluvial Fan, Ypsilon Lake, and Lawn Lake Trails that were damaged in the September 2013 flood. Repair work has already begun on some sections. It will be a few years before the reroutes and repairs are completed on all three trails.

Following the September 2013 flood, RMNP prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate alternatives and the potential impacts associated with reestablishing five trails that were badly damaged during the flood: Twin Sisters, Aspen Brook, Alluvial Fan, Ypsilon Lake, and Lawn Lake. The purpose of the EA was to identify potential travel routes while protecting natural and cultural resources and preserving wilderness character. Park staff anticipate that a decision for the Aspen Brook and Twin Sisters trails will be made sometime in 2017.

The NPS selected Alternative B, Establish and Maintain a Travel Route (the NPS preferred alternative) for the Alluvial Fan, Ypsilon Lake, and Lawn Lake trails because the alternative best met the purpose and need for the project as well as the project objectives. A description of the selected action for the three trails follows.

Lawn Lake Trail – A new trail is being constructed around the four trail sections damaged or washed out, and limited improvements will be made to an existing informal trail. Trail tread will be about 3 feet wide, with trail clearing limits 6 feet wide by 10 feet high. Pedestrian and equestrian use will be allowed.

Ypsilon Lake Trail –A new timber foot bridge has been constructed across the Roaring River. New trail approaches on either side of the river are being constructed, with a trail tread about 3 feet wide, and trail clearing limits approximately 6 feet wide by 10 feet high. Pedestrian and equestrian use will be allowed on the trail, but equestrian use will not be allowed on the bridge, instead a horse stream crossing will be established.

Alluvial Fan Trail – A new accessible trail will be constructed between the existing east and west parking lots with a new bridge across the Roaring River. An accessible overlook trail to Horseshoe Falls will be constructed. A 150-foot portion of the accessible trail will extend into designated wilderness to reach the overlook. The trail tread will be about 5 to 6 feet wide, with trail clearing limits approximately 8 feet wide by 8 feet high. Only pedestrian and accessible use will be allowed.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Bear Kills Dog in Shenandoah National Park

On Wednesday, August 3rd, a hiker in Shenandoah National Park reported an encounter with a mother bear and two cubs on the Snead Farm Fire Road near the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 4.6 on Skyline Drive). The hiker was accompanied by two dogs on retractable leashes. Confronted by the bear, the hiker fled the area, at which point the bear attacked the trailing dog who later died of its injuries. As a result, the Snead Farm Fire Road and Loop Trail will remain closed while park staff monitor the area. Hikers with dogs are asked to avoid the Dickey Ridge Area.

"Park Superintendent Jim Northup said "We are very sad to learn about this dog that died as a result of injuries from an encounter with a bear in the park. This is a very rare event, and we offer our condolences to the dog's family".

This isn't an isolated incident. According to a study conducted by Stephen Herrero and Hank Hristienko, both leading authorities on bear behavior, dogs were involved in more than half of all black bear attacks between 2010 and 2013. The study didn't mention grizzlies. Bears aren't the only issue for dogs in the backcountry. Moose have also injured hikers while out on the trail with their dogs. Here and here are two relatively recent incidents in Colorado alone.

I don't understand why Shenandoah National Park continues to allow dogs in the backcountry. I believe it is the only national park to do so. This incident highlights why pets do not belong in areas with abundant wildlife, particularly where there are predators. The Great Smoky Mountains has prohibited dogs in the backcountry since its establishment in the 1930s. The park website explains this policy with these reasons:
• Dogs can carry disease into the park's wildlife populations.

• Dogs can chase and threaten wildlife, scaring birds and other animals away from nesting, feeding, and resting sites. The scent left behind by a dog can signal the presence of a predator, disrupting or altering the behavior of park wildlife. Small animals may hide in their burrow the entire day after smelling a dog and may not venture out to feed.

• Dogs bark and disturb the quiet of the wilderness. Unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells can disturb even the calmest, friendliest, and best-trained dog, causing them to behave unpredictably or bark excessively.

• Pets may become prey for larger predators such as coyotes and bears. In addition, if your dog disturbs and enrages a bear, it may lead the angry bear directly to you. Dogs can also encounter insects that bite and transmit disease and plants that are poisonous or full of painful thorns and burrs.

• Many people, especially children, are frightened by dogs, even small ones. Uncontrolled dogs can present a danger to other visitors.
If you look at other park websites they also cite similar reasons. If these are legitimate factors in the Smokies, and nearly every other national park, why aren't they factors in Shenandoah National Park? Or in all of our national forests for that matter? U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell should implement a consistent policy that protects wildlife, visitors and pets across all backcountry areas managed by the agency.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Entrance Fees Waived on NPS Birthday Weekend - Special Events Across the U.S. To Celebrate 100th Anniversary This Month

The National Park Service invites visitors of all ages to join in the celebration of its 100th birthday throughout the month of August. With special events across the country, and free admission to all 412 national parks from August 25 through August 28, the NPS is encouraging everyone to #FindYourPark for the centennial.

"August –our birthday month –will be a nationwide celebration of national parks, and we're inviting everyone to the party," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "We like to think that we look pretty good for 100, and with so many events and activities to commemorate this milestone, we hope all Americans will join us to celebrate the breathtaking landscapes and inspiring history in our nation's parks and public lands. Whether it is in a distant state or in your own community, there are hundreds of ways and places to find your park."

On August 22, the three-part series of Park Exchange events will culminate in New York City, taking the innovation from Thomas Edison National Historical Park in a small New Jersey town, to the iconic big city skyline. A day of free family-friendly activities will explore the concept of innovation and 100 years of national parks, and a special evening program will illuminate Edison's innovative spirit and light the way as the NPS enters its second century of service.

A sampling of additional events is available on the National Park Service website, and hundreds more can be found at

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations."

Entrance Fees Waived for the NPS Birthday through the Weekend

Park entrance fees will be waived nationwide from August 25 through August 28 to encourage everyone to celebrate the NPS 100th birthday.Usually, 127 of the 412 national parks charge entrance fees that range from $3 to $30. The entrance fee waiver does not cover amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

To continue the national park adventure beyond these entrance fee free days, the $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 sites, including all national parks, throughout the year. There are also a variety of free or discounted passes available for senior citizens, current military members, fourth grade students, and disabled citizens.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Paradise in Spring

Three years ago Kathy and I made our first visit to Mt. Rainier National Park. During that trip we had the pleasure of hiking the Skyline Trail, which does a wide loop through the Paradise Valley. This instantly became one of the best hikes either of us has ever done. So, returning three years later, I really wanted to hike in this valley once again. Unfortunately, because this most recent visit was in mid-June, we didn’t have a lot of hope of doing much here, as this area of the park was still covered in several feet of snow. We assumed there would be no access to the trails. Well, we assumed wrong.

On our last full day in the park we drove up to Paradise to assess the situation ourselves. Although extremely crowded, we were able to find a parking spot. Once on the scene we could see several dozen people hiking along the trails in the area. So we decided to go for it ourselves, and simply travel up the Skyline Trail for as far as we could go.

The first section of trail up to the Alta Vista trail split was almost completely snow free. However, just beyond that, we began walking through heavy slush, and then snow. As you might expect travel became fairly slow once we hit the snow, but it was an absolute blast! At first our goal was to simply go to the Alta Vista overlook. However, once we reached that point we decided to continue further up the mountain.

As we climbed higher we noticed a halo around the sun. Sun halos are the result of high thin cirrus clouds floating in the upper atmosphere, which causes light to refract after passing through the tiny ice crystals within the clouds. Halos usually signal an incoming weather front. Sure enough, less than 15 hours later it was raining in the park.

We hiked about a mile up the mountain – stopping somewhere just below Glacier Vista. Throughout our hike we enjoyed some absolutely spectacular views of Mt. Rainier towards the north, and the Tatoosh Range towards the south. There were many people who hiked even further up the valley, including a few skiers.

As strange as it might seem, it was extremely hot that day, even though there was snow all around us.

If you wish to learn more about hiking the entire Skyline Loop Trail you can click here to check out my photos and read my trip report from three years ago.

Trail: Skyline Trail
RT Distance: ~2 Miles
Elevation Gain: ~750 feet
Max Elevation: ~6200 feet
TH Location: Paradise
Map: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails Illustrated Map

Day Hike! Mount Rainier uncovers the best trails for the day tripper, whether you’re a newbie hiker or a veteran with hundreds of miles on your boots. Northwest outdoors expert and Seattle Times's Trail Mix columnist Ron Judd reviews more than 50 of the best day hike trails in Mt. Rainier National Park, from Paradise and Sunrise to the lower foothills. The book describes classic routes - from easy to moderate to extreme - giving hikers the choices they want.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Carter Falls

After completing our hike to Comet Falls, perhaps the most impressive waterfall we’ve ever seen, we decided to do another waterfall hike later that afternoon. Our choice was Carter Falls and Madcap Falls, a hike that received a fairly high user rating on the Washington Trails Association website.

This short hike begins just below the Cougar Rock Campground. Hikers will follow the Wonderland Trail to reach both waterfalls. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail is an epic backpacking route that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier.

From the trailhead hikers will pass through glacial debris littered along the Nisqually River. Although it appears to be a short distance, it does take a little bit of time to walk through the maze of rocks and boulders. You’ll have to do a little bit of route finding at times, but it’s pretty straight forward. On clear days you’ll enjoy spectacular views of Mt. Rainier from the river basin.

After crossing the Nisqually you’ll notice that the Paradise River feeds into the Nisqually just downstream from the footbridge. Once on the other side the trail begins to follow along the north bank of the Paradise River to reach both waterfalls.

During the first six-tenths of a mile the trail travels over mostly flat terrain, but then begins to climb a moderate grade towards the falls. As the trail proceeds higher you’ll pass through an old-growth forest where some of the trees appear to be several hundred years old.

At just 1.25 miles you’ll reach Carter Falls. Unfortunately, due to the trees, you won’t have a clear view of the 53-foot high waterfall. The waterfall was named for Henry Carter, a guide who built the first trail to Paradise.

Roughly 100 yards upstream from Carter Falls is the 34-foot high Madcap Falls:

If you’ve already done most of the hikes in the park, and are looking for something new, this is certainly a decent hike to consider. However, if you’re relatively new to the park, there are many other hikes that offer far more scenic destinations than this one.

Trail: Wonderland Trail
RT Distance: 2.6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
Max Elevation: 3700 feet
TH Location: Cougar Rock
Map: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails Illustrated Map

Day Hike! Mount Rainier uncovers the best trails for the day tripper, whether you’re a newbie hiker or a veteran with hundreds of miles on your boots. Northwest outdoors expert and Seattle Times's Trail Mix columnist Ron Judd reviews more than 50 of the best day hike trails in Mt. Rainier National Park, from Paradise and Sunrise to the lower foothills. The book describes classic routes - from easy to moderate to extreme - giving hikers the choices they want.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Rampart Ridge Loop

Kathy and I intended to hike the Rampart Ridge Loop during our first visit three years ago, but didn’t due to heavy rain on the last day of our trip. Given that the hike offers great views of Mt. Rainier, and the fact that it was already snow free, it was near the top of our list of hikes for our mid-June visit this year.

The loop hike begins across the street from the National Park Inn at Longmire. Once on the other side of the road you’ll gain access to the Trail of the Shadows, a short loop trail that visits an old homestead cabin. Even though the arrow points to the right, you’ll want to turn left to proceed directly towards the Rampart Ridge Trail. You’ll reach the Rampart Ridge Trail junction in less than two-tenths of a mile.

Just past the junction we passed the 25-foot stump of a large dead tree that had several saplings growing out of the top. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything like this before:

From the junction the trail climbs moderately through a beautiful old-growth forest. For me, this was one of the most pleasant hikes one could take just about anywhere. Although this might be a bit of hyperbole, it seems that the trail is so well manicured that you could practically ride a road bike on it.

Rampart Ridge, also known as "The Ramparts," is the remnant of an ancient lava flow that originated from the summit of Mt. Rainier.

At just under 2 miles hikers will reach a side trail that leads to an overlook of the Nisqually River Valley. Look for a sign that reads “Viewpoint 200 feet”.

Just beyond the viewpoint the trail reaches its highest point, and at roughly 2.25 miles, will make a sharp bend towards the left. Peer through the trees at this bend and you’ll notice a rock outcropping not far off the trail. Although there are a few trees around, this vantage point still offers some outstanding views of Mt. Rainier. This is probably the best place for an extended break on this hike.

Roughly 50 yards beyond the rock outcropping, as the trail begins to make a sharp descent, you’ll enjoy some unobstructed views of Mt. Rainier. This will be your most scenic view on the hike. A short distance from here the trail heads back into the forest.

At 3.1 miles hikers will reach the Wonderland Trail, an epic 93-mile trail that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier. To complete this loop you’ll have to take a right here. From the junction the Wonderland Trail begins to descend fairly rapidly towards the Nisqually River.

As you descend you’ll travel along a stretch of trail that passes through some ancient trees, many of which appear to be several hundred years old.

At roughly 4.9 miles you’ll cross over to the south side of the main park road, and shortly thereafter, will return to the parking area at Longmire.

Trail: Rampart Ridge Loop
RT Distance: 5.0 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1340 feet
Max Elevation: 4050 feet
TH Location: Longmire
Map: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails Illustrated Map

Day Hike! Mount Rainier uncovers the best trails for the day tripper, whether you’re a newbie hiker or a veteran with hundreds of miles on your boots. Northwest outdoors expert and Seattle Times's Trail Mix columnist Ron Judd reviews more than 50 of the best day hike trails in Mt. Rainier National Park, from Paradise and Sunrise to the lower foothills. The book describes classic routes - from easy to moderate to extreme - giving hikers the choices they want.