Winter snowfall at Crater Lake National Park is only slightly above the long-term average this year, but it figures to create problems for visitors and road construction crews as park employees work to open park roads.
“I don’t know when we’re going to open. It could be the end of June,” park Superintendent Craig Ackerman said of opening West Rim Drive from Rim Village to the North Entrance. It’s also uncertain when snow will be cleared along the entire 33-mile Rim Drive that circles the lake.
“If it rains, we’ll probably be able to open before Memorial Day,” he said, but snow has continued in recent days and weeks and commonly falls through April and into early May. Last winter the park received heavy snow during the early winter but experienced a rapid melt-off because of heavy spring rains.
Opening the North Entrance, which connects with Highway 97, is a key to visitation because it allows northbound motorists to enter the park at the South Entrance near Fort Klamath and exit north toward Bend, and vice versa. Last year the park experienced its second consecutive record-breaking year with more than 756,000 visitors.
Snowplow crews have started clearing West Rim Drive toward the North Entrance, but Ackerman said progress has been slow because of ongoing snow storms, the deep snowpack and equipment breakdowns.
A late opening would also hamper road crews in the third and final year of an extensive Rim Drive improvement project.
“There will be more construction on Rim Drive,” Ackerman said. “We don’t want this to drag into a fourth year.”
Among this summer’s goals is finishing an expansion of the Cleetwood Cove parking lot, the takeoff point for the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the park’s most heavily used trail, which leads down to the lake. The parking lot is being significantly enlarged with handicapped parking and spaces for additional vehicles, including large RVs. The area will also have two permanent restrooms and a permanent building for ticket sales for boat tours. Because the parking area is typically full during summer months, vehicles frequently park along the road.
Ackerman said the condition of the Cleetwood Cove dock is unknown because access is not possible because of the snowpack. The relatively new dock has been coming apart, so a temporary boat dock may be necessary.
He said it’s uncertain when construction of a Rim Village visitor center will begin. Even though Crater Lake is one of the nation’s oldest national parks, it has never had a dedicated, state-of-the-art visitor center.
Ackerman said revised estimates have twice increased projected costs from an original estimate of $4.9 million. He declined to provide information on the most recent estimates but emphasized he has no intention of approving a scaled-back visitor center. A final architectural plan had been hoped for this year, with construction planned to begin in 2018.
“We’re going to build it right — something inspiring and iconic,” he said.
Along with fundraising efforts being led by the Crater Lake Trust and other groups, Ackerman said, the park may seek funds from fees collected at Crater Lake and other park units.
He said the ongoing federal hiring freeze continues to plague park officials, partly because several key administrators either retired or transferred to other parks before the freeze took effect. According to Ackerman, several transfers occurred because, “They were highly thought-of employees, so they were wanted by other parks.”
— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com or 541-880-4139.