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Crater Lake will expand some offerings in 2021

Some programs that were missing in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic will be offered at Crater Lake National Park this summer, but others, including ranger-guided lake boat tours, will not.

Craig Ackerman, Crater Lake superintendent, said ongoing safety measures created by the pandemic will again limit programs. The always popular lake boat tours, which were canceled last year because of safety concerns stemming from the coronavirus, will remain dry-docked.

“You can’t operate a boat tour if people are six feet apart,” he said, noting the social distancing requirements may also impact operation of Crater Lake Trolley tours.

Ackerman emphasized ongoing policy changes at the state level could ease some restrictions.

“Things are progressing pretty quickly,” he said of changes as vaccination rates increase and infection rates decline. So far, changes for housing protocols mean housing for seasonal employees will allow the park to hire 16 more seasonal staff, mostly park interpreters. The number of people working for Crater Lake Hospitality, the park concessionaire, and concession services will remain limited because most Hospitality seasonal staff are housed in dormitory-style facilities.

Two popular events, the Crater Lake Rim Runs-Marathon and the Ride the Rim days, are expected to resume this summer, mainly because both are held outdoors. The 44th Annual Crater Lake Rim Runs-Marathon is held in August, while the Ride the Rim bicycle event is scheduled to be offered Sept. 11 and 18.

Because of problems experienced early last summer, park rangers will be stationed at the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead along Rim Drive and at the lake. Rangers will ensure people do not take inflatable rafts, snorkeling gear or other items that could adversely impact the lake’s water quality. Crater Lake is one of the world’s most pristine water bodies.

Under present plans, visitor services will again be limited, with no current plans for ranger-led hikes, interpretive programs or campground programs. “Those plans could change,” Ackerman said, depending on whether masking and social distancing limitations ease.

The NPS visitor contact station that normally operates in Munson Valley is being relocated to Mazama Village near the park’s south entrance. The Crater Lake Natural History Association office, which until the pandemic sold park-related items at the main visitor center, will again operate at the Rim Village Community House.

Despite COVID-related limitations, park visitation spiked when the park reopened last year. Ackerman said those trends have continued through the winter, with December setting an all-time monthly record for visitation. On many days, people entering the park’s south entrance have had to wait 15 or 20 minutes to reach the entrance station and then, because of limited Rim Village parking, waited up to two hours to be allowed access to the rim and lake viewing areas.

“We certainly don’t want to close the gate after a certain number of people come into the park,” Ackerman said.

Noting other recreational areas on public lands in Southern Oregon and nationwide are often experiencing huge spikes in visitors — “People have discovered outdoor recreation and their public lands, and they like it,” Ackerman said — NPS managers are working to create plans to better manage and provide for Crater Lake visitors.

In terms of visitation, it’s been an up and down 14 months at the park.

The park saw four months of record high visitation in 2021, and two months set records for the fewest visitors.

The park saw 670,500 visits in 2020, the fifth-most in park history. The record was set in 2016 with 765,344, and all five of the park’s highest yearly totals have come in the past five years.

In 2020, record high visitations were recorded in July, 209,678; August, 222,368; October, 61,613; and December, 26,100. Record lows were in April with 687, and May with 814.

So far this year, January saw 8,026 visitors, and February totaled 7,803, both more than double the 2020 figures of 3,492 and 3,351.

Teams are studying ways to increase parking at Rim Village, add a second permanent entrance station at the Annie Creek entrance off Highway 62, completely rehabilitate Mazama Village, and move forward with major improvements at Rim Village, including a long-desired visitor center.

Long-range planning also includes redeveloping the Cleetwood Cove waterfront and boat docks along with a major overhaul to the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the park’s most-used trail.

Ackerman said snowplows began clearing snow in mid-March, about two weeks earlier than usual. Below average snowfall — the season total is about 85% of average — has allowed an early start to clearing roads. As always, visitors are urged to visit the park’s website at www.nps.gov/crla or call 541-594-3000 for updated information.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

A bike rider takes advantage of a car-free day at Crater Lake in 2019. The popular Ride the Rim event was canceled last year due to the pandemic, but is expected to resume Sept. 11 and 18. Photo courtesy of Discover Klamath / Kam Nielsen