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Crater Lake goes car-free Saturday

Round two of Crater Lake National Park’s Ride the Rim is Saturday, and park superintendent Craig Ackerman is hoping its success can match last weekend’s ride.

“Of all the things I’ve done in 42 years in national parks I’ve never seen people so happy and satisfied,” Ackerman said of last Saturday’s ride, when 25 miles of Rim Drive from the North Entrance Junction to park headquarters in Munson was closed to motorized vehicles.

An estimated 2,000 people — most on conventional bicycles but others on unicycles, towing kids and dogs in trailers, riding e-bikes along with walkers and runners — took advantage of the road closure. The same section of Rim Drive will be closed Saturday until 6 p.m. for the vehicle-free chance to enjoy the park.

“We had all shapes and sizes,” Ackerman said of the participants. “It was one of the best days we’ve had in seven years. The weather was perfect; the skies were clear; the visibility was 50 to 100 miles; people arrived on time; everything came together.” But his favorite story from last weekend’s even revolves were two Portland area participants, the husband-wife team of Jack Bush, 80, and Susie Brink, 71. “She said they never could have done it if there was traffic. Ride the Rim is an opportunity to see the park without worrying about traffic, a way to do it safely. I told them, ‘You are the poster children for this activity. You are exactly the type of people we try to attract.’”

Both rode pedal-assist e-bikes, which are allowed in national parks as part of a nationwide effort to make parks more accessible to more people, especially those who might otherwise not be capable to making trips. E-bikes, which are not motorized and require riders to pedal, are becoming more popular.

“They told me there’s no way they could have climbed the hills without their bikes,” Ackerman said of Brink and Bush, noting the ride requires 3,500 feet of elevation gain, something that challenges even the best conditioned conventional bicyclists. And, with Rim Drive varying from 6,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level, the challenge is even greater because of relatively thin air.

But Ackerman remains most wowed by something else about the couple. Brink recently had heart surgery. “I think it’s a remarkable story.”

He also lavished praise on volunteers who worked at five aide stations, where water, snacks, bicycle repairs, restrooms and other services are available for participants. Ackerman said groups from the Discover Klamath, the event sponsor, and the Friends of Crater Lake provided invaluable support. One volunteer baked 96 loaves of zucchini bread while others had everything from brownies to gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

“The people were extremely thankful for the support,” he said of appreciation shown to volunteers and park staff,” noting preparations on the day of the event begin as early as 6 a.m. and typically don’t wrap up until 8 or 9 p.m. “The staff and volunteers get nearly 100% positive reinforcement from the public.”

Ackerman notes that when the first vehicle-free day was offered seven years, park staff simply locked the gates. In year two, after complaints from participants, jugs of water were set along the road. Since Discover Klamath has taken ownership of the event, support has increased to the five aide stations, which are supplied with 250 gallons of water and items donated by sponsor groups.

“It’s pretty exciting to see something that was just a concept seven years ago become such a success.”

Ackerman hopes for another successful event Saturday. The 25-mile stretch of Rim Drive will again be closed to motorized vehicles from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is no fee to participate, but regular park entrance fees apply. Bicyclists, walkers and runners are asked to check-in at either the North Junction or park headquarters. Vehicle parking will again be provided at the North Junction and near park headquarters. Park officials recommend people leave their bicycles at a North Junction bike corral, drive to park headquarters, then ride the free shuttle.

Although light snow fell at Crater Lake on Wednesday, Ackerman said Saturday’s weather forecast calls for clear skies with highs in upper 50s, “perfect bicycle weather.”

For more information visit the Ride the Rim website at https://ridetherimoregon.com.

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

Courtesy photo From left, Jack Bush, Crater Lake Superintendent Craig Ackerman and Susie Brink during last Saturday's Ride the Rim event.