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Changes ahead for Crater Lake visitors this summer

Record visitation expected at Crater Lake National Park this summer
The National Park Service has given a tentative go-ahead to a major rehabilitation of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the only trail that accesses the lake, along with improvements to the boat dock area at Crater Lake. [Mail Tribune/file photo]
A tour boat cruises past Phantom Ship on Crater Lake. The popular boat tours will not operate in the national park this year as park officials brace for the possibility of record crowds. [Mail Tribune/file photo]

Crater Lake National Park officials are bracing for possibly record-breaking visitation this summer.

“All indications are this summer’s visitation is going to be very, very high,” said Superintendent Craig Ackerman.

Last year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, record numbers of visitors were recorded in July, August and December. That could spell problems for visitors and result in delays in entering the park and, once in, finding parking, especially at Rim Village.

In addition, several park facilities, including visitor centers in Munson Valley and Rim Village, will remain closed this season. At present, only limited ranger programs, such as Junior Ranger activities, campfire programs and ranger-guided walks, are scheduled.

Definitely canceled are lake boat tours and Crater Lake Trolley tours.

The Steel Visitor Center at park headquarters will be closed for a two-year renovation project, with visitor services being moved to a temporary facility in Mazama Village near the park’s south entrance. The rehab will update all systems, provide structural integrity and preserve its cultural history, Ackerman said.

The Crater Lake Natural History Association sales office will operate from the Rim Village community daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The office sells books about the park and region along with field guides, maps, park-themed clothing items, postcards, snacks and park-related items. A percentage of the profits are used to help fund park-related research projects and interpretative programs, such as the night sky program, pika studies and lake research.

Concession facilities, including the Annie Creek Gift Shop/Restaurant, Mazama Campground and Rim Village Gift Shop/Restaurant, are open with some reduced food service options.

The Mazama Cabins are already booked for the entire season. The Annie Creek Restaurant and Gift Shop has some indoor seating, an outdoor patio, and serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 8:30 p.m. The Mazama Campground, which could open within days, will be on a reservation system beginning July 1. The Mazama Village Camper Store and Gas Station is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

The historic Crater Lake Lodge is open but, as happened in 2020, the restaurant and Great Hall are open only to lodge guests.

Public restrooms are located at Rim Village, with vault toilets at the Old West and North Entrance, Ponderosa and Goodbye Picnic Area, and Watchman Overlook.

Ackerman said the park began prescribed burns of brush piles along Highway 62 and around the administration area earlier this month, but expressed concerns about a possibly inflammatory fire season. As of Friday, the park had received only 64% of its annual average snowfall, although its precipitation totals are well above average.

“It’s been falling as rain, not snow,” he said.

Visitors should be prepared for potentially long lines to get into the park and, once inside, they may find challenges finding parking in the Rim Village area. Additional parking will again be available at Picnic Hill, the former campground at Rim Village.

Ackerman said there are no plans to require reservations to enter the park, something being done at other national parks. Long-term plans include upgrading and possibly adding booths at the two entrance stations, the South Entrance near Annie Creek, and the North Entrance. Because of road configurations at the Annie Creek entrance, adding a second booth will require road realignment.

Although work is progressing on opening East Rim Drive from the North Entrance junction to Munson Valley, he expressed concerns that people wanting to hike the 1.1-mile Cleetwood Cove Trail to the lake will not be able to do so until extensive trail clearing work is completed. Tree fall, rock fall and erosion over the winter months has made the trail unsafe, but it could be open later this month.

Park staff will again be stationed at the Rim Drive trailhead to prevent people from taking illegal items that could harm the lake’s purity, such as flotation devices. “We learned very quickly how to manage that,” Ackerman said, referring to staffing the trailhead with rangers last summer.

He expressed disappointment with having to cancel the always popular lake boat tours and the increasingly popular Crater Lake Trolley tours, noting, “A lot of people have been calling and asking if the trolley tours are going to be offered.”

According to Ackerman, “It’s going to be a COVID-impacted summer.”

For updated information, visit the Crater Lake Hospitality website at www.travelcraterlake.com. Other park-related information is available at www.craterlakecountry.com.

Major plans in the future at Crater Lake

Major renovation to the Visitor Center in Munson Valley is creating challenges for park staff and visitors, probably through the fall of 2022, and other major projects could be ahead.

Among the major projects planned in coming years include continued upgrades on East Rim Drive from Cleetwood Cove to Munson Valley and the possible construction of the park’s first true visitor center at Rim Village.

Ackerman, who is in his 14th season as Crater Lake’s top official, said the National Park Service budget for fiscal year 2022 includes about $45 million to continue improvements on about 17 miles of East Rim Drive. Major repairs and some possible road realignments are planned. During construction, visitors will not be able to drive completely around the 33-mile Rim Drive but, instead, will have to drive out and back. Crews will focus work on relatively short sections of the road, about two or three miles, at a time. Impacts on the annual Crater Lake Rim Runs-Marathon and Crater Lake Ride the Rim events are uncertain.

Because of the park’s typically heavy snowfall and short construction season, generally late June to October, work on East Rim Drive is expected to be a multi-year project.

Other projects given a tentative go-ahead include a major rehabilitation of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the only trail that accesses the lake, along with improvements to the boat dock area.

Tentatively planned in 2024 is construction of a Visitor Center in Rim Village. The current information stations in Munson Valley and on the rim are considered “visitor contact stations.” The new center, which has been under discussion for more than 20 years, is envisioned to have upgraded and expanded offerings.

Ackerman noted the park’s trail management plan, which envisions several new hiking trails along with hiking-biking trails, is open for public review. Adding new trails, he said, is expected to help disperse visitors.

Proposed trails include Pumice Desert Overlook, Mazama Rock, Mazama Cleetwood Connector, Mazama to Picnic, Cascade Mazama Connector, Skell Head to Cascade Spring Connector, Skell Head to Cascades Springs Connector, and Headquarters to Rim Loop trail, along with several others.

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