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Waiting for winter at Crater Lake

Photo by Lee Juillerat Crater Lake is prepared for winter, but snow has been slow in coming so far this fall.

They’re waiting for winter at Crater Lake National Park.

Rim Drive is closed to motor vehicles, the Rim Village Gift Shop-Cafeteria is on reduced hours, maintenance staff are prepared to clear snow, but park officials are still waiting for significant snow to fall. Much of the snow that fell in recent weeks has melted, making conditions less than ideal for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

“It’s not quite winter yet here,” says Sean Denniston, Crater Lake’s acting superintendent. “It’s beautiful because the mountains are snow-capped and picturesque, but we’re still waiting for winter. We’re still in a transition stage.”

Even though winter hasn’t inundated the park with snow, Denniston said some seasonal plans are in place. The Rim Village Cafeteria-Gift Shop, for example, is open on its winter schedule, Thursdays through Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the cafeteria closing at 3. Crater Lake Hospitality, the park concessionaire, operates the cafeteria-gift shop. Its other services, the Crater Lake Lodge and a cafeteria-gift shop, gas station and campground at Mazama Village are, as always, closed for the season.

Visitors will see some changes, however. The Steel Center in Munson Valley, which normally provides visitor information, a park film, a small sales area and a post office, is closed for renovation and will likely remain closed possibly for two years while work continues.

A temporary post office is located near park headquarters but will be relocated to Mazama Village by the South Entrance next year. Denniston said plans call for establishing an outdoor visitor contact station at Mazama Village next summer. In coming weeks information boards will be placed at to-be announced locations, including Rim Village. Restrooms are available at Rim Village.

The road from park headquarters in Munson Valley to Rim Village remains open, but West and East Rim drives and the North Entrance Road are closed, probably until next May or June, depending on snowfall. In a typical winter the park receives more than 500 inches of snow.

Denniston said the park experienced less visitation last summer than in previous years because of smoke created by regional forest fires. As of Oct. 30, with two months to go in the year, the park had recorded 621,161 visitors, which would have been a record year until visitation began spiking in 2016. The year record of 756,344 was set in 2016, and yearly visitation figures have been around 700,000 since then.

“Despite all that’s been going on this year has been busy,” Denniston said, referring to forest fire smoke and COVID-19 related restrictions. He noted visitors are still required to wear masks when in park buildings.

He said the park is also preparing for more winter visitors. In recent years, especially on weekends and holidays, full parking lots at Rim Village have resulted in visitors having to wait at designated areas near the South Entrance until parking spaces are available. “This is new for us, this extreme winter visitation.”

Many usual programs were canceled last summer because of COVID concerns. No boat tours or ranger-led hikes were held while the visitor centers at Rim Village and Munson Valley were closed and the Crater Lake Trolley did not operate. Offered, however, were campground talks, social media programs and the junior ranger program, which experienced record-high interest with more than 24,000 booklets distributed.

Although smoke from forest fires outside the park created visibility problems and possibly lessened visitation, there were only nine fires within park boundaries, seven of them lightning caused. The fires were minimal, with most burning less than an acre.

Denniston said information on this winter’s programs and schedules are still being determined and will be announced in coming weeks. For current and updated information he recommends people visit the park website at www.nps.gov/crla/index.htm.

Plans for the 2022 season are also in flux. “After the last two years,” Denniston said, referring to COVID-related restrictions, “that’s something you don’t want to speculate on.”

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