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Crater Lake visitation dropped in 2021

Photo by Lee Juillerat Crater Lake and Wizard Island can be seen Tuesday through trees along West Rim Drive.
Photo by Lee Juillerat The Crater Lake Cafe-Gift Shop is semi-hidden Tuesday under a blanket of snow.

Recreation visits at Crater Lake National Park in 2021 were the lowest in several years but still well above historical averages.

Recreation visits for 2021 totaled 647,651, which was more any year prior to 2016 but the lowest in recent years. The number of visits recorded in 2020 was 670,500. The park had seen steep hikes in the past five years, with a record 756,344 in 2016 and three other years topping more than 700,000. Until 2012, the numbers never reached 500,000.

Heavy snows and road closures in December and the Christmas holiday “very much impacted visitation for the month of December,” according to park official, who noted the Christmas-New Year’s season generally sees large numbers of visitors.

Sean Denniston, Crater Lake’s acting superintendent, called December “more normal,” based on historical figures. Until 2020, when the park reported 26,100 visitors, the previous December record was 14,756 in 2001. “It hasn’t been as crazy busy as it was a year ago,” when cars often had to wait near the entrance station because all parking areas at the rim were taken.

Denniston suggests people make arrangements to arrive early in the day, especially on holidays and weekends, to avoid possible crowds and delays.

Visitors are also reminded to be prepared for winter driving conditions. He said in recent years rangers have seen trends where many visitors are less prepared, which has resulted in an increase in accidents on often icy, snow-covered roads. People also are reminded that Rim Village concession facilities, including the Crater Lake Cafe-Gift Shop, are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday, with the cafe closing at 3 p.m.

Plans for summer are moving ahead, with Denniston saying park officials are trying to be positive despite the uncertainties created by ongoing and changing COVID restrictions. No winter programs, such as ranger-guided snowshoe hikes, are being offered this winter, and it’s not known whether summer programs will be possible.

“It’s too early to say exactly what that will look like,” he said of summer offerings. “We’re just hoping for the best. We are trying to be optimistic, and we’re trying to look forward to providing as many services as we reasonably can.”

In recent years, lake boat tours, ranger-guided hikes, campfire talks and trolley rides have not been offered.

Adding to the challenges is the closure of the main visitor center at Munson Valley. A major reconstruction project began last fall and is expected to last until 2023. Plans call for establishing a temporary visitor center at Mazama Village near the park’s south entrance station.

In a hopeful sign, the dates for the Ride the Rim events, which were canceled in 2021 because of concerns over COVID-19, are planned for Sept. 10 and 17 by Discover Klamath, which coordinates the event with park officials. On the two Saturdays, East Rim Drive from the North Entrance junction to Munson Valley is closed to motor vehicles for bicyclists, walkers and runners. Registrations will be taken beginning April 1. There is no charge but organizers say there is a suggested donation fee of $10 to help cover costs of services.

For more information, including updates on road conditions, visit the park website at www.nps.gov/crla or call 541-594-3000.

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