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Crater Lake planning for summer rush

Crater Lake National Park mangers bracing themselves for the impact of escalating gas prices, challenges in hiring seasonal employees and opening a temporary visitor contact station. [Mail Tribune / file photo]

CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK — As managers at Crater Lake National Park gear up for the summer season, they’re bracing themselves for the impact on visitors of escalating gas prices, challenges in hiring seasonal employees and opening a temporary visitor contact station.

“We are moving back toward normal operations, but we have not yet arrived. A lot of people are anxious for it to be summer,” said Superintendent Craig Ackerman. “We don’t know yet how rising costs are going to affect visitation,” he added, referring to escalating costs for gasoline, lodging and meals.

A foreshadowing of what might come happened over Memorial Day weekend, when visitation skyrocketed. But with 10 inches of fresh snow over the weekend and the ongoing closure of West Rim Drive and the park’s North Entrance, visitors had limited choices once inside the park.

After an unusually dry December and January, which included 35 days of no precipitation, park officials had expected to open West Rim Drive and the North Entrance early. But just as snowplow crews had nearly completed efforts to open those roads, a series of storms, along with falling rocks, scuttled those opening plans. Ackerman said he hopes they will be open within the next two weeks. West Rim Drive, however, currently is open to Discovery Point.

“We cannot afford to open it and risk having people stranded or injured,” he said of not opening West Rim Drive because of the rockfall danger.

When the West Rim, North Entrance and East Rim roads open, they’ll provide access to areas beyond Rim Village, including the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which offers the only access to the lake. Concession-operated boat tours of the lake are planned, as are Crater Lake Trolley tours, but Ackerman said that once offered they may be available only on reduced schedules.

As is the case at parks nationally, Crater Lake and its concessionaire, Crater Lake Hospitality, are having trouble hiring seasonal employees, a problem complicated by the lack of park housing and higher gas prices for those who would have to commute.

Marsha McCabe, Crater Lake’s chief of interpretation, said efforts are being made to open the Kiser Studio at Rim Village and to offer evening campfire programs at Mazama Campground.

“We are resuming our bird banding programs we do in partnership with the Klamath Bird Observatory, as well as our night sky programs,” McCabe said. “I am hoping to have some evening programs and talks, but I have very limited staffing, so we won’t be able to do as many programs as in other years, and the schedule may vary from week to week. I would recommend that folks check information boards and visitor contact stations for the latest program information.”

A major change this summer is the opening of a temporary “contact” station near the park’s South Entrance in Mazama Village. Ackerman said a large trailer is being installed with hopes it can open by early next week. The temporary facility will serve as a place for visitors to learn about the park. In addition to park rangers, it will house the park post office and the Crater Lake Natural History Association’s information/sales area.

The Steel Center, located at the park headquarters complex in Munson Valley, remains closed for extensive reconstruction. Ackerman said he hopes it will reopen in 2023.

All concession services offered by Crater Lake Hospitality Services, including the Crater Lake Lodge, Rim Village Cafe-Gift Shop and Mazama Village gift shop/cafe, are open except for Mazama Campground, scheduled to open June 11.

Several construction projects have been put on hold, in part because funding concerns persist amid escalating costs. Reconstruction of much of East Rim Drive is not expected to begin until 2023 at the earliest. The project will take at least two or three years because of the park’s short construction season — the road often is closed until July. Likewise, no firm date has been set for reconstruction of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the only trail to the lake and boat docks. When closed, there will be no lake access or boat tours.

Always uncertain are the severity and extent of forest fires. “We expected an early and possibly smoky fire season,” Ackerman said, noting the ongoing drought in Southern Oregon could result in fires in the park and on neighboring Forest Service lands in July or August.

With the array of unknowns, Ackerman and McCabe urge people planning park visits to check for updates on the park’s website, nps.gov/crla

And of other uncertainties, including the possibility of extended waits to go through the entrance stations, Ackerman said, “We simply don’t have enough staff. People need to exercise patience. We’re doing everything we can to get people into the park and to provide services.”

Crater Lake sets April-May record

Crater Lake National Park recorded the third-highest April-May snowfall total in the past 100 years earlier this year with 148 inches during the two-month period. During the same two months in 2021, the total snowfall was 6 inches, the second-lowest since records have been collected.

While the late season was welcome, Superintendent Craig Ackerman said snow totals for the 2021-22 season remain well below historical averages with this winter’s at about 70% of average.

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