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Old road now trail on Mount Rainier

National Park Service officials have given approval to convert Mount Rainier’s Carbon River Road into a 9-mile trail for hiking and biking.

The road has been closed to vehicles since it was heavily damaged in a 2006 storm. It leads to the Ipsut Creek campground, which now is only reachable by hikers or bikers.

The park service also decided Friday to convert the campground to backcountry use. When money becomes available, a new vehicle campground is planned elsewhere in the park.

Since the road was built in the 1920s, rocks and gravel from floods have raised the bed of the Carbon River by up to 31 feet, with some stretches of the road now lower than the river.

The conversion will cost $3.2 million and will begin this summer with the installation of log jams to protect the trail. Rebuilding the road would have cost as much as $11.4 million.

Dave Uberuaga, park superintendent, had called the proposal the toughest decision of his eight-year tenure as the park’s leader. However, in mid-January, he’d come to peace with the choice, though he knew it would upset some people.

“It sounds trite, but I had to go through a grieving process,” Uberuaga said. “The loss, accepting it, then moving and making the most of it.”

The day he submitted the proposal, he biked up the road in the rain to the campground and then hiked toward the Carbon Glacier before heavy snow turned him back.

“The light went on,” Uberuaga said. “It was really fun. … It’s a new visitor experience. And once visitors get used to it as a bike ride, they’ll find a day trip to the glacier is doable for a lot of people.”