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It’s official: snow closes North Cascades Highway for season

MOUNTAIN ROADS — The Washington Transportation Department decided today to close the North Cascades Highway for the winter.

The 37-mile section of Highway 20 was temporarily shut down Nov. 15, and the department made it final today with heavy snow in the forecast.

The highway between Diablo and Mazama is the northernmost route across the Cascades. It’s typically closed in the late fall by avalanches and reopened in the spring.

This is a harbinger of great news for Methow Valley nordic skiers.  Enough snow has accumulated in the valley to allow many off the cross country ski trails to be packed by groomers pulling rollers.
  

Pioneering condor chicks soaring in Grand Canyon

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Two of three California condor chicks that hatched in the Grand Canyon of Arizona earlier this year are doing well, including one that recently took its first flight from the nest.

The other surviving chick is flapping its wings and hopping around its cliff-cave nest, indicating it's ready to fledge, too.

The third chick recently perished, possibly from a fall from the nest, but not before the three chicks and their parents set milestones for recovery of the endangered species:

  • The greatest number of chicks hatched in the wild in one breeding season since the effort to recover endangered condors in the Grand Canyon region began in 1996.
  • The first time during recovery efforts that three chicks were producedin the wild in a single season.

“We remain hopeful that the two remaining chicks will join the ever-growing flock,” said Eddie Feltes, field manager for The Peregrine Fund, an Idaho-based conservation organization that oversees the condor recovery program in Arizona and southern Utah.

Read on for more details.

Goat-goring lawsuit already having impact on park wildlife

WILDLIFE — The $10 million claim against Olympic National Park for the October 2010 goring death of a hiker already is having an impact on the park's tolerance of overly friendly or aggressive wildlife.

Park officials said they knew of at least one disruptive mountain goat on Klahhane Ridge before Bob Boardman, 63, bled to death after being menaced and gored in the leg by an aggressive goat. But officials have said they had no way of singling out the goat that killed Boardman as a goat they'd had problems with.

New rules for less tolerance of overly friendly or aggressive animals already are in place in the park.

On Sept. 6, a park ranger operating under the new rules killed a mountain goat that for three days had refused to leave a campsite near Upper Royal Basin along the park’s eastern boundary.

Read on for a Peninsula Daily News story detailing the developments that led to the Boardman family filing a $10 million lawsuit on Tuesday against the National Park Service.

National Parks to waive fees

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks will be waiving entrance fees to celebrate Veterans Day weekend, Nov. 11-13.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2011. The Veterans Day weekend fee waiver is the last scheduled for the year.

Fee-free days have been offered the past two years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump.

$10 Mil lawsuit filed in death of man killed by park mountain goat

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — The family of a man who was gored to death by a mountain goat in Olympic National Park  last year is suing the Park Service, the Associated Press reports.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Tacoma by the Messina Bulzomi Christensen law firm.

The Interior Department had earlier denied a $10 million wrongful death claim from the family of 63-year-old Bob Boardman of Port Angeles. A department lawyer said there was no evidence of negligence in the October 2010 death.

Tacoma attorney John Messina told the Peninsula Daily News the goat that killed Boardman was a rogue that the park should have done something about.

Park officials said they knew of at least one disruptive goat on Klahhane Ridge but have said they had no way of singling out the goat that killed Boardman as a goat they had problems with.

New rules for less tollerance of overly friendly or aggressive animals already are in place in the park.

On Sept. 6, a park ranger operating under the new rules killed a mountain goat that for three days had refused to leave a campsite near Upper Royal Basin near the park’s eastern boundary.

National parks to offer 17 `free’ days in 2012

PUBLIC LANDS — For the third consecutive year, visitors will enjoy free admission to national parks on 17 days in 2012, the Department of Interior has announced. Some of those freebies include three-day holiday weekends and even a week-long celebration of National Parks Week.

National forests, national wildlife refuges and BLM areas that charge fees are offering a slightly reduced schedule of free admission days.

National parks and public lands serve as an economic engine for many local communities, supports jobs and driving tourism, he said.

National Park fee-free dates for 2012 are Jan.14-16 (Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend), April 21-29 (National Park Week), June 9 (Get Outdoors Day), Sept. 29 (National Public Lands Day), and Nov. 10-12 (Veterans Day weekend).

Other freebies: Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service will waive their entrance and standard amenity fees Jan.14-16, June 9, Sept. 29, and Nov. 10-12. The Bureau of Reclamation will waive standard amenity fees on Sept. 29 and Nov. 12.

National Parks take heat over reducing elk numbers

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — An annual elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and a volunteer-based “elk reduction” project in western North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park got underway this month amid public criticism, reports the Wildlife Management Institute

The issue is developing across several national parks as elk populations continue to grow.  It mirrors similar issues seen with deer populations in the East and even the new hunt — underway in its second season — at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge near Cheney.

Critics contend that the culling programs are counter to the National Park Service and national wildlife refuge system mission to preserve wildlife within their units. 

However, the agencies contend that damage to native habitats that occurs when ungulate populations are too high warrants the culling operations.

National Parks to waive fees

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks and many other public land management areas will be waiving entrance fees on Saturday (Sept. 24) to celebrate National Public Lands Day.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2011, the weekend of Veterans Day (Nov. 11-13).

Fee-free days have been offered the past two years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump.

Record number of rescues logged in Tetons

MOUNTAINEERING —  Major searches and rescues at Grand Teton National Park hit a single-year record last week.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that park officials aren’t sure yet why there were so many rescues this year.

The record was eclipsed Aug. 20 when climber Lauren McLean of Lake Oswego, Ore., became the 31st major rescue since the park’s fiscal year began Oct. 1. McLean fell 20 to 30 feet because her belay system failed.

The busy year started right away for the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers. Twelve major rescues were performed during the winter and early spring months.

Full-time ranger Chris Harder told the newspaper rangers normally perform three to four major rescues during the winter.

Aggressive mountain goat reported in North Cascades

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — Hikers in the Teanaway area of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest are being warned to watch out for an aggressive mountain goat.

Spokeswoman Nancy Jones says the forest has received six or seven complaints since June, most recently last weekend. The goat is bold enough to nibble on backpacks and clothes.

NOTE TO NORTH IDAHO HIKERS:  Please, please don't feed the popular mountain goats that greet hikers at the top of the trail to Scotchman Peak. They are a treat to visit, but people who feet these creatures could be leading them down a path to their demise.

The North Cascades complaints have come from hikers on trails near Long's Pass and Eagle Pass.

The animal is apparently seeking salt. Hikers are encouraged to urinate at least 50 yards off trails and be ready to frighten a goat by yelling, waving clothing or throwing rocks.

In October, a mountain goat gored and killed a Port Angeles man in the Olympic National Park.

Check out this man’s bike tour of 14 national parks

BICYCLE TOURING — OK, so it was done first in cars during a 1920 showcase event.

But one cyclist/writer says there's bicycling merit to the Playground Tour, a 4,500 mile, four-month bike ride through the Western United States.

Rick Olson, editor-at-large of adventure journal Wend Magazine, spent June – October of 2010 peddling a bicycle (nicknamed “Buck”) across miles of western landscapes, recreating on two-wheels a historic auto tour of 12 National Parks that took place in 1920 to celebrate the creation of the Park-to-Park Highway.

“I was inspired when I saw Paving the Way, a documentary about the creation of this amazing bit of the US highway system,” says Olson. “I wanted to bring attention to this great achievement and at the same time highlight the need for more bike friendly routes around the US.”

While en route, the Playground Tour raised money for the United States Bike Route System, supported by the Adventure Cycling Association. The goal of this effort is to create the world’s largest bicycle route system.

Grizzly attacks solo hiker in Glacier Park

HIKING –A grizzly bear attacked a hiker around noon today on the trail from Many Glacier to Piegan Pass in Glacier National Park. The hiker was able to walk to assistance after the being bitten multiple times.

The 50-year male hiker from St. Paul, Minnesota was hiking alone when he rounded a bend in the trail and encountered a sow grizzly with one sub-adult, park officials say. The hiker was carrying bear spray, but was unable to deploy it before the bear attacked.

The hiker sustained bites to his left thigh and left forearm, before the bear grabbed his foot, shook him, released him and left the area, the park report says.

The man hiked back toward Many Glacier encountering a naturalist ranger leading a hike. The ranger notified dispatch while the man continued to the Many Glacier Ranger Station where he was treated for his injuries and then transported to the Blackfeet Community Hospital in Browning by the Babb Ambulance.

Initial reports indicated the hiker was making noise as he hiked.

The trail from Piegan Pass to Feather Plum Falls is closed at this time, and rangers are investigating the incident.

Glacier National Park is grizzly and black bear country. Park officials advice hikers to carry bear spray, know how to use it, and have it on a pack strap ready for immediate use.

Hikers are also encouraged to hike in groups and make noise when hiking.  
  

Mount Rainier offers hope for whitebark pine woes

NATURE — The whitebark pine is making news as a potential candidate for Endangered Species protections, and the domino impacts on species ranging from Clark's nutcrackers to grizzly bears.

The whitebark pine, a high-elevation tree, is on the decline in the West, brought down by drought, bugs and warmer temperatures, but scientists say the pines on Washington state's Mount Rainier could provide seeds for a healthier, surviving species.

Get the details in this story by Craig Welch of the Seattle Times.
  

Lake Roosevelt OKs private cabin permits

PARKS – Special use permits will continue to be issued for private vacation cabins in the Sherman Creek and Rickey Point areas of Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, officials say. 

This decision was announced today by National Park Service officials after months of deliberation.

An environmental assessment suggested the cabins – some upgraded to large homes – did not significantly impact the shoreline.

Details are available online

The new plan contains new alternatives to protect the shoreline environment and reduce the appearance that the public beaches are private.

Cabin septic systems will have to meet upgraded standards before a new permit is issued.

Park Service officials note that federal law requires them to periodically determine whether the continued use of the private cabin sites interferes with public use.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area includes 312 miles of publically-owned lakeshore.

Glacier tourism down after record season

NATIONAL PARKS – The late spring and heavy snowpack has been a downer for visitation to Glacier National Park.

The National Park Service reports 266,263 people entered the park in June, down 21 percent compared to June 2010.

Of course, the park attracted record crowds last year because of centennial celebration activities.

But Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass didn’t open until July 13 this year, the latest opening on record.

Deep snow in the higher elevations is still blocking popular trails.

Swollen streams pose obstacles to hikers

TRAILS — Many mountain streams are still flowing higher than normal for this time of year. 

Hiker's setting out for hikes that require fords should call ahead and plan for possible adjustments to their routes.

Routes around Mount Rainier that ford glacier-melt rivers can be deadly, especially this year.  Others, such as the Salmo River in northeastern Washington or the Little North Fork of the Clearwater in Idaho, might simply be a bit more inconvenient than usual.

Hiking poles and separate shoes for wading might be in order, and in some cases, a climbing rope and dependable companions may be needed for safety. 

Finally! Mount St. Helens snow retreats; road opening

PUBLIC LANDS — The seemingly rentless grip of snow on the high country is giving way.

Road No. 25 on the east side of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument will be open from Pine Creek to Randle by Friday.

Paul Seitz of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest said the snow will be cleared by Thursday, then crews will turn their attention on road No. 99 leading to Windy Ridge.

“We'll start pushing through the 99 by Friday,'' Seitz said. “There is still a lot of snow up there and who knows what kind of damage we’ll find as we work our way in.”

Many secondary roads remain closed by lingering snow.

“In my 21 years on this forest, this is the latest opening we've ever had,'' said Ron Freeman, GPNF public services manager.

New exhibits at Mount Rainier’s Sunrise Visitor Center

NATIONAL PARKS — Mount Rainier National Park has revealed a $600,000 upgrade to the Sunrise Visitor Center for visitors to enjoy this season. Sunrise opened for the season last week.

Patti Wold, project manager, told the Tacoma News-Tribune the exhibits were developed with the help of the U.S. Geological Survey, area Indian tribes and National Park Service staff. Among the challenges were developing low-tech displays, since power at Sunrise is supplied by a generator, as well as items that can withstand the freeze-thaw cycle of life at 6,400 feet.

“One of the most interesting exhibits is an actual cutaway of the ground, a 100-inch tall column showing the layers of dirt, volcanic deposits and development of the present-day cone,” reports Jeffrey P. Mayor, the TNT's outdoor writer. “The display shows the strata of the ground going back about 8,000 years,” Wold said.
  

Big cover up revealed at Glacier’s Parks Logan Pass

NATIONAL PARKS — The Going to the Sun Road has been open for three days and the scenery's fantastic.

But the photo gives you a hint of what it's like at the top of Logan Pass.

Crowds flock to opening of Glacier’s Sun Road

NATIONAL PARKS — On Wednesday, all 50 miles of the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road opened to the public and the crowds turned out in droves, heralding the official start to summer in this northern region.

The Sun Road's opening was highly anticipated, according to a story in the Missoulian.

The July 13 opening marks the second-latest opening date in the scenic drive's 78-year history, and the latest it's ever opened due to winter weather, the evidence of which was superabundant Wednesday.

Throughout the morning and afternoon, park rangers delivered informational lectures to visitors curious about the status of Glacier National Park's glaciers, which are quickly disappearing due to the effects of global climate change. A snow-covered Mount Clements and a towering wall of snow provided the backdrop to those climate change talks, called “Goodbye to Glaciers.”

“It's always a tough sell when you're standing beside a giant snowdrift like this,” ranger Megan Chaisson said.

Park plea: Don’t pee along trails

HIKING — Olympic National Park hikers who urinate along trails may be creating linear “salt licks” that attract mountain goats. The practice may be partially responsible for luring in goats that have been harassing and even killing park visitors.

Sounds like a troublesome new pack it in, pack it out policy — but there's reason for complying with the park's request to avoid peeing along trails as much as possible.

Read on for more from the Peninsula News.

Finally! Glacier’s Sun Road to open Wednesday

NATIONAL PARKS — Glacier National Park officials have announced they expect entire 50 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road to be clear of snow and available for vehicle traffic on Wednesday.

This will be the second latest opening of the road and one of only three seasons in which the famous road over Logan Pass has not been open for the Fourth of July holiday.

A flyover of the Big Drift at Logan Pass on June 4th revealed a snowpack over the pavement was about 30 feet deep and looking more like April than June, officials said, noting that this amount of snow at this time of year is unprecedented.

The Highline Trail remains closed at this time no opening date is projected yet.

For current information on park roads and weather conditions, and visitor services throughout the park, visit Glacier's website www.nps.gov/glac,

Join group for Friday hikes in Glacier Park

HIKING — The Glacier National Park Fund is inviting people to join up with their Friday Hiking Club, which heads out on a great park tail every week, starting this Friday through Sept. 16.

The hikes range from 5 miles to 13 miles, easy to moderately strenuous.

Foundation staffers say they're not really “leading” the trips, just facilitating them to introduce people to the sights, insights and needs of the park.

Info: 406-892-3250

GNPF logo
 The Glacier National Park Fund supports the preservation of the outstanding natural

beauty and cultural heritage of Glacier National Park for the use and enjoyment

of present and future generations by fostering public awareness and

encouraging private philanthropy. 

Glacier Park great for bikes, hikes; Logan Pass still not open

NATIONAL PARKS — It's snow go for vehicles driving over Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road this holiday weekend.

For the third time in the Montana park's 100-year history, the uppermost reaches of Going-to-the-Sun Road will remain closed to visitors during the Fourth of July weekend.

Park plowing crews have reached Logan Pass but they're still trying to chew through The Big Drift — the last snow obstacle to be cleared on the Sun Road. The drift is estimated at 50-60 feet deep, a depth normally seen on Memorial Day weekend. Get status reports here.

But bikes are allowed on the road to that point, and the park transit system is operating on the road, which is closed to other vehicles.

Note: Rivers, streams and creeks in the park are flowing close to flood stage this weekend.

Drowning is the most prominent cause of death in Glacier National Park.

Info: (406) 888-7800.

Read on for the other dates the Sun Road was closed this late.

Avalanche damage extensive to Glacier’s Sperry Chalet

NATIONAL PARKS — A century-old rock chalet in Glacier National Park that was damaged by a winter avalanche may be open for only a few weeks this summer after crews working to ready the backcountry hotel for the tourist season found additional damage to the two-story lodging and its kitchen building.

The Missoulian reports that workers giving the buildings a more thorough inspection have found damage to the roofs and rafters from the heavy snow load this winter.

In a post on the chalet's web site Thursday, chalet coordinator Kevin Warrington said repair crews will need complete access to the hotel for much of July as well as in late August and September.

Sperry Chalet's season was scheduled to begin July 8, but all reservations are being cancelled through July 19. Reservations in September and some in the last week of August also are being canceled.

Read on for details.

Avalanches rock and roll on Rainier

NATIONAL PARKS — Some of the biggest rock avalanches in years have been roaring off Mount Rainier the past several days, kicking up billowing clouds of dust and propelling rivers of muddy debris nearly two miles down the volcano’s flanks, according to an Associated Press report.

No one's been hurt, but climbers have had to flee certain areas.

Check out this video of a major slide this week.

Read on for details.

Olympic Park rangers kill aggressive cow elk

NATIONAL PARKS — Olympic National Park rangers killed an elk Friday after it had charged three vehicles and damaged a tent at the Hoh Rain Forest campground.

This event comes a year after a mountain goat was killed after it gored and killed a backpacker, and two weeks after another mountain goat menaced a hiker for more than a mile on a backcountry trail.

The Peninsula Daily News reports rangers started monitoring the female Roosevelt elk on Friday after it damaged a tent and charged a park vehicle. They used loud noises to scare off the elk over the weekend when it approached campers or hikers.

After it charged two more vehicles on Monday, rangers decided to kill it. A section of its brain was taken for lab tests for a possible explanation of its behavior. 

Fathers Day treat: Dad-daughter highlight on Mount Whitney

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OUTDOOR FAMILIES — A few years ago, as he sensed the inevitable changes ahead, Edwyn Hill of Spokane planned a challenging outdoor adventure with his oldest daughter, Whitney.

He wanted to end the teenage chapter in her upbringing with an exclamation point before she moved on to college.

I had the pleasure of tagging along with them to California as the Hills climbed Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.  The trek was a high point in Wyn's and Whitney's relationship.

Turn up the sound on your computer and check out the video slide show as I document how the Great Outdoors prepared Wyn for an even bigger transition that transpired five years later.

Snowpack delays plowing of Glacier’s Sun Road

NATIONAL PARKS — Crews plowing Glacier National Park’s historic Going-to-the-Sun Road say heavy snowpack this winter has put them almost a month behind schedule.

Stan Stahr says he hasn’t seen the snowpack this bad in the 20 years he has worked for the park, and it is making it dangerous for crews that are experiencing avalanches, mud slides and rocks breaking off cliffs.

With another round of cool, wet weather in the forecast, Stahr says park officials can’t say for sure when the road will be completely open over Logan Pass. It generally opens between now and the beginning of July.

Free day coming at National Parks

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks will be waiving entrance fees on June 21 to celebrate the first day of summer and provide an incentive for families to enjoy the outdoors and national heritage.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2011, including National Public Lands Day (Sept. 24) and the weekend of Veterans Day (Nov. 11-13).

Fee-free days have been offered the past two years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump