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Mount Rainier National Park Briskly Recovering From Storms

Unprecedented numbers of volunteers are helping paid contractors rebuild trails, campgrounds, and roads in Mount Rainier National Park. Storm damage closed the iconic park for six months this past winter and spring. Now, the pace of recovery is delightfully brisk. Correspondent Tom Banse reports.

 Rainier work
Willie Ehrenclou, a South Carolinian with the Student Conservation Association, repairs the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park

Torrential rains and flooding last November cut access to Mount Rainier from all sides. Step by step, the pieces are being put back together.

Kevin Bacher: "We are making tremendous progress. We had anticipated that we would probably get most of the work done this year. Some of the longer projects would go into next season. At this point we are well ahead of where we expected to be at this point."

Kevin Bacher runs the volunteer program at Mount Rainier. He gives credit to staff rangers and contractors. They're doing the road repairs and technical jobs. But he says an outpouring of volunteers and interns account for "at least half" of the work to fix trails. The park is on track to nearly double its typical use of volunteers.

Here in Stevens Canyon, a five-person crew in hardhats is carving a detour around a rotting footbridge. They're from the Student Conservation Association.

The national non-profit recruits young people interested in environmental work experience. This summer, the SCA sent triple its usual complement to Mount Rainier.

18-year-old Hannah O'Connell recently graduated from an arts high school in Wisconsin. She came to do work she's never done before.

Hannah O'Connell: "This is a complete 180 from my normal lifestyle for sure. That's why I'm here actually. Because I just wanted to try something completely different, completely out of my comfort zone. As soon as you step outside your comfort zone, there's just soooo much to be had. There's so much to learn. So it's been great."

The SCA volunteers get a stipend to cover their living expenses. Many are impressed by how quickly the park has recovered. Mike Wagner came from Pittsburgh. The college senior got here in May.

Mike Wagner: "The damage I saw then just blew my mind. It was unlike anything I've ever seen before. It's amazing just in the three months that I've been here, it's amazing how fast the park is restoring and rebuilding. It's pretty nice
being able to see that firsthand."

Within the last week, it became possible once again to circle the mountain on foot, more or less following the Wonderland Trail. Contractors still have to fix one more road segment before you can drive a full circuit by car.

Mount Rainier still has lots of openings on volunteer work crews. For more information on how you can get involved visit the park website or the Student Conservation Association.

Web extras:

Mount Rainier National Park

Student Conservation Association - Mount Rainier Recovery

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