By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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“We all gave it a good shot, but it didn't pan out,” said Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Russ Veenema.
The chamber helped Port Angeles Mayor Cherie Kidd promote use of the mile-high ski area at Hurricane Ridge and assisted in a community fundraising campaign to open the 17-mile road on weekdays.
Beginning around Thanksgiving next month, weather permitting, Hurricane Ridge Road will be open only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Kidd said she doesn't see an opportunity for another fundraising campaign and doesn't expect the National Park Service to reverse course.
“That window of opportunity seems to have closed to us,” Kidd said Wednesday. “I'm very disappointed.”
“I thought it was a good try,” County Administrator Jim Jones said.
“The reality is we didn't see a big enough increase in use to justify the expense.”
“It's always nice to be able to go up and see the mountain on weekdays,” said Frank Crippen, Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club president. “It's sad for the community.”
He added: “I'm sad, but life goes on.”
Jones said the weekday plowing gave park crews a leg up for clearing snow on the weekends.
“I really do understand and recognize the fiscal realities of the cost of keeping that dang road open,” Jones said.
“We have those same kind of troubles all over the county, all winter long.
“It's a tough thing.”
— Rob Ollikainen
Beginning late next month, Hurricane Ridge Road will be open — weather permitting — only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, as it was before the attempt at opening winter weekdays during 2011 and 2012.
The road still will be open daily in the spring, summer and early fall.
Olympic National Park announced Tuesday that the experiment partly subsidized by Port Angeles, Sequim and Clallam County was unsuccessful.
Winter weekday visitation was just 19 percent of the five-year average for weekend visits, park officials said.
“Despite the best efforts of our local community, Olympic National Park employees and National Park Service staff in Washington, D.C., weekday winter access to Hurricane Ridge did not lead to a sufficient increase in visitors,” said Todd Suess, Olympic National Park acting superintendent.
“Unfortunately, given the fiscal realities of today, we cannot justify the use of over $325,000 in community donations and taxpayer money to maintain weekday winter access to Hurricane Ridge Road for a relatively small number of people.”
In 2010, Port Angeles Mayor Cherie Kidd and other civic leaders lobbied the federal government for a two-year, $250,000-per-year grant to plow Hurricane Ridge Road on weekdays.
She worked with U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, and National Park Service Comptroller Bruce Sheaffer to make it happen.
Kidd spearheaded a vigorous community fundraising campaign to come up with the required $75,000 per-year match.
The city of Port Angeles and Clallam County each contributed $25,000 per year, and the city of Sequim kicked in $5,000 per year.
Kidd on Wednesday said she was “very disappointed” but appreciated the opportunity to have daily winter access for two years.
She said Sheaffer had warned of further cuts to the National Park Service budget, which has seen a 5 percent reduction for each of the past three years.
“They're in an economic struggle right now because they're facing cost cuts,” Kidd said.
“I think we pushed it as far as we could, but with the economy changing, I think our window of opportunity is closed.
“If I ever find another opportunity, I promise I'll go for it, but right now I don't see it happening.”
Olympic National Park used the trial period to evaluate the economic impacts of keeping the 17-mile road open daily in the winter.
Park staff established a benchmark for the trial period, aiming for an average winter weekday visitation of at least 45 percent of the five-year average for weekends.
“Although we and our community partners joined forces to promote awareness and interest in weekday visits to Hurricane Ridge, we did not reach our 45 percent benchmark,” Suess said of the 19 percent result.
Other contributions for the winter of 2011-2012 were: $5,670 from the Port Angeles Winter Ski Club, $2,500 from 7 Cedars Casino, $2,500 from the Port Angeles Business Association, $3,000 from the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Committee, $1,000 from Bed and Breakfast Association, $2,000 from CPI, $500 from Black Ball Ferry Line, $500 from the Red Lion Hotel, $200 from Sound Community Bank and $100 from Michael's Restaurant & Steak House.
The rest was raised through door-to-door fundraising and numerous parties and dinners.
Most park roads, including those leading to the West End rain forests and coastline, stay open year-round.
At 5,242 feet above sea level, the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center gets an average annual snowfall of about 400 inches.
“Keeping Hurricane Ridge Road open daily through the winter is a very different task than providing daily access to the park's low elevation roads, and is significantly more costly and difficult,” Suess said.
Weather permitting, Hurricane Ridge Road will be open this winter Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to dusk.
It will also be kept open during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, plus Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.