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Last open Mount Rainier gate closes as government shutdown drags on

caption: Deep snow surrounds the closed Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park in this webcam view Sunday.
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Deep snow surrounds the closed Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park in this webcam view Sunday.
National Park Service

Mount Rainier National Park is now completely closed.

"There will be no public services including food, restrooms, or snow plowing sufficient for safe public travel anywhere in the park beginning late Sunday," said Tracy Swartout, deputy superintendent at Mount Rainier National Park.

As the partial government shutdown continues, the National Park Service has struggled to keep its Northwest jewels open.

When the government shutdown began on December 22, National Park Service higher-ups aspired to keep open the parks out West — as best it could with a skeleton staff.

They had help at first: The company that runs the National Park Inn at Longmire, in the foothills of Mount Rainier, stepped in. Their staff cleaned toilets, collected trash, and plowed roads, but as business declined, they had to stop. The inn closed Sunday.

About 35 workers of the park concessionaire will be furloughed, said Melinda Simpson, operations manager.

Bad weather ahead motivated the National Park Service to close vehicle access to Mount Rainier. This affected the main wintertime entrance, the Nisqually gate east of Ashford. The high-altitude road from Longmire to the popular snow play area at Paradise closed two weeks ago, on December 22.

Access on foot to Mount Rainier is discouraged.

"Most property surrounding the gates at the Nisqually entrance is privately-owned, and any vehicles improperly parked on private lands or blocking park gates may be towed," Swartout said. "Traveling by foot on park roads is prohibited and is extremely unsafe, as limited plowing activities must continue to provide emergency access."

Meanwhile, most of Olympic National Park remains inaccessible. Rangers there haven't been able to clear trees that fell on roads during a December storm. That means the roads to popular destinations such as the Hoh Rain Forest, Hurricane Ridge and Rialto Beach are closed.

Negotiations over the weekend between congressional representatives and the Trump administration to resolve the government funding standoff made little progress.

The new Democratic majority in the U.S. House plans this coming week to pass the previously agreed-on 2019 budgets for closed agencies — in an attempt to pressure the Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump.

[Copyright 2019 Northwest News Network]

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