Mount Rainier Park can add 800 acres, Senate panel says

LES BLUMENTHAL; The News Tribune


WASHINGTON - Legislation to expand Mount Rainier National Park by 800 acres, the largest expansion of the park's boundaries in 70 years, was approved Wednesday by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The bill authorizes the purchase of a three-mile strip of land along the Carbon River, extending the park's northwest boundary to include one of the last inland old-growth rainforests in the country, said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Edmonds), who sponsored the legislation along with Washington state's other senator, Patty Murray (D-Shoreline).

Approved on a voice vote, the measure now heads to the Senate floor. The House already has approved similar legislation.

Cantwell said the park expansion would improve access to Mount Rainier and help relieve some of the congestion at the popular Paradise area. A new campsite will be built along the Carbon River. In the end, Cantwell said, the bill will end up saving money currently spent to repair a road frequently washed out by high water.

"Expanding the park and improving access to it will make Mount Rainier an even more enjoyable destination for families and tourists and makes good economic sense," said Cantwell, a member of the committee.

According to a recent Michigan State University study, Cantwell said, visitors to the national park spent more than $24 million in 2001, supporting more than 800 jobs.

The expansion would also link the park with Pierce County's Fairfax Forest and create a corridor that can be used by such animals as migrating elk.

Cantwell said the owners of the property have agreed to sell.

The committee also approved separate legislation that would create a new Lewis and Clark Historic Park near the mouth of the Columbia River in southwest Washington and Oregon.

The new park will include three Washington state sites, including Dismal Nitch, where the Corps of Discovery first spotted the Pacific Ocean and spent six days trapped during a raging storm. Also included are Station Camp, where the group, including York, a slave, and Sacagawea, an Indian guide, voted on where the expedition would winter, and Camp Disappointment, the farthest point west reached by the expedition.

Also included in the park will be Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the explorers wintered before returning east.

"Lewis and Clark's epic journey is an important milestone in American history and the history of Washington state," Cantwell said. "By acting soon, we can ensure that the park is established in time for next year's celebration of the expedition's bicentennial."

The bill goes to the Senate floor. Similar legislation is pending in the House.

Les Blumenthal: 1-202-383-0008

(Published 1:12AM, July 15th, 2004)



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