Cantwell pushes plan to expand Mt. Rainier park by 800 acres
Seattle, WA - 2/19/04 - In scale, 800 acres of land look minuscule compared with the rest of Mount Rainier National Park. But their importance to one of Washington's most popular destinations is prompting Sen. Maria Cantwell to propose including them in an expansion of the park's northern boundary.
The move would shift visitors away from roads near the frequently flooding Carbon River, save federal dollars spent annually on resulting repairs and protect a pristine area from development, said park officials thrilled by Cantwell's support.
"I can't believe it's actually going to happen. We're ecstatic," said Sandy Marsh, whose family owns a quarter of the land in question and has spent more than four decades watching elk, bears, cougars and 28 species of birds pass through.
Marsh joins John and Yolanda Thompson, who own 168 acres even closer to the park, as well as executives at Plum Creek Timber Co. also planning to sell to the federal government.
But before that happens, Congress must authorize expanding the 236,000-acre park and then approve money for the sale. A price and timeline are still undetermined. Private developers might offer the Marshes and the Thompsons a sweeter deal, but both parties said their interest was in conservation, not bigger bucks.
Cantwell is expected to announce the proposal today at REI headquarters in Seattle.
"This is the largest expansion of Mount Rainier Park in 70 years," she said in an interview yesterday. "Now, instead of going there and finding out, 'Oh, I can't get in because of the road flooding,' we're going to take a great national treasure and make it even more accessible for families."
Supporters said the measure also would bolster the economy around the park. Heather Weiner, regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said Mount Rainier's 1.3 million annual visitors currently spend $30 million at local businesses.
"These new lands are just one of the most gorgeous areas in the foothills," she added. "The most important thing is to get them before they are bought by developers."
Already, builders are bulldozing land to the south for a resort and golf course.
"It's going to change the landscape around that entrance quite a bit and a lot of people think not necessarily for the best," Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg said. "That's one of the things we're going to try to prevent at the north entrance. It's still a very pristine area of the county, and we're going to work to keep it that way."
P-I reporter Claudia Rowe can be reached at 206-448-8320 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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