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Crater Lake boat tours

Two-hour boat tours are one of the highlights of visiting Crater Lake, but they will not be offered again in 2021 due to COVID-19 precautions.

Some programs at Crater Lake National Park that were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic will return this summer. But others, including the popular ranger-guided lake boat tours, will remain shuttered.

Craig Ackerman, Crater Lake superintendent, said ongoing safety measures created by the pandemic will again limit some group programming.

“You can’t operate a boat tour if people are six feet apart,” he said, noting the social distancing requirements may also impact operation of Crater Lake Trolley tours that traverse the park.

Ackerman said rapidly-changing policies at the state and federal levels could ease some restrictions, so much remains in flux.

“Things are progressing pretty quickly,” he said, as vaccination rates increase and infection rates decline.

So far, changes to housing protocols for seasonal employees will allow the park to hire 16 more staff members, mostly park interpreters.

The number of people working for Crater Lake Hospitality, the park concessionaire, will remain limited because most hospitality seasonal staff are housed in dormitory-style facilities that will not be filled as usual.

Two popular events — the Crater Lake Rim Runs marathon and the Ride the Rim bicycle race — are expected to resume this summer, mainly because both are outdoors. The 44th annual marathon is scheduled for August while the Ride the Rim bicycle tour is scheduled to take place Sept. 11 and Sept. 18.

Because of problems experienced early last summer, park rangers will remain stationed at the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead along Rim Drive and at the lake. Rangers will ensure people do not take inflatable rafts, snorkeling gear or other items that could adversely impact the lake’s water quality. Crater Lake is one of the world’s most pristine water bodies.

Under present plans, visitor services will again be limited, with no ranger-led hikes, interpretive programs or campground programs.

“Those plans could change,” Ackerman said, depending on whether masking and social distancing limitations ease.

The National Park Service visitor contact station that normally operates in Munson Valley is being relocated to Mazama Village, near the park’s south entrance. The Crater Lake Natural History Association office, which until the pandemic sold park-related items at the main visitor center, will again operate at the Rim Village Community House.

Despite travel restrictions and limitations on gatherings, visits to Crater Lake spiked once the park reopened last year. Ackerman said those trends have continued through the winter, as December 2020 was the busiest December in the park’s history. On many days, people entering from the south had to wait 15 or 20 minutes to reach the entrance station and then, because of limited Rim Village parking, waited up to two hours to be allowed access to the rim and lake viewing areas.

“We certainly don’t want to close the gate after a certain number of people come into the park,” Ackerman said of the growing crowds.

Noting other recreational areas on public lands in Southern Oregon and nationwide are experiencing often huge spikes in visitors.

“People have discovered outdoor recreation and their public lands — and they like it,” Ackerman said.

NPS managers are working to create plans to better manage and provide for Crater Lake visitors. Teams are studying ways to increase parking at Rim Village, add a second permanent entrance station at the Annie Creek entrance off Highway 62, rehabilitate Mazama Village, and move forward with major improvements at Rim Village, including a long-desired visitor center.

Long-range planning also includes redeveloping the Cleetwood Cove waterfront and boat docks along with a major overhaul to the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the park’s most used trail.