CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK – Visitation is winding down following one of Crater Lake National Park’s most unusual summers.
Despite many days of often extremely poor air quality, visitation has remained high, but generally below last year’s record-setting marks.
“It’s been steady all summer but the smoke slowed things down,” said Sean Denniston, who is serving as the park’s acting superintendent while superintendent Craig Ackerman is on assignment as the National Park Service’s deputy regional director through mid-November. Denniston is no stranger to Crater Lake, having served as the park’s management assistant for several years.
After spring months when visitation neared record highs — numbers in March and April were the second and third highest in park history while May set a record with 56,746 — numbers increased significantly in the early summer. June saw 95,515 visitors, the fifth highest, while July recorded 194,172 visits, the fourth highest.
Visitation figures for August are not yet available but, according to Denniston “it was definitely quieter.” In recent years August has been the park’s most active month, including an all-time record for any month of 222,368 visitors in 2020.
Denniston said smoke and air quality have often been at lower levels in the mornings with increasing levels through the afternoons, “when folks skedaddle,” into evenings. Updated information on the park’s air quality is available through the park website.
As previously announced, the annual Ride the Rim events set for Sept. 11 and Sept. 18 have been canceled. During the second and third Saturdays in September East Rim Drive is normally closed to motor vehicles to allow bicyclists, walkers and runners to experience a vehicle-free experience. The event was canceled because of very unhealthy air quality, COVID-19 and limited staffing.
Visitors are seeing changes. The Steel Center Visitor Center in Munson Valley was recently closed and fenced off so that construction crews can begin a long-needed project to stabilize the building against seismic changes and excessive snow loads. Originally built as a ranger dormitory, the building has served as the park’s main visitor contact center for decades. Denniston said the stone building will retain its historic integrity. The building’s mortar is being re-enforced and the roof requires constant repairs to handle usual winter snow loads.
“You can see the waves in the top of the roof,” he said.
In addition, the project will upgrade the structure’s wiring, IT cabling, plumbing and heating. Work on the exterior will continue until snowfall causes crews to move inside. The project is expected to last through 2022.
During the closure, a temporary visitor center, park post office and Crater Lake Natural History Association sales outlet have been moved to Mazama Village near the park’s south entrance. Rangers will be available to provide information and show a park orientation film. Temporary bathrooms are also being added.
A major road construction on East Rim Drive between the Cleetwood Cove parking area/trailhead is currently expected to start in 2023. In recent years, the road from Rim Village to the North Entrance Road and Cleetwood Cove has been upgraded.
“It’s especially noticeable now because West Rim Drive is so nice,” Denniston said of people noting deteriorating road conditions on East Rim Drive. The upgrade will include what Denniston terms are long-needed repairs to rock walls along Rim Drive because “all that historic fabric needs to be maintained.”
Earlier this season the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the only trail that accesses the lake, was closed to stabilize the trail bed and retaining walls. Denniston said that park staff are working to make the trail safer, while also developing plans to improve the Cleetwood bulkhead and dock system. In addition, studies are being done to improve the efficiency of the lakeside compost toilet, which has seen much heavier use because of increased visitation.
The concession-operated Mazama Campground and Mazama Village store, gas station and cabins are scheduled to close late this month with the Crater Lake Lodge, which is only open to registered guests, is set to close in mid-October.
Concession facilities at the Rim Village cafeteria and gift shop however, are planned to be open through the winter. The facility provides a variety of service, include gift sales, food and snowshoe rentals.