CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK – Hikers getting ready to walk the only trail to the waters of Crater Lake are now being greeted and informed by Crater Lake National Park about what is and isn’t allowed at the lake.
Crater Lake Superintendent Craig Ackerman said two rangers are now stationed at the beginning of the Cleetwood Cove Trail. A third patrols the 1.1-mile long trail and visits the lakeshore area.
Their work is part of stepped up efforts to prevent the use of illegal materials, such as snorkels and even blow-up kayaks and other flotation devices, that could negatively impact the lake’s water quality.
Earlier this month, concerns about polluting the water quality of Crater Lake, which many believe is one of the world’s clearest and most pristine lakes. It was feared visitors were bringing items that could result in invasive species and non-native organisms impacting its water quality.
Ackerman said the story that originated in the Herald and News spurred interest regionally and nationally, from National Public Radio, USA Today and other news outlets.
“If the situation has taught us anything it’s the importance of visitor orientation and education,” Ackerman said. He personally responded to news media outlets and many people from around the nation “are concerned about protecting the sanctity of the lake. It’s very comforting to know people care about the lake as much as we do.”
Rangers stationed at the trailhead are “talking to all people going on the trail about what is and what isn’t prohibited,” Ackerman said.
Rangers have reported that nearly half the people hiking the trail, which requires a return uphill climb that gains 700 feet, have no or inadequate water and inappropriate footwear.
Signs at the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead have been revised to provide written and visual information about what is and isn’t permitted in the lake. It also asks hikers to use the nearby restrooms at the top of the trail before heading down to the lake, where the facilities remain closed.
Ackerman said that when he hiked to Cleetwood Cove and back last Saturday, he “didn’t see a single violation,” other than what a person claimed was a service dog swimming in the lake. He expressed surprise at the volume of hikers, noting he counted 300 people descending the trail at 5 p.m., a time when people are usually leaving.
“That is extraordinary to see that many going to hike at that time of day,” said Ackerman.
Increased staffing at the trailhead and trail has forced park managers to move permanent and seasonal staff from their usual jobs and also resulted in “hours and hours” of overtime, said Ackerman.
The park’s usual numbers of interpretative, law enforcement and other seasonal staff have been sharply reduced this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in housing shortages.
Park staff have also been involved in an unusually high number of incidents involving people illegally climbing in the caldera rim, which is notoriously rocky and features steep, loose slopes. Most recently, search and rescue crews were involved in an incident Sunday night. Earlier this month, rangers issued citations to seven people.
“We basically have all hands on deck,” Ackerman said of Park Service employees having to assist with a variety of jobs and tasks.
Visitation at the park has shown gains, despite the pandemic. Based on just released statistics, there were 216,000 visitors in July, a 4 percent increase from the year prior. Because of earlier pandemic-mandated closures, however, 2020 visitation is tracking 22 percent below 2019 numbers.