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Herald and News: Klamath Falls, Oregon


It's plow it out, let it snow, plow it out at Crater Lake

A snow drift reaches to the fourth story of Crater Lake Lodge. Because of the massive amount of snow at Crater Lake, the lodge is closed annually until spring.

Published Feb. 19, 2004


CRATER LAKE - Keeping Klamath County's crown jewel accessible to the public takes a lot of work, especially when three feet of snow pile up in two days, as it did this week.

It's not always easy and it's not always possible, but workers at Crater Lake National Park want to give visitors a chance to come up to the lake.

"We have to be here for the people," said Bill Devereaux, the park's maintenance division secretary. "It might be the one time in their life that they choose to go to Crater Lake - we need to be there for them."

The park's road crew worked overtime Monday and Tuesday trying to get the park's roads cleared. On Wednesday, workers were clearing the Rim Village parking lot in hopes of having it and the road leading up to it open today.

Heavy snowfall early in the week closed the road up to the Rim Village and the famous view of the lake.

Snow is a fact of life at Crater Lake. It comes down eight months of the year and lingers in shadowy corners much of the rest.

Because of the snow, the park gets few visitors in the winter. Eighty percent of its 500,000 visitors per year come between Memorial Day and Columbus Day.

Winter visitors are often cross country skiers, snowshoers or telemarkers.

The park gets about 40 feet of snowfall per year. After the snow packs down and some melts away, the snowbase sometimes is as deep as 20 feet.

On Wednesday, the base was 12.25 feet, more than three feet above average for this time of year.

Although the massive amount of snow during the winter shuts down Rim Drive, the 32-mile loop around the lake, workers try to keep the road up to the Rim Village open. Snow-clearing work costs an estimated $600,000 a year.

At the village, visitors usually can find a view of a lake, if it is not obscured by fog, and a warm cup of hot chocolate at the cafeteria.

On Wednesday, the cafeteria and gift shop were closed. They were also buried fairly well by a snow drift, but they should be open again when the road is open.

The seven-person park crew has 28 miles of road to keep open, said Wolf Schwarz, park road and shop foreman.

When a big storm hits, the crews will work around the clock.

They first work on keeping Highway 62 open and then clearing out the road to the park headquarters so park employees can get to work. Then they go to work on the three-mile windy road to Rim Village.

"When you get three feet of snow (in two days), it really slows down your operation," he said.

During normal snowy conditions, workers usually get about 6 inches of snow during an eight-hour shift.

Pete Reinhardt, a park ranger, said the workers will start early on days with heavy snow, in hopes of getting the road to Rim Village open.

But sometimes there is just too much snow to clear in a morning.

"If we can't open the road by 11 a.m., we probably are going to have to keep it closed," Reinhardt said.

And all the park's snow keeps the seven road workers busy throughout the winter. The workers could be called plowers because Reinhardt said "pretty much all they do is plow snow."

Most of the road crew not only works, but also lives at Crater Lake.

Of the park's 55 employees, about 20 live at the park.

Kent Taylor, who has lived and worked at the park for 17 years, said living there means learning how to live with snow.

Taylor, park administration officer, said things are quiet during the winter, with fewer visitors and fewer animals.

"This is not a place for viewing animals in the winter," he said.

Devereaux, who has lived at the park for four years, said the snow is toughest for the employees who have children.

"For eight months of the year the playground is under 10 feet of snow," he said.

To find out about Crater Lake road conditions call 594-3060 or 594-3100 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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