Park workers push to clear roads
May 26, 1999
By PAUL FATTIG
Photo by Paul Fattig
Crater Lake National Park road crew foreman Ron Theall prepares to jump aside as a rotary snowblower operated by park employee Terry Barker eats away at the snowpack blocking the north entrance to the park. The main road to the Rim Village, including the Crater Lake Lodge which is now open, is clear of snow. Four miles of Rim Drive have been opened.
Lake’s Rim Drive has four miles open
CRATER LAKE — After 30 years of operating heavy equipment, Ron Theall knows there is more than one way to skin a cat.
The foreman of the Crater Lake National Park road crew who is skinning a D-7H
Caterpillar — a growling mechanical tabby weighing some 55,000 pounds — is using every trick he knows to stay atop the slippery mountains of snow blocking the park’s rim roads this year.
“It’s hazardous — you can tip one of these over real easily,” he said of encountering a pocket of soft snow. “We’ve already tipped one over. And there are some real hazardous dropoffs out here.”
Hazardous as in sheer cliffs waiting for one of three grumbling bulldozers that often creep close to the edge.
“But you just have to keep eating away at it,” he concluded.
With snow drifts measuring 50 to 60 feet high this year, it’s been slow eating for the crew that’s been gnawing away seven days a week to consume what Mother Nature has served up over the winter.
Four miles of road have been opened around Rim Drive, but there are 30 more miles to go.
The main road to the Rim Village, including the Crater Lake Lodge which is now open, is clear of snow. The goal is to have Rim Drive open to the North Entrance by June 10, the average date for reaching that entrance. It opened last year on June 15.
The three bulldozers push the snow down to a rotary snowblower, which in turn sends a rooster tail of snow high over the snowbank.
“Right now, we’re getting three-tenths of a mile a day,” Theall said. “We’re not talking miles — we’re talking tenths of miles.”
But reinforcements may soon be on the way.
Park officials have requested funding for a private contractor to join in the snow removal effort, according to park spokesman John Miele.
“It’s unprecedented — it’s never happened in the past,” he said of hiring a private contractor to help clear the road. “It demonstrates the park’s commitment to provide access to its visitors.”
If the private contractor is hired, the plan is to have the park road crew, after it reaches the North Junction, to continue east while the contractor will work from the opposite direction.
The full tab for the 1999 snow removal at the park is not yet known, although operating the extra bulldozer — the park usually employs only two — has cost an additional $8,000.
More muscle is needed because the park has received 669 inches of snow this past winter and spring, making it the heaviest snowfall since 1983. Average snowfall is 530 inches. The record is 879 inches, which fell during the winter of 1932-33.
There is currently 114 inches at park headquarters at 6,500 feet above sea level. The average depth at the headquarters this time of year is 69 inches.
Yet a lot more of the white stuff has been piling up on the rim, about 7,000 feet above sea level. Snow has been known to fall every month of the year at Crater Lake.
“But the weather is starting to cooperate now,” Miele observed.
Indeed, the Tuesday afternoon temperature was in the mid-60s. More importantly, the low temperature overnight Tuesday was 36 degrees.
“Any time you have temperatures above freezing allows snowmelt on a 24-hour basis,” Miele explained.
Those warmer temperatures are good news to Theall and his crew.
“With the warmth we’re getting, the snow is starting to become a little softer,” he said, although noting that causes problems for the rotary snowblowers.
The North Entrance will be open by June 10 as planned, Theall said.
“We’re gonna make it — we’re doing OK,” he said, later adding, “It’s like dirt, only you have to move it a little differently.”