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Mending a mountain: Family-friendly work parties on Mount Rainier

Published on: March 01, 2007

The devastation is staggering. Where families once hiked, swam and made
s'mores, there are now piles of debris, twisted metal, acres of mud and
tree after fallen tree. Mount Rainier National Park has never seen
damage like that left behind by last November's brutal rains and
flooding, and December's winds and snow. Roads are washed out, at least
20 bridges are completely gone, and an entire campground was taken out
by raging waters. Crews won't know until the snow melts how the trails,
which are beloved by so many Northwest families, have fared.

Mount Rainier needs our help.

If your family, like mine, spends time on Mount Rainier, your kids may
be amazed and fascinated by the evidence of the weather's violence.
They may also benefit from the connection they make by giving back to a
place that so many families hold dear. Kids who help, even a little, to
rebuild this magnificent national park can rightfully feel a sense of
pride in their service to nature and to other families.

Every August, my husband and I take our two kids, ages 7 and 10, to
meet up with several other families at Ohanapecosh campground in the
southeast corner of the park. Our four tangent campsites become a home
base for a week of hiking, swimming and exploring. Some of our happiest
summer memories have been made at the campground's C-loop, now itself
only a memory under acres of mud and debris. We don't know what's left
of our favorite trail, Silver Falls, but we do know what happened to
the Grove of the Patriarchs -- a boardwalk past towering old-growth
trees -- and it isn't good. The bridge to the grove is a twisted
skeleton, the boardwalks upended, the whole thing covered in river
silt. Take a moment to view the National Park Service's slideshow and
you'll get a sense of the destruction:

It won't be the same, but we'll be returning to the mountain this
August, this time packing work gloves and sturdy shoes with our s'mores

The Student Conservation Association (SCA) has been chosen to spearhead
volunteer efforts to repair and restore the area, and it's going to
take a lot of volunteers. Russ Hornbey is coordinating the project for
the SCA, and he says that there are many opportunities for families to
get involved for a day, a weekend or even a week. "Early on, it's going
to be cleaning campgrounds, light trail work, things like that,"
Hornbey says.

For families with older kids, there is mud to move, debris to haul,
jobs large and small for anyone with the muscles and motivation to do
them. Younger kids can pitch in, too, and by late summer, Hornbey hopes
that even the littlest volunteers can help with collecting and
transplanting seeds."If families bring very small children, they're
going to be somewhat limited," Hornbey says. "But I expect that our
creative crew leaders will find something for them to do."

If your family wants to help, visit the SCA's Web site: Follow the links to "Northwest Recovery."

Kristen Dobson is ParentMap's managing editor and an avid hiker, camper, and backpacker.

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