ParentMap Summer | Family fun | Teaching giving

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

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 supplies.

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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