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Originally published July 19, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified July 20, 2010 at 11:00 AM

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Popular Mount Rainier National Park trail is restored, rerouted

Volunteers, rangers and officials at Mount Rainier National Park have been working to restore one of the park's most popular trails that was wiped out by flooding in 2006. This week, park officials hope to open the lower, mile-long section of the new Glacier Basin trail, improved and rerouted.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The stump held on for days, even as five workers hacked and chopped at it, and tugged on it with the help of a harness and pulley.

Finally, after a week, the stubborn old stump relinquished its grip on the soil and the workers breathed a collective sigh of relief. The trail was clear at last.

That single task took long, hard labor — but volunteers, rangers and officials at Mount Rainier National Park are used to that. For the past four years, they've been working to restore one of the park's most popular trails — wiped out by flooding in 2006, one of the most catastrophic natural events in the park's history.

This week, park officials hope to open the lower, mile-long section of the new Glacier Basin trail, improved and rerouted.

"It's definitely the largest trail-reconstruction project — not just from the flood — but that I've ever partaken in," said trails foreman Carl Fabiani, who has worked at the park since 1965.

Much of the original Glacier Basin trail, once a straightforward dirt path, was wiped out by about 18 inches of rain that poured down in 36 hours and raged through the White River Valley in November 2006.

The Inter Fork River overtook the trail, where it still flows. For the past four years, hikers and mountaineers have been forced to the river's side, where they scramble up loose rock fields or precariously hop from stone to log to cross the river.

There is no clear path, so hikers follow periodically placed hot-pink flags in a connect-the-dots style trail.

Just a few hundred yards away, the new path has taken shape. It's uphill from the current trail — a placement chosen in the hopes of avoiding future flood damage.

While the first 5,000 feet of trail was expected to open this week, work has just begun on the next 1,500-foot section — which is slated to be ready for hikers early next spring.

For 69-year-old volunteer Jim Miltimore, finishing the lower section meant drilling a hole into a boulder, filling it with water, inserting what looked like a shotgun shell and blowing it up. Sarah Salvador, 16, was busy heaving an axlike tool above her head and swinging it down at another obstinate stump.

Lynn Kittridge and her son Charlie helped build a yellow-cedar bridge over a small waterfall. Kittridge has been working on the trail for two summers and often has come to the park with her family. In fact, Kittridge said, her daughter took her first steps on the original trail.

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Taking a break from her work, Carol Miltimore, Jim's wife, strolled up the new trail. She stopped every few feet, explaining how a certain bridge was built or remembering when they had to rebuild a section of the new trail because a tree fell over it during the winter.

Volunteers at work

Multiple volunteer groups have come the past two years to help, including the Washington Trails Association, the Washington Conservation Corps and the Student Conservation Association, a volunteer group for high-school students like Salvador. Salvador and seven high-school volunteers are living at the White River Campground for two weeks, forgoing showers in the name of the Glacier Basin trail.

Fabiani estimates volunteers have put 7,000 hours into the project over the past two years.

Asked what the trail looked like when volunteers first started working, Jim Miltimore pointed into the forest.

Fallen trees crisscrossed in every direction over rocks, bramble and bushes. The new trail on which Miltimore stood cut a perfect swath through the natural mayhem.

But the two years spent building the trail have been only half the battle. The two years before that were spent planning.

The park staff had to find the perfect place for the trail, searching for a gradual route that was farther from the river but wouldn't need many switchbacks or sharp corners.

Once it was mapped out, five groups and agencies had to agree on the route: the Army Corps of Engineers, the state historical society, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the park's resource department and several American Indian tribes.

Popular trail

The original Glacier Basin trail has been used for at least a century.

It was created as a mining road, used in the early 1900s by horses and buggies and later by motorized vehicles. The road led miners to the base of Mount Rainier at Emmons Glacier, where they hoped to find a fortune in silver and copper. But what they did find wasn't worth much, and the mining operation faded out.

The road was left behind, and explorers and climbers made the route their own. It became one of the park's most popular trails, and essentially everyone who has climbed the east face of Mount Rainier has traveled along it.

Carol Miltimore and other volunteers hope the revised Glacier Basin trail will last as long as the original did — contributing to another century in the White River Valley.

She paused in her meandering up the new trail. She pointed to a waterfall cascading over mossy rocks — something the old trail had never passed. She summed it up in six words: "new trail, new route, new vista."

Carly Flandro: 206-464-2108 or cflandro@seattletimes.com

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