Mount Rainier National Park's historic Paradise Inn will likely shut its doors in 2006 so it can undergo a $10.8 million renovation, park officials said.
And if funding is available, officials also hope to simultaneously begin construction of a new Jackson Visitor Center, also located in the park's Paradise area.
"We haven't disrupted it for 85 years, and now we have to do some major work," said park Superintendent David Uberuaga, who added the inn could be closed for as long as two seasons. "When you put it in context, while shutting it down is drastic, once in its lifetime isn't too bad."
The renovation will improve the building's foundation, helping it to better withstand an earthquake.
The 118-room inn, built in 1917 and slated to open for the season on Friday, is the focal point of the heavily visited Paradise area, which attracts as many as 1 million visitors a year.
The inn renovation and construction of the new $18.5 million visitor center are set to begin in 2006, if money is available. Both projects are in the National Park Service's five-year plan, but Congress must appropriate the money, Uberuaga said.
Though a final decision has not been made, closing the inn could pose some challenges, said Pam Newlun, sales manager for Mount Rainier Guest Services, the company that runs the inn.
"The places we will have open will be very, very busy," she said. "What we have to answer is: How we will accommodate the visitor and make it an experience they will remember?"
When the inn's rooms are booked, an average of 260 people spend the night, Newlun said. The restaurant, which seats 200 people, can serve an average of 300 people per meal during the busy July-August season. During those months, Guest Services could see lost lodging and dining revenue approach $2 million.
"The timing is never very good for the visitor or the concessionaire," Uberuaga acknowledged.
Access to all trails will remain open, though the convenience of parking at the inn will be eliminated, Uberuaga said. A shuttle bus system could help ease traffic congestion in the area, he said.
The inn and park will have to work hard on getting the word out when the renovation is complete, Newlun said. The National Park Inn at Longmire was closed for 13 months for renovations in 1990 and it took a while for people to realize it was open again, she said.
Once a new visitors' center is open, the current 60,000-square-foot structure, completed in 1966, will be dismantled. More than 272,000 people visited the center in 2003.