Those of you planning a trip to Mount Rainier National Park have surely heard about Paradise. Famous for its beautiful meadows covered in wildflowers during the summer, Paradise is the most visited part of the park throughout the year. It’s also the location of the Mt. Rainier visitor center, the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center.
Located at an elevation of 5,400 feet, the Jackson Visitor Center is one of the few park areas open year-round. The Paradise area surrounding the visitor center receives an average of 680 inches of snowfall (nearly 57 feet) every year, making it the “snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is measured regularly.” Another popular attraction in the area is the Paradise Inn, which was also recently renovated.
Originally known as the Paradise Visitor Center, the building was renamed in 1987 after the death of Senator Henry M. Jackson. Hailing from the state of Washington, Jackson was a U.S. Congressman from 1941 to 1953 and a U.S. Senator from 1953 until his passing on September 1st, 1983. Jackson was instrumental in the creation of the first Paradise Visitor Center in 1966 as part of the National Park Service’s Mission 66 park renewal program.
The original visitor center, was frequently criticized for both its appearance as well as its functionality. The building was said by many to look like a space ship, and more local residents likened the visitor center to a sunken version of Seattle’s Space Needle. Furthermore the building was not properly designed to handle the snowfall at Paradise. The building was so inadequate that the Park Service spent 300 to 500 gallons of diesel fuel per day during the snow season – which lasts more than 6 months of the year – just to melt the snow above the building to prevent the roof from collapsing.
Recognizing this inefficiency, the Park Service began construction of a new visitor center in 2006. Still known as the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, the new building opened to the public on October 10, 2008, and was followed by demolition of the original visitor center in spring of 2009. Envisioned in a style more similar to the historic buildings found throughout the rest of the park, the new visitor center was designed to withstand the 15-25 feet of snow that regularly piles up on top of the building throughout the winter.
With almost 2 million visitors every year at Mt. Rainier National Park the new visitor center is certain to attract a lot of attention.