Update: This story, originally published Dec. 4, was updated Dec. 6 with additional information from Mount Rainier National Park officials.
Burglars appear to have chainsawed through a wooden gate, kicked in doors, pilfered sensitive government property and generally wreaked havoc last week at a Mount Rainier National Park ranger station.
It’s hard to tell exactly what their motive was, Mount Rainier National Park spokesperson Kevin Bacher said Monday, though theft was obviously a major component. Rural, remote facilities are hard to secure, and some of the stolen items, like chainsaws and generators, are obvious targets for thieves.
“That said, they did do a lot of damage along the way,” Bacher said. “It’s hard to know whether that’s someone who had a vendetta against the park, or someone who was just relishing the chaos.”
Rangers haven’t fully assessed the damage, but thousands of dollars worth of stuff was stolen, Bacher said, and probably “more like $10,000 than $1,000.”
The ransacking started with the burglars cutting around the locking mechanism of a closed gate near the intersection of State Route 410 and Crystal Mountain Boulevard, according to Bacher.
A ranger had left the station the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 28 and a State Trooper checked on the gate at midnight, finding “everything looked fine,” Bacher said. It wasn’t until the ranger returned at 11 a.m. the following morning that he noticed it was open.
That means the park service is “pretty sure” that the break-in happened between midnight and 11.a.m on Nov. 29, Bacher said, though it could have happened anytime between the ranger leaving and coming back.
The Park Service collected video evidence of a suspicious vehicle going up and down the highway between 5 and 9 a.m. that morning, Bacher said, but they don’t have enough evidence to link it conclusively to the break-in. For that reason, the Park Service is not releasing pictures of the vehicle.
“It may have been a completely random and innocent vehicle,” he said. “But if that vehicle was involved, that would narrow it down to between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. That’s just a supposition at this point.”
The burglars then drove over to the White River ranger station, where they “busted into a bunch of offices, kicking in doors and damaging doorways, ripping things off, pulling shelves down, (and) just creating a lot of chaos along the way as they pilfered whatever they could get their hands on,” Bacher said.
That property included “some more common items like chainsaws and generators and things like that,” but many of the items are of a sensitive nature and the park service doesn’t want to reveal them while it’s investigating, Bacher said.
“These guys came in and stole from the American public,” Bacher said. “We’re up here trying to manage and protect these lands on behalf of the American people. This is their park. … So any help that we can receive from the public … would be greatly appreciated.”
Anyone with information on the burglary can contact the Park Service’s investigative team by calling or texting the tip line at 888-653-0009, visiting www.nps.gov/ISB and clicking “Submit a Tip,” or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bacher especially encouraged anyone who was in the area at the time, and who may have heard the chainsawing, to report what they know.
“Does anyone know these guys?” Bacher said. “Has anyone heard someone bragging about this, or talking about this, and then, second of all, did anyone notice anything suspicious that night? Hear something, see something? … That would be the kind of information we’d be interested in.”
The vandalism is only the latest headache for park officials, who last month had to close public access to the Carbon River Trail and the Grove of the Patriarchs due to damage from severe weather and flooding.
Both of those locations remained closed to the public as of Monday, Dec. 6, according to Bacher. There was no immediate estimate on the Carbon River area reopening, Bacher said, and the Grove of the Patriarchs will likely remain closed until summer next year, as crews will likely need until the spring to even repair the bridge.