Park Person of Interest: Jared Infanger

by Judy Wagonfeld, Volunteer and Friend of the Fund

MORA Sunrise Meadows NPS photo
NPS photo of Sunrise Meadows

“All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds”

Richard Brautigan

“Sunrise is my favorite place in the park,” says Jared Infanger, Mount Rainier’s Historical Architect. “I feel on top of the world there; closer to the mountain.” Gushing, he talks of the openness and grand view of the snow-capped peak. “I try to get five or ten minutes to stop and soak it in,” he laughs, but he’s far too busy for more.

“We are constantly doing work on our buildings,” he says. “We” means Infanger and the Carpenter Shop’s three year-round employees. They battle aging and weather’s detrimental effects on structures, struggling to maintain, repair, rebuild and preserve—to stay steps ahead of deterioration. It’s one project after another with urgent fixes in between.

“Although we do our best to maintain buildings, deferred maintenance remains a big issue,” he says. For instance, “the 1931 Sunrise Day Use Center, like most buildings in the park, requires replacement of rotted wood, roof work, staining and cleaning.” It’s on his list.

Jared Infanger MORA 4Infanger’s passions and skills mesh with his job description like puzzle pieces snapping together. Growing up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, he hiked and camped with his family in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. After high school Infanger married and followed his bride to Washington State University in 2001. Majoring in architecture, he earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees there, writing a conceptual thesis, “Dwelling: The Immaterial and the Internet.” Focusing on human existence within communities, he writes of relationships to nature, physical and social interactions that should guide architects toward holistic design.

“I graduated in 2009 during the recession when no one was hiring,” he says, adding he couldn’t find a National Park Service (NPS) or an architect job. “I weighed my options. I’d always been interested in history so I applied to a post-graduate history degree program at Montana State University.” Luckily, he garnered a Teaching Assistant position in architectural history. That led to an internship at the Yellowstone National Park Museum where its focus on cultural resources preservation provided a framework for his future work.

When that funding ran out, he landed a position as Historical Architect Intern at Mount Rainier. During the six month internship, he researched and wrote about the historic Nisqually Entrance Station. He supervised the installation of a fire sprinkler system at the Sunrise Visitor Center and its staff Blockhouses and assisted with analysis of historical architectural drawings and past research. The funding ended but Mount Rainier stayed in his heart; with its greenness, ice cap, cool weather, flower fields and seductive beauty. Without a park service or architectural position, he returned to Idaho Falls as manager of the local Woodland Furniture Company.

After two years, in 2015, a dream came true. He scored a ranger position as Rainier’s Historical Architect. On cloud nine, he and his wife settled in Enumclaw where they live with their now almost two-year-old son.

“My biggest concern is not the forty-five minute drive to Ashford,” he laughs. “There’s little traffic but there’s always the worry of hitting a deer or elk. I’ve avoided it so far,” he says, hoping his luck continues.

At the Ashford Headquarters, Infanger depends heavily on park historian Brooke Childrey. “She’s the first person I call when I need photos, drawings or historical information.” Currently, the Paradise Inn Annex and three Longmire Cabins dominate his schedule. He’s delighted about the Isput Ranger Cabin’s recent completion, which was funded in part by WNPF support raised duiring the 2017 Spring Dinner and Auction. Severely damaged during the 2006 Carbon River floods that also destroyed roads, trails and river beds, it remained non-functional for ten years.

Infanger likens The Paradise Inn Annex, built in the 1920s, to a 1950s tacky motel with thin walls covered in paper and wood-like paneling, drop tile ceilings, inadequate plumbing, rotting window frames, water-stained walls, no insulation and no sound control.

“It is not seismically safe or up to current codes,” he says. It has structural, foundation and drainage deficiencies. Still, designated as a landmark building in1987, it requires adherence to its original plan. Infanger used 3-D laser scans and historical data to draw plans. The building’s interior, says Infanger, will be far more comfortable and appealing with wall insulation and sound control. Finishes will conform to the rustic style of the original 1917 Paradise Inn that was renovated in 2006-2008. For these massive projects, Infanger explains, the park must hire outside contractors.

On the other hand, restoration of three deteriorated cabins at Longmire, falls to the park carpenters. Built by the Civilian Conservation Core in 1932, they have been uninhabitable since 1990. One cabin, finished in 2017, now houses staff. The second cabin, scheduled to open in summer 2018, fulfills a long term need of housing Search and Rescue (SAR) Volunteers. The SAR Cabin’s $218,000 cost came from monies raised by Partners in Preservation, REI’s Rainier Climbs and Washington’s National Park Fund (WNPF).The third cabin awaits future funding.

Infanger talks about park history as if he grew up there. Explaining why the Headquarters exist in Ashford rather than the park, he details how the NPS moved the Superintendents Office from Longmire to Ashford in 1956. The act initiated Mission 66, a ten-year national plan of dramatically increasing park services throughout the States for the NPS’s Fiftieth Anniversary. The Longmire area turned into park facilities, interpretive centers, camping and a museum.

As post-war car ownership and highway creation surged, visitors headed to the parks in droves. Train service decreased or ended. Expectations changed from overnighting in hotels and inns to car camping. Due to severe funding cuts during and after Work War II, the parks lacked infrastructure required for autos and educational visitor centers.

In its push the NPS opted for the era’s Modernist style, a cheaper path that the traditional rustic, to create new structures. Thus, Mount Rainier wound up with a round concrete building for its Visitor Center at Paradise. Controversy surrounded it’s appearance as visitors labeled it a flying saucer or the top of a sunken Space Needle. Over time it was deemed esthetically incompatible with the nearby Paradise Inn. Its roof required expensive heating to melt the snow load and it didn’t meet current building and accessibility codes. Finally torn down in 2009, its energy efficient replacement, the rustic Henry M. Jackson Center, opened in 2008.

Although Infanger never viewed the old edifice in person, he sees the story as a basis for his role in preventing radical departures from traditional styles. The best way to do so, he says, is through maintenance and attention to history. In that vein this summer he plans to bag his last of the park’s four fire outlooks.

“The only one I haven’t reached is Shriner’s Peak,” he says. About Rainier he adds, “It sounds cliche, but in 2012 I really connected with the park and landscape, the buildings’ magnificence, its history and its natural resources.” Like a first-time visitor he raves about the Mountain. “Yesterday, I was driving to Paradise and saw the Mountain. It always surprises me.” He never tires of seeing its peak emerge from the clouds. This ranger loves Mount Rainier, the Northwest weather, the local history and the diversity of the mountain terrain.

concluding with, “I’d be happy to stay at Rainier my entire career.” Hopefully, he’ll get his wish.