Monday, November 29, 2010

Fees Proposed for Access to State Lands and Boat Launches

Washington State agencies are bracing for another tough round of cuts and compromises as the Governor prepares her budget proposal for the 2011-13 biennium. A recent news release by the Office of Financial Management (OFM) announced a projected loss of $1.2 billion in General Fund Revenue for the remainder of the current biennium (2009-11) and the next budget period (2011-13).

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has long provided free access to popular trails and destinations such as Mount Si, Blanchard Forest, Cypress Island, and Tiger Mountain thanks to allotments from the state’s general funds. As budget cuts loom, DNR and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are jointly proposing a Recreation Reform Bill to supplement slashed budgets with user-generated funding. The agencies insist that the alternative to new user fees is the inevitable closure and reduction of services at recreation sites across the state.

A central feature of the proposed legislation is the “Explore Washington Pass” for access to WDFW and DNR lands. Under the proposal, the cost of an annual Explore Washington Pass would be $40 per person for general users age 19 and older, or $5 for those purchasing fishing or hunting licenses or a watchable-wildlife package. Short-term passes would be available at $20 for a three-day pass; $15 for a two-day pass; and $10 for a one-day pass. Revenue from the new pass, estimated at $5.5 million annually, would be split between WDFW and DNR for land management capital, operational, maintenance and enforcement needs.

Unlike the Northwest Forest Pass or State Sno-Park Pass, the Explore Washington Pass is a per-person fee, not per vehicle. Whether you are biking, hiking, climbing, or launching your boat on DNR or WDFW property, each person in your party will need to carry an Explore Washington Pass, even if you do not arrive by vehicle. The legislation also includes a mandatory $200 license for all organized events on DNR or WDFW lands. As written, the legislation could require licenses for Mountaineers courses on DNR lands and also require that all participants carry day or annual Explore Washington Passes. One proposal from the Mountaineers suggests that the club could contribute to the maintenance of state lands by harnessing our volunteer stewardship force in lieu of prohibitive event license fees.

As the legislation evolves, the Mountaineers is in discussion with DNR and WDFW to help determine a fair and reasonable proposal that will keep our state lands accessible to the public. You can share your thoughts about the proposal or learn more by emailing or submit comments directly to the DNR by contacting

What lands will be affected by the proposed fees?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Act Now for Full Funding of the LWCF

Congress heads back to work on November 15th facing a huge backlog of legislation. While the federal budget and a host of other issues will compete for attention during the short, lame-duck session, the bipartisan support for fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund separates it from most other proposals. Having passed the House, all that remains is to secure passage in the Senate to restore the single most important funding source for conservation and recreation in the United States. Urge your Senators include the Land and Water Conservation Fund in legislation during the last session of the 111th Congress.

Please write your Senator’s office and ask for LWCF funding!

What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund?

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established in 1965 to meet the nation's growing desire to preserve natural areas, culturally and historically significant landmarks, and outdoor recreational opportunities. Federal Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing provides the revenue for LWCF--the concept is a simple one where extraction of resources we all use provides some revenue for important access and conservation projects on our nation's public lands.

Unfortunately only a fraction of the intended revenue from these leases has gone into the fund with the balance being diverted to general funds for other purposes. In fact last year LWCF funding approached an all time low of $155 million. Legislation that has already passed the House would rectify this situation with full funding available each year, not subject to cuts in the annual appropriations process. Recent national bipartisan polling shows overwhelming support (86% of voters) for the continued use of offshore oil and gas feed for land and water protection through full funding of the LWCF.

Why Is This Important For Outdoor Recreation?

If LWCF was fully funded, it would have a rather large positive and direct impact on organizations like The Mountaineers who depend on access to outdoor recreation and conservation of treasured landscapes on public lands. There would be 5 times the amount of federal money available to protect land and assure access to human-powered recreation. More trails, more river access, more crags, more backcountry skiing.

Since its creation, LWCF has made nearly 7 million acres of land available for outdoor recreation. The fund has helped to complete iconic American landscapes like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, the Appalachian Trail, and Grand Teton National Park and here at home the North Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and Olympic National Parks have all benefitted from this program. In addition the fund has established close-to-home parks and recreation facilities providing new and improved recreation opportunities for all Americans.

Washington is home to over 500 successful local, regional, state, and federal projects made possible by LWCF. The Duwamish River Trail, Green River Gorge Conservation Area and associated State Parks, mature forest lands in the Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, lands along Icicle Creek in the Wenatchee National Forest, Green Lake Park in Seattle, public access on the White Salmon River, public shoreline access along Puget Sound, and Fort Worden State Park are just a few examples of public recreation lands in Washington that have received aid from LWCF.

Unfortunately the recent lack of funding has resulted in lost opportunities. In 2004 the State of Washington received only 5 percent of requested funds through the program and while we have enjoyed key successes, there have been a number of lost opportunities. For example key conservation opportunities along the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River acquired by a land trust for sale to the Forest Service had to be sold on the open market due to a lack of available LWCF.

Write your Senators today!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mt. Rainier NP Considers Fate of Carbon River Road

The Road: The six-mile Carbon River Road provided vehicular access to the northwestern corner of Mount Rainier National Park and the Ipsut Creek Campground. Until closure in 2006, the road afforded easy access to the Carbon River glacier and day-hike access to several of the popular Irish Cabin Peaks. The Mountaineers has a long history of recreating in the Carbon River Road region, essentially the backyard of the Irish Cabin property.

The Floods: Washouts have plagued the Carbon River Road since it opened in 1925, even flooding twice during the four years of construction. The most dramatic flood occurred November 6-7, 2006, when 17.9 inches of rain fell in the park, triggering flooding that washed out several segments of the road. Floods damaged the road again in 2008. The road has been closed to vehicle use since 2006, but bikers and hikers have been using the trails.

Between 1933 and 2007, the Carbon River flooded 59 times, 24 of these events caused significant damage to the road. Aggravating the damage is the fact that the river bed is rising. Due to the accumulation of sediment and debris, the riverbed is now higher than the road in certain areas. The Carbon River stream gauge reflects a an increasing trend of higher flood frequencies and magnitudes – tied to recent weather patterns in the Pacific Northwest that result in more frequent rain-on-snow fall flooding. Climate change predictions suggest this pattern will continue to exacerbate the situation.

The Environmental Assessment: The 2001 Mount Rainier General Management Plan, endorsed by the Mountaineers, calls for the roadway to be closed upon the next washout and be maintained as a bicycle and hiker access trail. In September 2010, the MRNP released an Environmental Assessment outlining five alternatives for the fate of the Carbon River Road:
Alternative 1:
Take no action and continue current management of the road as unimproved trail for hiking and biking. Estimated cost: More than $1 million.

Alternative 2 (preferred): Reopen the road 1.2 miles to private vehicles as far as a turnaround at the Old Mine Trailhead. From there, the road would be converted into an improved trail. Estimated cost: $3.2 million.

Alternative 3: Reopen 3.6 miles of road, to Chenuis, to public vehicles. Beyond that, it would be an improved trail. Estimated cost: $10.8 million.

Alternative 4: Repair the road from the Old Mine Trailhead turnaround to milepost 4.4 to be used only by seasonal and weekend shuttle service. A trail would lead to the Wonderland Trail. Estimated cost: $11.4 million.

Alternative 5: Temporarily use the road as a hiking and biking trail while a 36-inch-wide wilderness trail is built. Bikes typically are not allowed on wilderness trails. Estimated cost: $4.5 million. Superintendent Dave Uberuaga endorses Alternative #2 as the preferred alternative, citing sustainability as the primary factor. It is notable that the MRNP is in the process of acquiring 800 acres to establish camping at Carbon River entrance; these facilities will replace the year-round drive-in camping that was lost at Ipsut. Under the preferred alternative #2, access to Ipsut Campground and the glacier will still be achievable by foot or bike along 5.4 miles of easy-grade trail.

The public comment period is open through November 3rd, 2010. For a complete look at the Environmental Assessment, or to submit comments electronically, visit the Mount Rainier park planning website.