Friday, February 24, 2012

Success! Bachelor Creek Trail

By Sarah Krueger, Public Lands Programs Manager

Back in January 2011, we asked hikers and climbers to submit letters in support of designating the Bachelor Creek Trail as a Class 1 Wilderness Trail – and the Forest Service heard your overwhelming response!
Bachelor Creek is the southern terminus of the famed Ptarmigan Traverse. This rough trail was dropped off of the Forest Service's trail system in the early 90's and, as a result, has received little TLC over the past couple decades. Those hardy souls who complete the traverse and still choose to exit or approach via the Bachelor Creek trail must battle their way through a maze of slide alder and rely on navigation skills to stay on route.

The recently-issued Suiattle Access and Travel Management Plan indicates that Bachelor Creek Trail will be added back to the official trail system. What does that mean? As long as there are no legal appeals that get in the way, volunteers will be able to legally clear the way to the Ptarmigan Traverse. Thank you to all of you who wrote letters, we look forward to announcing the dates of the first trail work party on Bachelor Creek Trail!

Legislature Works on Discover Pass

By Sarah Krueger, Public Lands Programs Manager

After over a dozen bills floated around the State Legislature related to improving the Discover Pass, Washington’s vehicle access pass for state parks and recreation lands, SHB 2373 emerges as the most promising fix. Launched in July of 2011, just a couple months after authorization from Governor Gregoire, the Discover Pass has struggled to generate the much-needed revenue for the three benefiting agencies: Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. With the budget shortfalls, these agencies have seen extensive layoffs and fears of additional park closures.

A survey of outdoor recreationists conducted by Washington Trails Association found that 69% supported the Discover Pass, but 87% felt that the one-pass-per-vehicle structure of the pass was not reasonable. In August 2011, 49 state lawmakers signed a letter opposing the one-pass-per-car rule and requested that agencies not enforce it.

SHB 2373 attempts to resolve this issue by providing space for two vehicle license plate numbers per pass (still $30), allowing pass holders to switch between cars. Further, the bill language allows agencies to establish a family pass that is fully transferable among vehicles, without placement of a license plate number to be valid, for no more than $50.

Perhaps most notable to those who enjoy winter sports, SHB 2373 would fix the discrepancy in the original Discover Pass language that exempted seasonal Sno-Park pass holders from needing the pass at Sno-Parks that overlap with State Park land, but not daily Sno-Park permit holders. As a result, winter recreationists who purchase a daily Sno-Park pass for $20 must also pay $10 for a daily Discover Pass or $30 for an annual pass, resulting in a minimum $30 day use fee per vehicle for a visit to a Sno-Park. HB 2373 fixes this problem by exempting both seasonal and daily Sno-Park permit holders from the Discover Pass.

These changes, among others offered in SHB 2373, will go far to address some of the major complaints about the Discover Pass and potentially lead to better compliance among recreationists. However, even with an increase in Discover Pass sales, our State Parks system desperately needs an infusion from the general fund to maintain even reduced operations. A proposal called “The People’s State Parks Rescue Plan” requests $4.5 million from general fund for State Parks for fiscal year 2013, the estimated cost of “social service” exemptions which allow reduced or free camping or entrance to parks for those who could not otherwise afford to purchase the Discover Pass.

You can help! SHB 2373 is on its way to the House floor for a vote. You can let your representatives know you support the changes to the Discover Pass included in SHB 2373, as well as the People’s State Parks Rescue Plan. The most effective method is a quick two-minute call to the Legislative Hotline, 1-800-562-6000. The hotline is open Monday through Friday, 8am-8pm and Saturday 9am-1pm. You can also drop an email to your representatives.

Beyond "Pack it In, Pack it Out"

By Sarah Gruen, Recreation Resources Intern

You likely have heard the phrase “pack it in/pack it out” or “take only pictures, leave only footprints” and maybe you have even heard the slogan “Leave No Trace.” These expressions are all related to a movement of higher consciousness for recreationists who want to enjoy a quality experience outdoors while preserving the natural resources that support their activities. Chances are, if you spend time exploring the land on foot, kayak, mountain bike, snowshoes or other mode of travel, you have noticed the often-significant social and environmental impacts of careless recreation: toilet paper flowers, trampled alpine meadows, aggressive camp jays, eroded switch backs and more.

The popularity of backcountry recreation extends human impacts into our most pristine wilderness destinations. The resulting environmental damage is not a result of malice; the perpetrators are often people who both value and enjoy natural areas but lack the knowledge and the skill set to be responsible stewards. The Mountaineers is launching a Backcountry Impacts Skill Clinics Series for our courses based on Leave No Trace curriculum to help spread awareness about how to guide low impact decision making for specific outdoor activities and environments. Our series includes curriculum specific to climbing and scrambling, winter recreation, hiking and backpacking and sea kayaking. Contact Sarah Krueger, Public Lands Programs Manager, for more information on bringing the Backcountry Impact Series to your group or course.

So what does “Leave No Trace” really mean? It refers to a set of seven principles that are the product of a partnership between national public land management agencies, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to help promote a cohesive national guidance on responsible recreation practices. It is a set of ethics that provides a structure for refining personal attitudes about what are appropriate actions in wild places.

Still not sure what “Leave No Trace” really means? What it doesn’t mean is memorizing a strict set of rules. It means taking the following principles into consideration:

Want to learn more about “Leave No Trace?” Come to our Leave No Trace Trainer Course in the foothills of Mt. Rainier on April 21 and 22. More info.

How do you practice “Leave No Trace?” We would love to hear some of your personal stories: what judgment calls have you made while recreating? What areas in Washington have been heavily affected by user impacts? What are these impacts?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Suiattle Road: why Boundary Bridge looks funny

By Kim Brown, Public Lands Intern

New Boundary bridge spanning the scoured channel. Photo by Gary Paull

The last Suiattle blog left us wondering about the delay torepair the Suiattle River Road. This article tells the story of oneparticularly unusual-looking bridge across the Suiattle and addresses one of themany factors in the repairs to the Suiattle River Road, the inclusion of theSuiattle in the Skagit Wild & ScenicRiver system (WSR). WSR designation preserves the free-flowingattribute of selected rivers – these rivers will never be impounded.Congressional wisdom enacted WSR as a counter –balance to its various actionsthat allow dams and other constrictions on rivers.

Constructedin 1959, the 240 foot-long Boundary Bridge spanned the entire river channel atmilepost 9.9, where FS 25 shoots off the Suiattle River Road, providing accessto the Circle Peak trail, Crystal and Meadow Lake trails, the Meadow Mountaintraverse, and tribal lands. The 2003 floods widened the river corridor and shiftedthe river south, leaving the bridge 165 feet short, and the river flowing infront of it, instead of underneath it.

Afterthe site was severely damaged in 2003, the Boundary Bridge repair work qualifiedfor funds from the Emergency Repair for Federally Owned Roads (ERFO). Projects inthe western region of Federal Highways that are funded by ERFO dollars aremanaged by the Federal Highways Western Lands Division (FHWA), who work withthe land agency on those projects.

WSRdesignation often requires special road and bridge design to maintain the river’s free flow, waterquality and other outstanding values, and Boundary Bridge was one such site. ERFO dollars pay for “in-kind” repair, meaningputting things back the way they were. FHWA’s repair design included a the re-buildof a new riverbank to close in the 165-foot gap left by the 2003 floods – puttingback what Mother Nature had ripped out (that’s a lot of dirt!).

The ForestService did not agree with FHWA’s design, which had the potential to adverselyimpact anadromous fish habitat and impair the river’s free-flowing attribute. Thenthe November2006 floods shifted the dynamic river back to its original channelunderneath the bridge,changing the repair site once again. In 2007, the projectwas put on hold and the excitement about the bridge repair fell silent.

In 2009, Peter Wagner, bridge engineer for the Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (see page 3 of the linked article), designed a bridge extension that addressedthe WSR specifications by utilizing a lightweight material so that a pier wasnot necessary for support. Because the structural integrity of the original bridge was not compromised bythe floods, the old bridge was incorporated into the new design. The 210-footlightweight extension was “launched” from the end of the old bridge to the farbank, and then heavy equipment was driven across to finish the job. The lightweightmaterial used for the extension means that we have an odd-looking bridge – part1950s concrete, part new-age alloy with a high, criss-cross truss necessary forstrength and balance.

The BoundaryBridge repair was completed in 2010, providing not only visual entertainment, but access to the south side of theSuiattle for the first time since 2003.

Next time you're in the neighborhood, take the Suiattle River Road to milepost 9.9, and check out this bridge! (oh, and for the "it had to happen" files: there's a new washout on FS 25 at FS 2703. It's a nice drive across the Boundary Bridge - I like the way you sorta bounce onto the ramp at the new portion of the bridge)

Next up: What's the deal with the fish and Downey Creek?!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Index-Galena Road Environmental Assessment

Index-Galena Road. Way cool Photo by Gil Aegerter
By Kim Brown, Public Lands intern

One of these days, the blog won't be about washed out roads! (but this isn't one of 'em)
It’s been five years (and counting) since we’ve driven the Index-Galena Road to Blanca Lake, N Fk Skykomish, Quartz Creek and West Cady Ridge trailheads. Sure, we can – and have – accessed these trailheads from the Beckler River Road, a much longer route since the road was severely damaged by the floods of November 2006. What we’ve missed is year-round access to a tremendous scenic drive, and summer camping at Troublesome Creek and San Juan Campgrounds.
Much of the Index-Galena Road, a county road built on a Forest Service easement, has already been repaired by Snohomish County, using Emergency Relief funds obtained by a grant from Federal Highways through its Highway Trust Fund.

In October, 2011, with just a half mile of repair studies and engineering left to do while working under a Categorical Exclusion (CE), Snohomish County and Federal Highways Administration (FHA) have decided to stop work and compile an Environmental Assessment (EA) before finishing.  EA’s and a CE’s are both accepted procedures under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), both requiring in-depth environmental studies and designs appropriate for the various Federal and local policies in the project’s jurisdiction.   However, recent litigation regarding the use of a CE instead of an EA on another Federal project prompted this decision. 
An Environmental Assessment means that all environmental and engineering studies must be completed, a road design must be finished, and the results published in an EA for public review and a comment period before work can be done.

Snohomish County, Federal Highways, and the USFS hosted a public Open House on February 1st to kick off the process. Termed “scoping,” this Open House and 30-day comment period will help the engineers finish the design. They’re not expecting slide-rule advice, but if you have concerns about any portion of the design, step up.  Likewise, this is a good time to express your support for the completion of the project.
When the NEPA process is complete, work should commence in 2014 or 2015 (see timeline here), depending upon the window of opportunity for work - that period of time construction is least likely to interrupt wildlife breeding habits, and when soils are dry enough that heavy equipment will do less harm (lookin’ for a good time? Wait for a blog about the ecosystem of soils!)
Check out the documents on Snohomish County’s website, which includes the current design of the road, sign up for email updates, and submit comments by February 29, 2012, encouraging the completion of the Index-Galena Road to