WTA Releases State Of Access Report
A hiker walks along a washed out portion of the washed out Suiattle River Road after a flood in 2006. Photo by Kim Brown.
Today, WTA is releasing its first ever State Of Access Report. Hikers have had roads on their radar since 2003, when major storms wiped out access to the Glacier Peak Wilderness and many other beloved places. But our public lands road system has been facing a slow-motion crisis since the decline of the timber industry. National Forests paid to build a huge system of roads, many of which are still used to access trailheads, with timber receipts. Those roads were frequently not built to the most sustainable standard, and have begun to crumble in the intervening years.
That's where the State Of Access Report enters the picture. WTA has created a framework for analyzing forest roads based on the importance of roads to hikers, the cost of repairing or rerouting and the environmental consequences of both repairing the road and its use by vehicles. We used those criteria to analyze eight roads:
- Suiattle River Road: Critical access to the heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness that has been thoroughly studied and is ready for repair.
- Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road: A successful collaboration of land management agencies and the public to rehabilitate an important recreation area. A paving project should be completed by 2015.
- Carbon River Road: A dynamic landscape rendered road realignment unfeasible, making this road an ideal conversion to a hiker/biker trail to a wilderness campground.
- Dosewallips River Road: An important access road that should be reopened as new repair standards can offer access to the west side of the Olympics.
- Stehekin Road: A little-used mountain road that should not be repaired. Relocation would require realignment of the wilderness boundary, as well as the Pacific Crest Trail.
- Illabot River Road: A well-built road threatened by a lack of funding for maintenance that nevertheless should remain open.
- Mountain Loop Highway: A critical recreation access road requiring major repairs on a regular basis necessitates continued investment.
- Mitchell Peak Road: DNR should seek to take all reasonable steps to secure an easement for recreational travel.
Each of these roads exemplifies an issue or course of action that drives decision-making around recreation routes. For instance, Illabot illustrates the decisions that land managers are forced to make when they have too little money to manage their road systems. The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road is an example of a successful collaborative approach between agencies and the public that has resulted in a more sustainable road and a safer backcountry experience.
A surprising road was the Dosewallips. When the criteria was applied to this route, we realized that agency planning processes since the 2008 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) had solved many of the problems that WTA had anticipated for the rerouted section of road. WTA decided that, in light of new information, to change its view on this road, and now believe that it should be reopened. At the time, we made the best determination we could with the information available to us. But we felt it was important to revisit the project and change our minds as new information became available.
Please take a moment to download a pdf of the State Of Access Report. It will give you a window into the often-difficult decision making process that we enter when we consider roads that are failing or washed out. It's our conviction that this document can help hikers make their own decisions and give them the tools to influence land managers and elected officials.