Suiattle River Crossing Scoped for Repair
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The floods of 2003 took out a number of Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) bridges in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which forced a reroute through the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The reroute has been less than ideal, as it adds a great deal of mileage and elevation gain to an already extraordinarily long and difficult hike. Additionally, some of the trail grades on the reroute are difficult for horse-packers, who have been historic users of the PCT.
WTA worked hard to procure funds to repair the PCT, and the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie has done extensive planning on how best to reopen the washed out sections of trail. In March, the Darrington Ranger District released an Environmental Assessment on repair of the Suiattle crossing that raises hopes that the PCT can be hiked on its old alignment within a few seasons. It also raises some concerns.
The District proposes using chainsaws, a helicopter, motorized rock drills, explosives and a mini-excavator inside the Glacier Peak Wilderness in order to complete the project. Any one of those methods would raise eyebrows. Together, they raise worries about the meaning of Wilderness.
Our gravest concern has been with the mini-excavator. The Forest argues, quite rightly, that using the excavator would mean that they would have to use around a ton less high explosives, since the excavator could clear trees and rocks that could only otherwise be removed by blasting.
But we think the District, in the interest of moving quickly on this project, is missing an important component--volunteers. It's our contention that the District could work with large volunteer groups from many organizations statewide in order to stage the trail for blasting crews. If crews made an initial pass on the trail, establishing tread, clearing trees that are within the capacity of volunteers and digging out rootwads that need blasting for removal, a contract crew could finish the job with minimal blasting and less disturbance of the Wilderness landscape. This approach could make a mini-excavator unnecessary.
This approach has the potential to cost significantly less than contracting for the entire project, as well. We're eager to work with the District on getting the Suiattle Crossing project completed. And we're very aware of the need to finish the project in a timely fashion and with no loss of appropriated revenues. The Darrington Ranger District has talented and dedicated staff. They're a pleasure to work with, and we're sure we can engage with them constructively to complete this important project.