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WTA Releases State Of Access Report

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Feb 13, 2013 10:10 AM |

WTA today released State of Access: The Future of Roads on Public Lands. In an era of major storm events, budget cuts and environmental sustainability, this report is a tool to help land managers and the hiking community assess which roads to fix and which roads to let go.

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:

  1. Suiattle River Road: Critical access to the heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness that has been thoroughly studied and is ready for repair.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Illabot River Road: A well-built road threatened by a lack of funding for maintenance that nevertheless should remain open.
  7. Mountain Loop Highway: A critical recreation access road requiring major repairs on a regular basis necessitates continued investment.
  8. 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.


road access

Please consider looking at 2 roads that are heavily used by both residents of eastern WA as well as people from the Seattle area. One is the Teanaway River Rd beyond the paved road. This road has been recently graded by a company that has been doing logging. That has greatly improved it, but it is not sustainable. It will soon retun to the potholes that hace plagued it for years. The other road is the Cle Elum River Rd. byone Salmon la Sac. The area along this road is heavily used by campers, hikers and horse riders. This road is in deplorable condition, with large roads and potholes. Another problem is the speed at which people drive these roads. They got way too fast and that causes faster deterioration.

Posted by:

"Eats Rocks and Dirt" on Feb 14, 2013 06:03 PM

Corrections, questions...

The vast majority of FS logging roads were built with our Fed tax revenues as a defacto subsidy to the timber industry. Probably 2nd only to the Northern Pacific Land Grants in terms of Federal largess to resource industries in our region. To say otherwise is either very naive or revisionist. The roads are really the result of a huge scandal which explains in part why they were so poorly built. They are an environmental catastrophe and rebuilding them just for the sake of being able to drive a few more miles before you get out of your car and start hiking is another huge waste of tax money.

Dosewallips is on the EAST side of the Olympics. What "new information" now makes it ok to repair this road?

How is the Suiattle's landscape non-dynamic compared to that of the Carbon River? The photo accompanying this post is a good example of a road in a very dynamic landscape - I'm sure there are similar photos in the upper Carbon River. Your statement on Suiattle is political more than descriptive.

Posted by:

"Mina&Co." on Feb 15, 2013 03:38 PM

Waste of taxpayers

  We all have opinions on what is considered a waste of tax payers money. But fixing the Suiattle River Road would be for the recreational benefit of the taxpayers and not some private corporation so as a taxpayer I do not consider it a waste.
  There are very few roads that get you way back into the Glacier Peak Wilderness and this I consider to be the most important of all of them so it gets my vote.

Posted by:

fox15rider on Feb 15, 2013 03:38 PM

Road Decay

Thanks for a thoughtful report, though I can hardly agree with much of it. For example, the Illabot road is a classic road to nowhere. It alone eats up a huge chunk of the MBS' road money, and for what? It is not true that the Illabot road poses no danger to salmon. All it takes is one plugged culvert, and there are many, to send tons of debris into spawning beds. And there is no one up there making sure they don't plug up. (as an aside, how does the Illabot road provide "access" to White Pass, as your photo caption states? It is miles away.)

Some roads do a lot more damage than others. The Canyon Creek road to Tupso Pass has inflicted huge damage on steelhead and salmon in a watershed once famous for both, and continues to do so. It is kept open at huge cost so that the hike to Goat Flat is a few miles shorter than the approach from Boulder River. Also, the Evergreen Mountain road in the Beckler valley north of Skykomish is a classic example of a road that never should have been built. Each year it blows out and gets patched back together. There are many others....

Some hard choices need to be made. The money and resources to keep these kind of roads open are dwindling fast. Trying to keep most of them open will result in less "access" over time, not more. Resources need to be put where they can do the most good, for example into trails along major highways, not at the end of long, crumbling logging roads.

Plus, whatever happened to appreciation of wild country? The wilderness gets bigger when roads go away. It often seems as though WTA is now more about roads than trails, long roads that penetrate deeply into otherwise wild country. Patching up these disintegrating roads a few more times won't change the fact that they are going away. Why not learn to like the expanded wild country that results? Isn't that why we go outdoors?

Posted by:

SpruceGoose on Feb 17, 2013 12:37 PM