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Published: Monday, February 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Trails group urges rebuilding of key forest roads

  • Darrington District Forest Ranger Peter Forbes (right) and Congressman Rick Larsen walk the Suiattle River Road near Darrington in November 2011. This...

    Sarah Weiser / Herald file photo, 2011

    Darrington District Forest Ranger Peter Forbes (right) and Congressman Rick Larsen walk the Suiattle River Road near Darrington in November 2011. This section of the road has been closed to the public because of damage caused by storms in recent years.

DARRINGTON -- The state's largest hiking advocacy group wants roads to be repaired that provide key access to trails in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Washington Trails Association released a report Wednesday, "State of Access: The Future of Roads on Public Lands," which focuses on eight hiking-access roads on park and forest lands statewide. The report was issued in response to an era of major storm damage, federal budget cuts and lots of controversy over recreational access versus wilderness preservation.
Local roads named in the report are Mountain Loop Highway, Suiattle River Road and Illabot River Road, all near Darrington.
The association's hope is that public lands managers will use the document to assess which roads to fix and which to let go. Some roads on public lands shouldn't be maintained because repairs wouldn't be environmentally sound and there's no money to pay for them, said Jonathan Guzzo, advocacy director for Washington Trails Association.
However, access to many other roads is important. Hiking and outdoor recreation play a multi-billion-dollar role in the state's economy and road access to trailheads is critical for hikers, he said.
"The impact is huge. Hikers and other recreation users drive local economies by buying equipment, gas, food, lodging and more," Guzzo said.
Perhaps more important, he said, roads must be maintained so that new generations of people discover the joys of the outdoors.
"Young people in the wilderness learn lessons that last a lifetime, along with a desire to protect the land," Guzzo said. "If we do not have ways for people to get into the back country, they won't learn to love the wild places and work to protect them."
All of the roads analyzed in the report faced washouts that made the roads difficult to maintain. Some have been closed permanently.
Suiattle River Road was given the association's top priority, mostly because of its "last standing access to the heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness," Guzzo said. "The road offers resources hikers have not had reasonable access to for 10 years and a lot of people have never been to the west side of Glacier Peak Wilderness. The Suiattle road has been thoroughly studied and is ready for repair." Restoration work on Suiattle River Road could begin late this summer.
Illabot River Road is a good, well-built road threatened by a lack of funding for maintenance. Mountain Loop Highway, between Granite Falls and Darrington, is a critical recreation access road requiring repairs on a regular basis, Guzzo said.
"We do not envy the difficult funding situation the Forest Service finds itself in," Guzzo said.
Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest said deciding which forest roads to repair and maintain is all about balance.
"We weigh environmental effects, resource impacts and the public need," Forbes said. "We work with a lot of different groups across the spectrum of opinion about access to the wilderness. We take those opinions very seriously, and we plan to look at the Washington Trails report."
To learn more about the report about trail access from roads on public lands, go to www.wta.org.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.w

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