EVERETT — More than two years after a multimillion-dollar cleanup of the old mining town, the U.S. Forest Service is asking people what they want for Monte Cristo’s future.
The Forest Service, Washington Trails Association and Monte Cristo Preservation Association are gathering feedback about access, use, care, capacity and other issues at Monte Cristo. It’s a popular hiking and historic destination off the Mountain Loop Highway. The Forest Service is working on a plan for managing the site in the years to come. That would include an environmental assessment of current and potential uses.
Two public meetings have been scheduled to talk about Monte Cristo’s future. Key questions include whether motorized access to the ghost town should be allowed, and whether the new access road built for the cleanup should be kept and opened for public use.
The first meeting is set for 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Wall Street Building, 2930 Wetmore in Everett. The second is 5:15 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at the Everett Library, 2702 Hoyt Ave. Everett was chosen as a central location because Monte Cristo draws people from south of Seattle, north toward Bellingham and farther afield, Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes said Thursday.
“It’s about visiting with the public and learning what’s important to them and how they’d like to see Monte Cristo managed in the future,” he said. “That being said, we’ll have to manage all of that with budget constraints and probably other limitations.”
Monte Cristo was a thriving mining town from 1889 to 1907. Millions of dollars worth of minerals were mined there, and the work left behind tailings laden with toxins, namely arsenic and lead. An extensive, $5.5 million environmental cleanup was done in 2015. That was part of an $11 million total paid out by Asarco, the company that previously owned Monte Cristo mining interests and later went bankrupt.
Monte Cristo remained busy long after mining was over. Tourists stayed in lodges there until the road washed out in 1980 and the lodges burned down. In the 1990s, the Forest Service took over much of the land, though there still are private parcels, as well. It’s become a well-known hiking destination near Barlow Pass on the Mountain Loop. Hundreds of people visit on summer weekends.
Working within the Forest Service’s budget will be a major factor in planning for Monte Cristo, Forbes said. As far as he is concerned, closure is not an option. The challenge is maintenance and access.
“What do we want to see at Monte Cristo? Do we want to maintain the trails and the cabins and such, or do we want something different?” he said. “What does the public want to see? What kind of access would they prefer, and is that the kind of access that we can maintain?”
The Forest Service also will need to work with private property owners, he said.
The trail can be used by hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders. There are camping areas near the ghost town. Forbes said there are no plans to limit camping or access to historic structures. After the cleanup, informational signs were added.
“Some people like to go to Monte Cristo for the historical component, and others like to go for the beauty,” Forbes said.
He expects there will be additional opportunities to weigh in on the future of Monte Cristo. An environmental assessment would include public comment. The tentative plan is to start work on the that in the fall.
Those who can’t attend the meetings can email comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.