Road work near Darrington closing access to trails

DARRINGTON — People heading up next week for recreation off the Suiattle River Road No. 26 in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest need to take note: The lower section of the popular road, located about eight miles northeast of Darrington, is scheduled to be closed for construction for about a month beginning Monday.

The worked planned by the Forest Service includes construction of two fish culverts and repaving the roadway.

This closure blocks access to the Pacific Crest Trail from the Suiattle River Trail, Miners Ridge Trail to Image Lake and Downey Creek Trail.

Despite the current Suiattle River Road closure to motor vehicles at milepost 12 because of washouts, the lower half of Suiattle River Road has remained open and popular with hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. With Monday’s closure, the access is limited further.

“This is economic stimulus money for a project that has been on hold for about three years,” said the Forest Service’s Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes. “We know this is a big deal that may cause some people to change their plans, but we needed to move forward on the project.”

An alternate way into the Suiattle River valley exists on Rat Trap Pass Road 27 down to Boundary Bridge, Forbes said.

Darrington and Verlot ranger station personnel can help people with directions and information about road conditions. Call 360-436-1155 or go online to www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mbs/about-forest/offices.

As far as the upper half of Suiattle River Road, past milepost 12, Forbes expects the Federal Highway Administration to come out in mid-July with an amended plan to repair the road to get it open. The plan would be available to the public for a 30-day comment period ending in August, after which the federal agency plans to make a decision about the road.

At the end of April, more than 400 groups and individuals submitted comments to the Federal Highway Administration and cast ballots for the future of the Suiattle River Road.

The Western Federal Lands Highway Division has been examining three options: One would leave the road closed to cars and trucks; another would repair the road only part way to the junction with the Green Mountain trailhead; the last would repair and reopen the road all the way to the end at Sulphur Creek.

Road repairs were under way in 2011 when a lawsuit prompted the federal government to back out of plans to fix the 23-mile road and begin another environmental assessment of repair plans.

The road is the last of the western access points to the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Having the road repaired would restore easier access to the wilderness back country and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, hikers maintain. If a repair alternative is chosen, construction on the road would not begin until 2013, Forbes said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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