After years, trails to re-open

DARRINGTON — In the seven years since floods destroyed a section of the Pacific Crest Trail and blocked access to the Glacier Peak Wilderness, a new generation of hikers has grown up unable to experience one of the most beautiful regions of the state.

Repairs to many ruined roads and trails in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are scheduled to be complete by late summer. These include roads along the North Fork Sauk, White Chuck and Suiattle rivers and trails that begin along those Forest Service roads.

“It’s very exciting news,” said Lauren Braden of the Washington Trails Association in Seattle. “This is really a big deal. I haven’t been up there since before the floods in 2003.”

The opening of the hiking trails also should help Darrington, whose business owners noticed when hikers stopped coming.

“It used to be that Darrington was crawling with hikers. I remember waiting in line to buy french fries at the drive in,” Braden said. “Now when you drive through town, it feels very quiet.”

Though the Glacier Peak Wilderness is a favorite with Washington Trails Association members, the group is tempering its enthusiasm for trail openings until all have been deemed safe and ready for the average hiker, Braden said.

A long list of trail work and bridge repair is scheduled, Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes said. Because of the workload, the number of weeks hikers will be able to use the trails this year may be few, he said.

“But we are hopeful. Our goal is to resume repair work in May and be done by September,” Forbes said.

As the work progresses, updates are set to be posted on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website, he said.

For years, hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail have had to make a long detour east to get by the washout on the trail at the south end of Glacier Peak Wilderness. The trail, which runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, is one of only 11 designated national scenic trails in the country.

With the help of federal economic stimulus funding, U.S. Forest Service crews were able last summer to hike in or be delivered by helicopter to make extensive repairs. The trails lead to Glacier Peak, the 10,541-foot-tall volcano that is Snohomish County’s highest point.

The closure of Forest Service roads has made the wilderness wilder than it has been in the last 50 years, said Gary Paull, Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest’s trails and wilderness coordinator, based at the Darrington ranger station.

The inability to drive to trailheads in the forest has not deterred longtime hiker Kim Brown of Seattle.

She’s hiked a lot of old trails in the White Chuck area during the last few years, often riding her mountain bike from where the open road ends to the trailhead. She and her hiking partners didn’t encounter another soul.

“The wilderness west of Glacier is one of my favorite areas to hike. I get dumb and speechless when I try to talk about it,” Brown said. “The draw for me is not only the wild beauty but the history. You’ve got the Indian tribes, the pioneers, loggers, miners and the Forest Service. It’s great.”

Brown is pleased that the repairs will again open up the wilderness to other hikers.

“If people don’t go there, they begin to forget about it and then the access goes away,” Brown said. “I have friends with teenagers who have never set foot up there. There are whole Boy Scout troops who haven’t been able to earn their 50-mile badges in the wilderness. It’s time.”

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