Gold Basin Campground remains closed while slide risks are studied

VERLOT — The Gold Basin Campground remains closed for the third summer in a row while geotechnical experts study an adjacent hillside that officials worry could give way, putting campers, hikers and swimmers there at risk.

It’s the largest campground in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, with 15,000 camping days recorded in 2013. There are more than 90 campsites, and that’s after a handful were lost to the meandering South Fork Stillaguamish River. The campground also has restrooms, showers, an amphitheater, river access and an open field perfect for games of catch or Frisbee.

The campground is about 14 miles east of Granite Falls, just past Verlot. For years, it’s been one of the busiest places on the Mountain Loop Highway.

However, the hill near Gold Basin has a history of slides and is geologically similar to the hill that collapsed in Oso in March 2014, killing 43 people. The Forest Service closed Gold Basin in May 2014 pending a safety review.

Last year, the service struggled to find a contractor to head up the safety review. This summer, a team of Forest Service geotechnical specialists from California are expected to examine the hillside and analyze data from the historic Gold Basin slide path, Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes said. They’ll likely round up more information from the site throughout the summer to complete their study, he said. He’s hoping to have results this winter.

“People are still interested in and want to see the campground opened again,” Forbes said.

In the meantime, some campers have decided they aren’t waiting on the safety review. There have been problems with trespassing at Gold Basin.

“We have had quite a few issues with people camping in there, breaking into the showers and restrooms,” said Erica Keene, Verlot corridor manager for the Darrington Ranger District.

Workers at the Verlot Ranger Station frequently field phone calls from people who are angry about the closure, but there also are some who understand why the campground remains closed, she said.

If the campground doesn’t reopen, it’s unclear what might happen at Gold Basin.

“I am hopeful that we can develop a plan that would allow some use, even in a worst case scenario, but it is much too early to speculate about that,” Forbes said.

About a decade ago, the Forest Service looked at finding other possible sites to set up a large campground, he said. No suitable areas were found that could fit as many campsites and amenities as Gold Basin. On top of that, building a new campground to current standards could cost millions of dollars.

“Based on our budgets, the likelihood of that being a possibility is extremely small,” Forbes said.

People looking for campsites in the area can call the Darrington Ranger Station at 360-436-1155 or the Verlot Public Service Center at 360-691-7791 for help finding alternatives to Gold Basin.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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