Volunteers tackle wilderness access roads

DARRINGTON — Martha Rasmussen’s right leg is held together by a plate along her shinbone.

She only can hike about five miles before the pain sets in. Then she limps back.

It’s a bummer for Rasmussen, 55, and her husband Nels, 56, because the couple loves to get out in the woods.

“I fell in a creek 20 years ago and broke my leg in several places,” Martha Rasmussen said. “It was six months before I could walk again. That’s why I care that we are able to drive up the Forest Service roads to get to our favorite hiking trails.”

With federal budgets for national forests on the decline, some of the old logging roads in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest had fallen into disrepair. People left garbage along the roads. It was frustrating for the Rasmussens.

“I was getting all blubbery, so I told Nels that we were going to have to do something,” she said.

What the Rasmussens did was form the Darrington Area Friends for Public Use, a group of volunteers who arrange with the Darrington District of the national forest to tackle maintenance projects on district roads.

The group made its debut in April and has since hosted five day-long work parties. They “adopted” several Forest Service roads for weekly maintenance, collected nine cubic yards of compacted garbage and tallied more than 500 volunteer hours in the forest.

“The Friends provide us with a tremendous amount of help,” said Peter Forbes, the forest’s Darrington District ranger. “We have so many fewer people on staff than we used to. The Friends are the eyes and ears out on the forest. There is no doubt that their hearts and souls are in this volunteer project and we know they will do whatever physical labor they can to keep our roads open to the public.

“I’m tickled with all they are doing.”

The Rasmussens and the crew of volunteers have repaired blocked culverts, reported erosion problems and slides and filled potholes. They have removed garbage from more than a dozen roads — trash that includes bedsprings with alder trees growing through them.

“We have hawk eyes for garbage,” Martha Rasmussen said. “I’ll even stop for a cigarette butt.”

This past week, a volunteer crew set out from the Rasmussens’ home west of Darrington for series of projects on Forest Road 18.

Among them were Carter Gregg, 14, a Darrington High School student who loves the woods and wants to rack up some volunteer hours required at school.

Carter’s mom, Amy Lucas, 34, and her friend, Tina Lavelle, 44, of Marysville, and the Rasmussens’ neighbor, Deke Kinzer, 63, also participated. Lucas and Lavelle are graduates of Western Washington University’s Huxley College environmental planning program at Everett Community College.

“Our family uses the forest service roads all the time,” Lucas said. “We need to keep them open.”

On the way up the winding, gravel road to their first work spot, the team stopped for a beautiful view of the Stillaguamish River valley as well as a moment at a lake, a small waterfall and a pile of broken rocks that revealed fossil imprints.

“These views are just some of the reasons we want use the forest roads,” Nels Rasmussen said. “Some people say the best way to protect the wilderness is to not go there. But if you don’t go, how are you going to develop an appreciation for the wilderness that makes you want to protect it?”

At the work site, the crew donned bright orange vests, leather gloves and hard hats. They used crowbars and shovels to remove a pile of rocks in a stream that had created a diversion away from the stream’s culvert under the road.

That volunteers can help the Forest Service maintain its roads is an idea that is spreading, Martha Rasmussen said. In Granite Falls, a similar group has formed to work on the roads in the southern part of the ranger district.

“Friends of Public Use is one of the most powerful things we’ve ever done. There has been a lot of anger with the Forest Service over roads that were not maintained and access that was lost when logging declined,” she said. “So you can be frustrated or you can do something. Picking up a shovel to help is very constructive.”

The Rasmussens believe they can accomplish even more work before the weather changes.

“We’re hoping people see a positive change next spring when they come out to Darrington,” Martha Rasmussen said. “Our goal this fall is to put the roads to bed for the season.”

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

How to help

To learn more or to join the Darrington Area Friends for Public Use, or the Granite Falls Area Friends for Public Use, go to www.ffpu.org.

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