Wild Sky backers finally can celebrate

In July 2001, environmentalists, east Snohomish County residents and federal lawmakers marched along a path among old-growth trees near Troublesome Creek north of U.S. 2. It was a part of a tour to show off a wild area that some thought should be preserved forever.

On Thursday, most of those areas north of Index and Skykomish in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest were added to Washington’s list of protected areas.

President Bush on Thursday morning signed legislation setting aside 106,577 acres as Wild Sky Wilderness. It’s an area where logging, road building, motorized vehicles and other industrial uses are banned.

At the same time, the designation preserves mountains, forests and streams for recreational uses such as hiking, horseback riding, hunting, fishing and rafting.

The area includes ragged mountain tops, valleys and low-elevation old-growth forest near salmon spawning streams. Much of the wilderness is of low elevation, allowing easy access for recreation while protecting wildlife habitat, proponents say.

The road leading up to Bush’s signature ended April 29 when both houses of Congress approved the legislation.

It was a long and bumpy journey.

“I could not be more proud of the spirit of togetherness and dedication that has surrounded Wild Sky from the very beginning,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa. “Today is a tribute to so many people who never gave up and never lost sight of the goal — preserving the heart and soul of this beautiful land.”

Murray’s staff started working on Wild Sky legislation nearly nine years ago. She was joined in pursuit of wilderness designation by Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., in 2001 after he became the 2nd Congressional District representative.

The legislators created what they call a model for going about passing wilderness legislation. They met with dozens of interest groups and agreed to numerous compromises, including reduction of the original 130,000-acre site to the current size.

Barclay Lake and a trail leading to it were excluded from the wilderness so they still can accommodate large groups such as Boy Scouts. Float planes also still will be allowed to land on Lake Isabel, a large high-elevation lake.

Areas were carved out to accommodate snowmobilers and off-road enthusiasts, and there will be a wheel-chair access trail.

“Reaching the end of the trail never felt so good,” Larsen said Thursday. “Today marks the summit of a long journey made possible by many committed people and years of community input.”

Larsen said it also feels good to finally get the legislation signed by the president.

“People had expectations that this is a good piece of legislation and that it would go flying through,” Larsen said. “Nothing goes flying through” Congress. “You always want it to get here sooner than it takes.”

Congressional staffers say they plan a Wild Sky celebration in the Index area, possibly on May 30.

It is the first new wilderness created in Washington since 1984. Wild Sky is located north of Index and Skykomish, and it contains three main parts straddling the Beckler River and North Fork Skykomish River.

Conservationists say they are elated and are quick to praise the Congress members.

“From the very beginning, Congressman Larsen and Senator Murray have remained truly committed to working with local stakeholders and community leaders to address their concerns and meet their needs while developing a proposal that ensures the future of the Wild Sky Wilderness,” said Tom Uniack, conservation director of the Washington Wilderness Coalition.

He said the method used to preserve Wild Sky “is a shining example of what we all can accomplish if we come together and work to ensure the future of this great state.”

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or jhaley@heraldnet.com.

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