By Kathy Johnson and Inessa Pearce
Wallace Falls State Park is a shining jewel of Snohomish County.
Its beautiful, mature forest and spectacular waterfalls are enjoyed by approximately 175,000 local citizens and tourists each year. These visitors contribute significantly to the local economy; tourism is a $2 billion industry in Snohomish County.
In fact, the park is so loved that its parking lot and trails cannot accommodate all who wish to enjoy it on pleasant summer days.
Most of the land across the Wallace River to the east of the park is owned or managed by the state Department of Natural Resources. This agency has been working with local recreation groups and other interested stakeholders for at least six years to improve recreational opportunities, which would take some of the pressure off our “over-loved” state park.
Volunteers have invested hundreds of hours in trail planning work here, in the Reiter Forest. Snohomish County has purchased land for trailhead parking for a new trail that would ascend the east side of the Wallace River and connect to the state park’s trail system. Trail construction began a few years ago.
In addition, the Department of Natural Resources built a bridge at considerable taxpayer expense across the Wallace River to connect the Wallace Falls trail to the yet-to-be-completed DNR trail.
So, county officials as well as local conservation and recreation groups were dismayed to discover in 2014 that the state agency had planned the Singletary timber sale precisely where the new trail is located between the state park and the new trailhead. This land is actually owned by the county but managed by the state.
Over the past three years, we have worked with Snohomish County and the state to delay the sale and develop a mutually agreeable alternative that would preserve both the forest and the tax revenues that the local municipalities and school districts would have received from the sale of the trees.
In early November a number of recreational groups met with Snohomish County officials to discuss possible solutions to the Singletary issue. At that time the county was considering exercising a reconveyance option, with the DNR returning control of the land to the county. A number of recreational and environmental organizations wrote a joint letter to the state forest board to support this alternative. The city of Gold Bar also opposed the timber sale.
About a month ago, a DNR representative met with one of these conservationists to discuss the history of the Reiter trail plan and options that would allow a win-win solution to our concerns about Singletary.
A further objective was to attempt to restore trust between the environmental and recreational organizations and the state agency after a long history of conflict in the region. At the beginning of the meeting the DNR stressed that Singletary would not be offered to the forest board until we investigated some solutions to address both the recreational groups’ and agency’s concerns.
This meeting concluded with an agreement to convene the other groups for another meeting with the DNR and to investigate ways of raising funds to compensate the junior taxing districts for the funds they would lose if the sale did not proceed.
Both the DNR and the conservationists were excited about finding a mutually beneficial resolution to this issue and working together on solving a number of issues in the future. During the past few weeks, several emails were exchanged with the DNR to schedule this meeting.
But on Jan. 3, the DNR broke its promise and put the sale before the Forest Practices Board, which approved it for a Feb. 22 sale. It is precisely this type of disingenuous action that undermines trust between the public and the DNR.
If the Singletary Sale goes ahead, there will be 1,900 acres of new clear-cuts scarring the forested mountainside next to Wallace Falls State Park. This land is owned by Snohomish County, which has the power to stop or at least mitigate this travesty, by requesting a revenue-neutral reconveyance of the land.
This would preserve wildlife habitat, increase hiking opportunities at Wallace Falls State Park, and provide economic benefits to Snohomish County through tourism as well as the ecological services provided by the forest.
Concerned citizens should urge their county councilmembers to do just that, and urge the Forest Practices Board and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to honor agreements made between the DNR and concerned citizens by delaying the Singletary Timber Sale until the negotiations begun in good faith can be allowed to progress to completion.
Kathy Johnson is the forest practices chairwoman for the Pilchuck Audubon Society and lives in Marysville. Inessa Pearce is president of the Skykomish Valley Environmental and Economic Alliance. She lives in Sultan.