Wild Sky wilderness: well worth the wait

If the best things in life are worth waiting for, the Wild Sky Wilderness area certainly qualifies.

On Tuesday, Congress finally gave its approval for creating Washington’s first new wilderness area in more than two decades. That’s 3,405 days after the effort began, according to a triumphant Sen. Patty Murray, who with Rep. Rick Larsen led the arduous legislative charge. President Bush’s signature is expected to complete this long and winding process within the next two weeks.

The agonizing wait had nothing to do with support for the proposal — it was broad, deep and bipartisan, thanks to the care Larsen, Murray and a cadre of grassroots supporters took in putting it together. They reached out to stakeholder groups with unprecedented thoroughness, going over maps and answering questions at a series of community meetings. Along the way, they made compromises that turned opponents into backers, reducing a 132,000-acre proposal to the 106,000-acre plan that was finally approved.

“Add all that up, and what it comes down to is we not only created a new wilderness bill, but a new model for creating wilderness in the future,” Larsen said Tuesday, minutes after the House passed Wild Sky as part of a larger package of bills. The Senate gave the package its blessing earlier this month.

Wild Sky had passed the Senate four times, but until last year couldn’t get through a House committee chaired by a wrongheaded California congressmen who claimed it didn’t meet the definition of wilderness. When he lost a re-election bid in 2006, the way was cleared in the House. Then, frustratingly, the proposal got bogged down in the Senate this year when an Oklahoma senator put a hold on several bills. That logjam was broken April 10, putting Wild Sky on its eventual winning path.

Just as the process that created Wild Sky was groundbreaking, so is its design. Its low-elevation areas will make it accessible to young and old alike, allowing more people than ever to enjoy the rugged beauty of a mountain wilderness. Its borders are carved around an existing road. You’ll be able to park, walk a few feet and be in Wild Sky.

The small-town economies along U.S. 2 will benefit as guide books point tourists and recreationists in Wild Sky’s direction.

And, most importantly, this pristine area will be preserved for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. It will stand as a fitting and lasting monument to conservation.

To all who had a hand in making it a reality, congratulations.

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