Published: April 16, 2012
To Repair or Not to Repair:
Why We Should Restore Suiattle Road and Access to Glacier Peak Wilderness
by Kitty Craig
The Suiattle Road (Forest Road 26) is one of the few access roads and western portals to the majestic Glacier Peak Wilderness, one of the most wild and least accessible wilderness areas in the state. Flood events in 2003, 2006, and 2007 have made the road impassable, extremely limiting opportunities to explore some of the best hikes, lakes, and peaks of Glacier Peak Wilderness such as the iconic Image Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail.
That’s why The Wilderness Society is calling for full restoration of the road—so people can easily access these amazing places once again.
The Federal Highway Administration and Forest Service have recently released the Environmental Assessment for the Suiattle River Road Project, offering three alternatives for public consideration:
- Alternative A: No Action. Would result in no repairs to any of the eight flood-damaged sites along Road 26.
- Alternative B: Full Road Restoration. Repair Road 26 at all eight sites, with relocations away from the river and rehabilitation of abandoned sections of the 23-mile road.
- Alternative C: Limited Road Restoration. Repair Road 26 at five sites, with 20 miles of road open to vehicle access (to the junction of Green Mountain Road), but not beyond.
Here are five reasons why The Wilderness Society strongly supports Alternative B, restoring the road in its entirety, and encourages others to do the same:
- It will reopen important recreational resources that provide opportunities for all ages, interests, and ability levels to explore the wildlands and waters of the Suiattle, Glacier Peak Wilderness, and beyond. More than 120 miles of trail is accessible via the seven trailheads along the road; 113 miles (93 percent) of these trails are within the Glacier Peak Wilderness area. Many of these resources have been underutilized since 2003, and most have seen very little use since 2006. Green Mountain trail use has decreased 98 percent (from 1,414 to 19 reported users) since 2006 and although trails such as the Suiattle, Pacific Crest Trail, and Upper Suiattle River have all been restored since 2006, few have been able to enjoy the new trails.
- There is broad public support for reopening the road. Scoping comments gathered in 2011 showed that 90 percent of responders want the Suiattle Road reopened as soon as possible (Environmental Assessment, page 21). At the public meeting held in Everett on March 29, 2012, anecdotal evidence showed strong support for restoration of the road for all.
- The Federal Highway Administration has the money in hand to complete the repairs and open the road by 2013. Funding for any public infrastructure project is limited in the present economic situation and federal funding for road repair has declined significantly over the years. Through the political leadership of congressional representative Rick Larsen, the $4 million in funds from the Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads program is available until September 2013. Through an innovative partnership with the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, additional funding for the Downey Creek Bridge repair has been secured through the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board program. Any delay in this project will jeopardize these hard-to-come-by funds for the repair and restoration of the road.
- Reopening the road would allow the Forest Service to properly manage and maintain facilities along the road and in the wilderness. While recreational use of the Suiattle Road has decreased significantly since 2003 and more so since 2006, the Forest Service has continued administrative management and maintenance of facilities along the road. Motorized access along the entire road is critical to providing adequate public safety, regulatory compliance, and maintenance of National Forest recreational sites and facilities.
- Reopening the road would increase visitors to the area, thereby increasing economic activity in the greater Darrington area. The cumulative effects of 2003, 2006, and 2007 flood events have resulted in a reduced number of tourists and visitors to Darrington businesses as well as the Darrington Ranger Station (Environmental Assessment, page 147). While reopening the road may have a small positive economic impact on the town of Darrington, any increase in activity is good for the local economy.
There are many more reasons to support the full restoration of the Suiattle Road. The Wilderness Society views the full restoration as imperative; anything less will favor the wishes of a few over the desire of many. Restoration of the road will reopen access to seven trailheads, two campgrounds and large parking areas for hikers, bikers, river users, equestrians, and others. It will provide access to lakes, trails, streams and wild places people have explored for generations, and sorely missed for the last decade.
The Wilderness Society firmly believes to create future stewards of our public resources we must provide the opportunity for people to experience the wild places that will inspire them to care—the Suiattle offers such an opportunity.
To send a letter (comments due on Friday, April 20, 2012) to Washington State Department of Transportation regarding the reopening and restoration of Suiattle River:
Email: wfl [dot] suiattleriverroad [at] dot [dot] gov
Federal Highway Administration
610 East Fifth Street
Vancouver, WA 98661-3893
Photo of Image Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness by 'innocentspy'