07-09-2009, 09:28 AM
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Selah, Washington
Greenie News - Saving the Entiat
A mountain biker carries his bike over a tree along the Mad River Trail in 1999. (World file photo/Mike Bonnicksen)
Commentary: Saving the Entiat
State trails group working to protect a fragile landscape
Commentary: Saving the Entiat
By Karl Forsgaard
Washington Trails Association
Posted July 07, 2009
In March 2009, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest published maps of proposed changes in roads and trails open to motorized use. Reviewing the new maps inevitably brought reflection on how we got here, and where weíre headed.
I began working on these trails in 1991 with the WTA Issues Committee. Expertise on the committee included authors Ira Spring and Harvey Manning. Our advocacy work took some personal time, but itís a worthy cause ó I met new friends and learned about some great places to hike! Thatís how I was introduced to the wonderful Entiat and Mad River country.
In early 1992, WTA intervened in litigation to support the Forest Serviceís decision to close the North Fork Entiat River Trails to motorcycles. We wrote some powerful arguments that the federal courts adopted. The Ninth Circuitís North Entiat decision is still the leading case in the U.S. on use conflict between motorized and non-motorized users, and the North Fork Entiat Trail remains open to hikers, horses and mountain bikes.
With my sons I celebrated the North Entiat victory by hiking at Big Hill on the Pyramid Mountain Trail. I carried Nick on my back, and Anders toddled on foot. On open meadow ridges high above Lake Chelan, this trail has spectacular flower displays in July. As the boys grew bigger, we kept going back, sometimes with their mom too.
The Mad River country is between the Entiat River and the Chiwawa River. In 1993, WTA met with motorcyclists and Entiat District personnel about Three Creek and Shetipo, relatively parallel trails connecting the Entiat Valley with the upper Mad River. It was proposed that one trail be motorized and the other not. We didnít reach agreement then, but maybe we will soon ó the proposal reappeared on the Forestís March 2009 maps.
More trail explorations followed the 1996 Goose-Maverick motorcycle trail proposal. Above Maverick Saddle, the upper Mad River Trail follows the pristine river to its headwaters and beyond, through the forested subalpine plateau and large meadows ó Blue Creek, Whistling Pig, Mad Lake, and many more.
In early summer, there is a seasonal closure to motorcycles, to protect the wet soils immediately after snowmelt. So early-season hikers can experience natural quiet as flowers start to bloom before motorcycles arrive. As Dylan said, a highway of diamonds with nobody on it. Trails lead to the summits of Klone Peak and Cougar Mountain, and along Chikamin Ridge, with airy views down Three Creek valley. Bull trout, a threatened species, live in the Mad River.
Over the years Iíve met a lot of motorcyclists on the Mad River Trails. Although their machines are noisy, the local riding culture is polite. Iíve also worked alongside motorcycle advocates in meetings about projects, trail funding grant programs, and the biennial trail conferences hosted by the Washington State Trails Coalition.
WTAís successful advocacy also led to work outside Washington.
Our informal national network became the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition, and we petitioned the Forest Service for the off-road vehicle (ORV) rule that is now being implemented as Travel Management.
For the latest lawsuit, we hiked many times along the lower Mad River, a different ecosystem than the upper Mad, but beautiful in its own way, with grassy slopes and scattered Ponderosa pines, some burned areas and more of those bull trout.
In these unprotected roadless areas, increased ORV use continues to displace hikers. Those who seek peace and quiet will be driven away by those who make noise, and itís never the other way around.
ORVs also have negative impacts on wildlife, vegetation, soil and water. The Forest Service has said that the Entiat-Mad River roadless area is highly suitable for addition to the adjacent Glacier Peak Wilderness.
ORV interests will oppose such protection, while seeking to entrench ORV use in as many places as possible.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest just completed a public comment period on the proposed maps. They will need to complete an environmental impact statement for the final plan, and theyíll be submitting a range of maps for public comment in late fall as part of that process.
Organizations like the Washington Trails Association will continue to update the public on the ongoing travel management process and opportunities to be heard.
Karl Forsgaard is a Washington Trails Association advisory board member. This article first appeared in the May-June issue of Washington Trails, the associationís magazine. For more, visit the groupís Web site at www.wta.org.