Suiattle Road Recon (Jun 10, 2011)

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suiattle_road_coverConditions: bike ride
Gear: bike, camera
Map: USGS Prairie Mountain, USGS Huckleberry Mountain, USGS Downey Mountain
Area: Darrington
Reference: n/a
Stats: 18.75mi, 918' gain (round trip)

I wanted to do a recon trip of the road. This road has been nearly closed in it's entirety since flood damaged or took our portions of the road since 2003. The closure is quickly approaching 10 years. Way too long.

I'm not going to make any apologies for my position on the road. The road should be reopened to the end as soon as possible. Those that wish to close this road and convert it to a "beautiful birding trail" have lost their minds. Their one and only goal is defacto Wilderness expansion. I'm for Wilderness. But I'm also for access. Access gives people ownership of these treasures. Denying access erodes ownership and should the area become threatened by various interests in the future, people won't be likely to want to protect those treasures because their access has been limited.

My first exposure to this greater area came through volunteer trail maintenance trips with Washington Trails Association. I've done many work parties on Huckleberry Mountain and Green Mountain*. I've hiked a ways up the Sulphur Mountain trail. I've worked a cross cut saw time with WTA to clear old growth trees that have come down across the trail. I've hiked up portions of the older abandoned Milk Creek trail. Many times a group of us have camped in the old FS corral at Green Mtn Pasture. I've raced, up the Buck Creek Trail to assist with a SAR event (trapped and injured hiker). I have dreams of many more places I'd like to return to or visit for the first time...access all provided by the Suiattle Road.

I parked just before the gate, near the Huckleberry Mountain TH (mp12). I strapped the panniers to the bike and up the road I sent. There have been repairs done over the years, accelerating more so recently only to be slowed down or stalled by the constant string of lawsuits. I was barely started when I gaze up the Huckleberry Mountain trail. Oh the days of slinging mud off the trail. The occasional hike to the summit. The overnight camping at the corral only to get up the next morning to continue working the trail.

Back on the bike I rode past the old Buck Creek Campground. Before the washout this campground was packed to the gills with families enjoying the area. Then on I rode towards Green Mountain Pasture. Campfires here with fellow WTA crew leaders. The sound of Blackhawk helicopters hovering overhead during a SAR event. So many memories here... I rode past the road junction where Green Mountain Road heads uphill. So many work parties up that way. I really miss those meadows up high. Then, a stop in the Downey Creek CG. I got off my bike. The place was eerily quiet. Weird to see the TH sign, very strange to see all the campsites empty and overgrown. It almost felt post apocalyptic. Then a short stretch uphill after Downey Creek. Here the old road really starts to become overgrown. Brush creeping in from both sides. The road narrowed to barely a trail.

I had headed out for my bike ride after a short day at work. It was getting late. I was nearly 10 miles up the road...reluctantly it was time I turn around.

Minutes later...I was nearly attached by a mother grouse. She came at my head almost as fast as I could bike downhill. She must have been nesting nearby. Then near the bottom of the hill I nearly teed into a deer. Yikes!

The good news is that there has been a finding of no significant impact to the alternative that opens up the road to it's former end. This is excellent news! It's likely, the road could open again the summer of 2014. Hopefully it's not delayed again by more lawsuits. I very likely will be one of the first cars in line to drive the road the day it opens to the public. I'm going to mark that date on my calendar as soon as the opening is announced.

The news is not so good for Green Mountain Lookout. It's removal has been ordered. It's still not too late to fight this. It's not too late to write in support of preserving the structure where it stands the top of Green Mountain. No voice is small enough. No letter insignificant enough. We've fought this battle before...we wrote our letters by the hundred for Suiattle Road and we won. We can win again with the lookout.

*Green Mountain Lookout is a historic Forest Service Lookout threatened with removal by many of the same groups that propose converting the road to a "beautiful birding trail". Here are a couple of links to article/websites with background on the lookout. Please write your representative in support keeping this historic lookout.
HeraldNet Sept 2012 article
Joel Connelly Seattle PI Sept 2012 article
Darrington Historical Society
H.R. 908: Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act

Here are some links about the Suiattle River Road project:
Western Federal Lands Highway determination of no significant impact
HeraldNet article May 2012
HeraldNet article November 2012

I'll continue to update this page with additional links and news about the road and the lookout as the issues progress.

Green Mountain Lookout SAVED!
Suiattle River Road Conditions
Western Federal Lands Highway Update
Suiattle Road Slideshow

(click on map to view a larger version)

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