Fall flood damage hampers forest access - The Forest Service says it will be 2005 before it has money to start fixing numerous washed-out trails, roads and bridges near Darrington.
The massive wave of destruction left by last fall's record flood is no secret, but it's only now that the 5.5 million people who visit the forest each year are starting to realize how severely their recreation options have been curtailed.
The 100-year storm came the weekend of Oct. 17, and in one 24-hour period poured more than 6 inches of rain on Darrington, and more than 10 inches -- perhaps more -- on the flanks of Glacier Peak.
Although the flood damage spanned the entire 1.7-million acre forest, the worst of it occurred around Darrington, where half of the 500,000-acre Darrington Ranger District is now inaccessible, said Gary Paull, trails coordinator for Mount Baker-Snoqualmie.
"I thought it looked a little like the aftermath of Mount St. Helens," Paull said, adding the aftermath of the storm was among the most damaging things he's ever seen. "I've lived here all my life, but I've never seen a storm like that."
Topping the list of impacts: The Mountain Loop Highway from Darrington to Granite Falls is closed; a roundtrip hike to Glacier Peak is now 20 miles longer; a 50-mile detour has been added to the Pacific Crest Trail; and a boat launch for Sauk River rafters needs to be replaced.
The damage tally is $12.5 million, $8.3 million for washed-out Forest Service roads and bridges, and $4.2 million for trails -- numbers that could be revised upward once more-remote locations are reviewed. Pieces of 40 forest roads were washed out, including several bridges, 24 trail bridges were destroyed and 20 pieces of trail were washed out.
The Forest Service took media to damaged sections of the forest Monday to show just how much public access will be restricted this summer.
"We simply have to communicate to people that it isn't going to be restored overnight," said Ron DeHart, a Forest Service spokesman.
If funding comes this spring, actual repairs won't start until next summer, and most roads and trails won't open until the summer of 2006 or later.
People who want to play will find somewhere else to go, but that won't help the few rural business owners here who depend on a surge of summer visitors to stay afloat.
"We depend an awful lot on the tourist," said Richard Anderson, owner of Sauk River Trading Post, an outdoor store in Darrington. "Every business does."
Anderson was eager to hear when the roads would be repaired. When he heard not until 2006 or 2007, he looked surprised. "Phew, that is going to hurt," he said.
Considering the situation, businesses owners are going to have to be creative to keep dollars coming in.
Instead of worrying about the washed-out Mountain Loop Highway, Anderson suggested connecting with businesses in Concrete to the north to emphasize a scenic route up Highway 530 to Highway 20.
He also wants to get maps showing places where hikers and campers can still go.
Members of the river-rafting community think they may have found a way to work around the flood damage.
Allyson Moore of Orion Expeditions in Seattle said guides with her company already have scouted the Sauk River. The flooding changed many rapids, but the river is still fine for rafting.
"The main concern is the put-in" location, Moore said.
The October flood destroyed the bridge across the White Chuck River where commercial rafters are supposed to embark at the confluence with the Sauk River. The Forest Service is working with rafting companies to see if an alternative location across the Sauk would suffice, Darrington District Ranger Terry Skorheim said.
Many would-be recreationists already are stumbling up against closed roads.
Marc Byrd of Monroe had his bid to scout out a future hiking trip up part of Glacier Peak thwarted Monday when he came upon a section of the White Chuck River Road washed away by the flood.
"I'm not really OK with it," he said, adding that he knows it takes time to fix washed-out roads. "It's just a matter of getting the money to fix it."
A pending federal appropriations bill has the money the Forest Service needs to fix the roads, and possibly has the money needed for the trails, but the Forest Service isn't counting on the money until it arrives.
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