Report: More money needed for weather-ravaged trails

Thursday, June 3, 2004
Associated Press
King 5 News

SEATTLE - Floods and fires have hit hundreds of miles of the state's hiking trails so hard they could stay closed for years unless Congress dramatically boosts funding to repair them, the Washington Trails Association says in a new report.

Heavy rains washed out gaping sections of popular trails in the Olympic Mountains and western Cascades, while wildfires turned swaths of northcentral Washington's Pasayten Wilderness into a dangerous patchwork of burned trees, loose ash and unstable soil.

Many forest roads and trails were washed out during last October's flood.
"Some of these well-loved hiking trails are now totally inaccessible or so heavily damaged that they are unsafe or impossible to hike," said Jonathan Guzzo, advocacy director for the 5,500-member trails association.

The past year's devastation is just part of the problem outlined in the group's report, "Endangered Trails 2004," scheduled for Thursday release.

Shrinking budgets for trail maintenance have saddled wilderness managers with a daunting backlog of badly needed repairs.

"You're barely struggling to get by from year to year and you get something like this ... it's off the charts as to what you can get done," said Dave Redman, recreation budget coordinator for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service - which manages most of the state's 9,000 miles of hiking trails - has a $9 million trail maintenance backlog for Washington and Oregon and only $6.3 million pegged to repair trails this year.

Neither data from past years nor a state-by-state breakdown was available Wednesday, but Al Matecko, the Forest Service's director of public and legislative affairs for the Northwest, said there's no question the agency is struggling to meet a longer list of needs than it can fund.

"Dollars are tough right now," Matecko said. "We realize there's a big backlog of programs and a shrinking budget with a lot of requirements."

The trails association singled out 10 of the most seriously damaged trails in its Endangered Trails report. Four of them are in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, three are in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, two are in the North Cascades National Park and one is in the Olympic National Park.

Those alone will cost an estimated $2 million to repair.

Hundreds more miles of damaged trails across the state could increase the bill to more than $10 million.

"Who knows? There could be more flood damage, but we were only able to check a small percentage of our trails," said Jennifer Zbyszewski, spokeswoman for the Methow Valley Ranger District.

"Right now, we're just waiting for the snow to melt so we can get in there to check it out." Pete Dewell, a retired lawyer from Everett, has seen a lot of the damage firsthand, volunteering on trail maintenance crews for the trails association. He recently helped rebuild three sections of a trail washed out by the Sauk River near Darrington.

"You started in and it was just great, then all of a sudden, the trail ended with a cliff down to the water," said Dewell, 74.

"It wasn't just the trail that was washed out. ... Some enormous trees that came down and fell over the trail had to be cut and rolled aside." Volunteers like Dewell have chipped in nearly 400,000 hours of trail work on public lands in the state since 1993 - work the trails association estimated is worth more than $4 million.

They say they'll keep at it, but hope the Forest Service, the National Parks Service and various state and county agencies that manage trails will step up and take on a bigger share of the work.

"Volunteers are working hard to do their part, but we can't fix much of this recent damage," Dewell said. "It is simply beyond the scope of what volunteers can do."

Washington's top 10 endangered trails

Washington Trails Association

U.S. Forest Service
The Washington Trails Association lists 10 trails as the most endangered in the state:
1. Pacific Crest Trail/Suiattle Creek/Mill Creek Loop

2. Middle Cascade River

3. White Chuck Bench

4. Peek-A-Boo Lake

5. Thunder Creek

6. Little Beaver Creek

7. Andrews Creek

8. Lake Creek

9. West Fork Methow

10. South Fork Skokomish

Yakima Correspondent Shannon Dininny contributed to this story.



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