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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Officials hold Darrington open house to discuss the Suiattle River Road

Everett Herald - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Officials hold Darrington open house to discuss the Suiattle River Road
An open house will discuss proposals to repair Suiattle River Road
By Gale Fiege, Herald Writer

DARRINGTON -- People with concerns about forest road projects and access into the Darrington District of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are encouraged to attend an open house Thursday.

Federal Highway Administration staff plan to be there to talk about proposed repairs to the once popular flood-damaged Suiattle River Road, also known as Forest Service Road No. 26.

The 23-mile-long Suiattle River Road begins near Darrington, and heads east along the north side of the Suiattle River. The upper end of the road has been closed since storms caused major damage in 2003, 2006 and 2007. Washouts on the road have made it difficult for most people in Snohomish County to hike into the Glacier Peak Wilderness and get to the Pacific Crest Trail.

In the face of a lawsuit filed in April, the federal government backed out of plans to repair the road this summer. The Pilchuck Audubon Society, the North Cascades Conservation Council and Lynnwood engineer and hiker Bill Lider brought the lawsuit. They contended that the proposed repairs were not subject to a proper environmental assessment and would destroy old trees that are home to the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet, as well as damage parts of the Suiattle River, which has a scenic river designation with protection for salmon. Lider also objected to the use of emergency highway repair funds for the project, since the last damaging flood was in 2007.
Washington Trails Association advocacy director Jonathan Guzzo said he thought the previous environmental assessment for the road repair project was good enough, calling it "a significant and sufficient assessment." The lawsuit and the delay of repairs to Suiattle River Road 26 made a lot of hikers upset, Guzzo said.

The Darrington Area Business Association recently formed a committee of people willing to volunteer their time to make sure it's easier to get into campgrounds and trails in the forest.

"It is our position that, as industrial uses of the local forest have declined, we should be seeing an increase in recreational use as a means to help maintain the local economy through tourism," association President Nels Rasmussen said. "However, fewer miles of roads, fewer campgrounds, and trails becoming less accessible to families limits tourism possibilities which further squeezes the local economy."

In withdrawing its plans for road repairs this summer, Federal Highway Administration officials promised additional environmental analysis. A new assessment is scheduled for release later this year with a 30-day public comment period, said Renee Bodine, spokeswoman for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Federal High Administration and U.S. Forest Service officials propose repairing flood-damaged sites along Suiattle River Road during the summers of 2012 through 2014, with the hope of reopening access to trailheads, wilderness, campgrounds, hunting, fishing, gathering and tribal lands, said Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes.

The Suiattle River Road was established in the early 1900s by miners packing out to work their claims. By the 1930s, the road extended nearly 20 miles to the Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed Buck Creek Campground. In the big timber heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, the road was used heavily by logging trucks.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427;

Open house in Darrington

An open house regarding roads into the national forest is scheduled from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday, at the Darrington District Ranger Station of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, 1405 Emens Ave. N., on Highway 530 just outside of Darrington.

For more information about the open house, call the Darrington Ranger District at 360-436-1155 or go to

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