+14 30 votes

New Non-Motorized Areas for a New Year?

This unroaded basin above Clara Lake is being proposed as a non-motorized winter recreation area by the WMC. Twenty years ago, snow machines couldn't easily ride off-road through such basins, so these places were quiet escapes for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. Modern machines, however, can quickly and completely track up such basins. Forest management hasn't kept pace with how technology has changed the winter landscape. Today we need more nearby areas where non-motorized winter recreationalists can find the quiet, natural experience they value. Non-motorized visits were the original way the Forest was experienced in winter. Such visits also have far less impact on forest life and the forest environment. 

 

by the Wenatchee Mountains Coalition

 

 

The Proposal In Brief:

 

The Wenatchee Mountains Coalition has focused its efforts for more non-motorized winter recreation areas on three of the most accessible, high-elevation areas along the pristine crest of the Wenatchee Mountains. These areas include: 1) the area contiguous to Mission Ridge Ski Area by Clara and Marion Lakes, 2) Haney Meadow and Mt Lillian (contiguous to the longstanding Tronsen Non-Motorized Area), and 3) the area around Stafford Creek between Earl Peak and Three Brothers that is contiguous to the existing Beverly-Bean Voluntary Non-Motorized Area. We are asking the Forest Supervisor and the Forest Plan Revision Team to designate these as new, non-motorized areas for winter recreation. 

 

Our efforts have resulted in input from skiers, snowshoers, snowmobile-assisted skiers, and snowmobile enthusiasts. We’ve also talked to elected officials, snowmobile industry representatives, and Forest Service officials. As a result of all this discussion, we have identified and are proposing that three new areas be established for non-motorized winter recreation. We've fashioned three different proposals with Proposal 1 establishing the most area set aside the most land for non-motorized recreation, Proposal 3  setting aside the least land, and Proposal 2 being a compromised position (these are large files that take 20 to 30 seconds to load).

 

The Wenatchee Mountains Coalition met in 2010 with Forest Service District personnel and also with the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Supervisor regarding our non-motorized winter recreation proposal.  Now we are asking forest users and recreationalists like you to speak up and advocate for more non-motorized areas that you can enjoy.

 

Non-motorized winter recreationalists are a larger user group than snowmobilers --they are also the original winter recreationalists visiting our National Forests. Consequently we are asking Forest Managers here in Central Washington for more parity and to designate more places offering significant opportunities for those of us who enjoy the quiet, pristine quality of visiting the Forest under our own steam.

 

Please weigh-in by Emailing, mailing, or calling: Rebecca Heath (Forest Supervisor) and the Forest Plan Revision Team: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Headquarters, 215 Melody Lane, Wenatchee, WA 98801,  r6_ewzplanrevision@fs.fed.us, (509) 664-9200. 

Add your full name, city of residence, and phone number to the note so that the Forest Service can verify you're a real person. Also, please Carbon Copy us so we can track support and capture additional thoughts/ideas from non-motorized recreationalists. We respect your privacy and won't share your contact information or identity. Our email: wenatcheemountainscoalition@hotmail.com

 

More about the issue as posted this summer on WenatcheeOutdoors.

 

Powder skiing from the south Mt. Lillian summit (6,191 feet).  The Wenatchee Mountains Coalition Proposal asks for this area and Haney Meadow to be added to the longstanding Tronsen Non-Motorized Area.

 

 ++++

 

 

The Long Story

Snowmobile National Forest?

Skiers, snowshoers, and other non-motorized Forest users are increasingly denied their use of the Forest because of noise, impacts to the snow, and safety concerns including vehicle versus pedestrian and avalanche hazard from a climbing machine. Noise and deep rutting by 150-plus-horsepower machines alter the quiet snow-travel experience to the point that pedestrian use has been greatly reduced in many places.

 

Forest Service literature states, “Hundreds of miles of opportunities for snowmobiling groomed snowmobile trails plus un-groomed forest roads are available each winter(from the OWNF website). Uncontrolled, dispersed snowmobile riding has not been specifically prohibited on the Forest. However, uncontrolled, dispersed snowmobile riding on the Forest has not been documented as having received reasonable consideration. Such consideration may include the impacts to the resources, the wildlife, and the ecosystem, the impacts to other Forest users, and whether such use is appropriate.  Uncontrolled, dispersed snowmobile riding has not been ‘designated’ or even discussed in a significant fashion based on the Forest Service regulations and literature that we have located in research.

Photo above: Currently the entire pristine crest of the Wenatchee Mountains is ridden by snowmobiles. The Wenatchee Mountains Coalition requests that the Forest Supervisor and Forest Plan Revision Team designate significant, new winter areas along this crest for non-motorized use.

The entire pristine crest as described has snowmobile traffic to the summits in winter. As a result of snowmobile technology and use rapidly outpacing USFS management, snowmobile riding dominates snowy terrain. Areas now ridden by snowmobiles are tracked, deeply rutted, and completely dominated by snowmobile riding. These areas include from flat to high slope angles to 40 degrees, including sidehill riding on 20 to 30 degree slopes. Engine horsepower for a standard 2011 Ski Doo two-stroke engine is now advertised as 163.9 HP for a machine with a listed dry weight of 489 pounds. One snowmobile may be ridden through the mountains and have greater impact on the snow, slopes, wildlife, and plant life in an hour than dozens of skiers will have over the course of a day.

The author of this proposal has used a snowmobile to access ski tours in the Wenatchee Mountains since 1988. Twenty years ago he observed that snowmobiling occurred on or close to Forest Roads. Now, with the advent of much more powerful machines, Forest Roads are simply used as access for the new sport of riding snowmobiles off-road. Snowmobile riding is occurring on all manners of slopes that could not be ridden 20 years ago. Such riding is also occurring on virtually all of the open slopes, and through most of the forests with spaced trees within our Proposed Areas.

This has impacted the forest, wildlife, plant life, and other recreationalists in a way that simply happened rather than in a way that was studied, deliberated over, planned, and managed by the Forest Service.

Why is this area targeted for winter non-motorized designation?

The pristine Wenatchee Mountains crest is one of the few areas in Washington offering the unique type and quality of experience for higher altitude winter non-motorized recreation. There is a long history of winter recreation predating the current snowmobile domination of this area. Members of the Sherpa Climbing Club such as Gene Prater of Ellensburg and Bill Asplund of Wenatchee used the earliest snowmobiles for Forest Road access to trailheads in order to climb on snowshoes the peaks along the Teanaway crest area of the Proposal. Early cross cross-country ski enthusiasts created the XC 15 Trail from Swauk Pass to Haney Meadow in the early 1960’s.

Instructor and guide, Liv Nurmann, led clients on skis to the historic cabin at Haney Meadow for overnight trips. These guided trips occurred over two decades ago at a time when snowmobile technology was not capable of extensive off-road snowmobile travel. Currently, the entire area surrounding Haney Meadow is regularly tracked completely by constant snowmobile traffic, thus rendering the area undesirable and unsafe for overnight, non-motorized excursions that occurred here in the past.

Ski touring and snowshoeing are practiced by people who seek beautiful, pristine areas with views, silence, solitude, and untrammeled snow. Open slopes that are accessible to non-motorized users, and that are of moderate angle so as not to be very avalanche prone are relatively rare in the Cascades. The Wenatchee Mountains Coalition Proposal has a number of easily accessed areas that provide non-motorized winter recreationalists with significant opportunities for day-use, weekend, and multi-day outings. These areas would serve novice to expert cross-country skiers, snowshoers, telemark skiers, Alpine ski tourers, and winter campers. The Proposed Areas would also provide tremendous views of the very scenic but the less accessible and less hospitable Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Stuart Range.

Photo below: Ski touring is a sport for adults, kids, and families. This photo was taken on the south ridge of Mt. Lillian. The deep snowmobile ruts encountered here not only caused difficult ski-climbing, but made downhill skiing very difficult and unpleasant. In an hour one snowmobile can render unusuable snow-covered slopes that fifty skiers or snowshoers could enjoy all day.

 

About  Wilderness and Wilderness snowmobile trespass

Wilderness was not designed to be easily accessed for winter recreation. In fact, most of our regional Wilderness Areas are not easily accessed for the average non-motorized winter recreationalists unless they use a snowmobile to reach the wilderness boundary. Consequently, most skiers, snowshoers, and winter campers have little opportunity to use the winter Forest in areas that are quiet and devoid of snowmobile use. 

Sadly, a skier (or snowshoer) who does travel over mountainous terrain for several hours to reach the Wilderness Boundary in order to ski  a north-facing slope, is also likely to be greeted by snowmobiles or widespread snowmobile tracks that have overridden slopes within the Wilderness Boundary. The author of this proposal has witnessed this frequently.

For example, for pedestrian access to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a skier (snowshoer) often travels through a roadless area that is still heavily used by snowmobile riders. The Beverly-Bean Voluntary Non-Motorized Area serves as a pedestrian corridor to Wilderness, but that area has narrow canyons with significant avalanche terrain to complicate travel there. Also, snowmobiles enter the Beverly-Bean Voluntary Non-Motorized Area from Stafford Creek to the Earl Peak summit and to the summer trail area on Earl Peak.

As a result, the integrity of the area for non-motorized use is incomplete. The ridge crest forming the Wilderness Boundary and Wilderness Lands of Ingalls Creek and Jack Creek valleys are significantly affected by the noise and physical intrusion of regular and habitual snowmobile riding. The Stafford Creek Trail area would provide an avalanche-safe corridor to the Wilderness, and would provide a significant quiet area that includes all types of terrain, opportunities for winter camping, and would include the magnificent ridge-top views of the Stuart Range, the Wenatchee Mountains, and the Cascades.

Snowmobile trespass of the Wilderness Areas contiguous to the Proposal Area is egregious, sustained, intentional, expressed by some as a 'right’, and has been defended with written threats to those reporting it. If the status quo continues, snowmobile trespass of the Wilderness will not cease or lessen. Our industry contact speaks candidly of having ridden “across Ingalls Lake first in 1984”, and states that snowmobile riders have ridden past bright-colored Wilderness Boundary signs “for 30 years.” Local discussion indicates this problem is widespread from Stevens Pass to Cle Elum, is difficult to enforce, and is , therefore, unlikely to be enforced in the future.

If implemented, however, our Proposal provides a manageable solution by closing the slopes between the higher Wilderness Boundaries and the lower Forest Roads used to access the boundaries. This would allow Forest Service Enforcement to occur at the Forest Roads -- any snowmobile travel above them would be unlawful. In other words, within the existing Forest Service budgets the snowmobile enforcement personnel could enforce the boundary by patrolling the Teanaway Road, which is an enforceable boundary and one lacking the hazards encountered by personnel trying to enforce the Teanaway/Ingalls Crest.

Photo: This Leavenworth resident often enjoys ski touring in the area of the Proposal. In this photo he was 71 when he climbed and skied 3000 vertical feet of powder. At this time he also witnessed Wilderness snowmobile trespassing that was reported to the Sheriff and the Forest Service. No enforcement transpired.

Skiing the west face of Diamond Head. This area is currently open to snowmobiles. Snowmobiles now routinely climb this face and follow the summit ridge into the Tronsen Non-Motorized Area.

What is left for snowmobile riding?

The better question is this: Outside of Wilderness Areas (which constitutes a small percentage of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest) what percentage of the Forest is not available for snowmobile riding?’ The answer: Only a tiny sliver of non-Wilderness Forest Land is closed to snowmobiling. This Proposal does not seek to deter snowmobile use anywhere that’s consistent with the Forest Service’s statement on their website about the services they provide for snowmobiles, “Hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails plus un-groomed forest roads are available each winter for snowmobiling opportunities.”

Bordering our Proposal Areas there are similar, high-altitude areas that snowmobile riders may enjoy in Esmerelda Basin, on Gallagher Head and Hawkins Mountain, and in areas surrounding Salmon La Sac. From the Blewett Sno-Park, even after designation of new winter non-motorized areas, snowmobile riders will have access to similar areas that are many larger than the non-motorized areas. From Diamond Head to the south toward Lion Rock, motorized users will have miles of steep open slopes for climbing, gentle open meadows, open forests, and Forest Roads that facilitate access to these areas.

When Haney Meadow and the open slopes of Mt. Lillian above Haney Meadow are designated as winter non-motorized area, snowmobile riders will retain, just downstream, Naneum Meadow, which is larger than Haney Meadow and also has many hill-climbing slopes for snowmobile recreation.

Why should human-powered enthusiasts support this initiative? 

The pristine Wenatchee Mountains crest is one of the rare areas in Washington offering easy access to high-quality, high-altitude winter recreation. It offers skiers and snowshoers the opportunity for both day and weekend trips. The area lies at the center of the state and receives better weather and more consistent snow quality than the Cascade Crest. It is the quality of the area along with its accessibility to pedestrian use that makes it unique and valued terrain for non-motorized winter recreation.

You are needed for this effort. Skiers, snowshoers, and winter campers tend to be individualistic and less organized than snowmobile groups that are well organized and are well funded due to corporate ties. Still, non-motorized visitors are a huge user group of the National Forest and very little wintertime terrain has been established to help non-motorized recreationalists enjoy their activities in a quiet environment that’s consistent with what they value from their recreation.

The Wenatchee Mountains Coalition is most definitely NOT about banning snowmobiles from the Forest. We are NOT seeking to curtail how snowmobiles are used throughout the rest of the Forest. We are simply asking for a small amount of parity so that those of us who want to enjoy the winter Forest on more natural terms have a few, easily accessed places to enjoy our form of recreation. The areas that we seek in this Proposal are small compared to the extensive Forest areas that are available to recreationalists using snowmobiles.

Photo: Members of the Wenatchee Mountains Coalition are not anti-snowmobiling, but know that non-motorized users have recreational values that conflict with snowmobiling. Non-motorized visitors are a large user group and should have some easily accessed roadless areas for their own recreation. The author of this article uses snowmobiles on Forest Road to access ski tours in the Wenatchee Mountains. In this picture, the author used snowmobiles to reach the Forest Road pass by Iron Mountain and then skied off-road to reach Three Brothers and Navaho Peaks in the background.

Please send your comments asking that more areas be designated for non-motorized winter recreation (contact info listed above in the ‘In Brief’ section). Also stay informed of developments in the upcoming Draft of the Forest Plan Revision and follow-up with additional letters and comments.