Proposal to develop recreation opportunities near I-90 wildlife overpass worries some
A little-noticed Washington State Parks proposal to build dozens of cabins just east of Snoqualmie Pass is raising concerns from wildlife advocates who say the development would jeopardize the success of a nearby Interstate 90 wildlife overpass.
“This is an area where there have been decades of investment in wildlife habitat, including the overpass just 1,000 feet away, and much of that could be compromised by year-round use and development,” said Chase Gunnell, communications manager for Conservation Northwest.
The cabin proposal is one of 11 projects that could potentially be built and run by private businesses under a new program approved by the state Parks and Recreation Commission last year.
The idea is that new facilities such as rental cabins, RV parks and dining could draw more visitors and raise funds for the park system. It’s part of the parks’ strategy to become more self-sufficient as general fund support has dropped 75 percent over the past decade.
The Crystal Springs proposal would convert a former gravel pit on Stampede Pass Road just south of Interstate 90 into a 60-acre recreation center with a small lodge with food options and up to 100 heated cabins, with the possibility of an RV park and other services.
The only recreational use in the area now is a popular winter parking area for access to the Iron Horse State Park Trail and Stampede Pass area.
The site is just south of the $6.2 million wildlife bridge under construction at Price Creek. It’s a major piece of the 20 planned overpasses and underpasses that aim to restore habitat connectivity for animals large and small that’s part of the nearly $1 billion I-90 overhaul.
In addition to the crossings, tens of millions of dollars have been spent in the past decade or so to protect forest land along the I-90 corridor in western Kittitas County.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a coalition of wildlife advocates supporting the crossings project are asking that the development proposal be dropped because of the conflict with key wildlife habitat efforts.
The wildlife department is concerned that increased use by people could deter animals from taking advantage of the new crossings and “undermine significant public investment to improve wildlife connectivity and migration in the area,” according to a letter that habitat biologist Scott Downes wrote to the parks commission in late January.
“Currently, the site is used for minimal winter recreation in the daytime, so the wildlife, which move mostly at night, can handle that little bit of recreational use, but that’s very different from a lodge with a conference center, cabins, and an RV lot that’s open all year round,” Gunnell said.
The parks commission is expected to consider approval of the 11 development proposals at its meeting in late March. For approved proposals, the commission will then seek private-sector bids for development, according to parks’ public outreach documents.
The two other development proposals in Central Washington are both in Chelan County: a proposed lodge, cabins and RV park at Squilchuck State Park aimed at Mission Ridge visitors, and up to 100 cabins or vacation homes, a lodge, and dry boat storage at Twenty-Five Mile Creek State Park along Lake Chelan.
[NOTE from the Greenway Trust: After this story went to press, State Parks determined to hold off on this proposal pending further discussions with their partners in the area.]