Expansion of Wilderness Lands, in the Heart of the Greenway
The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley just got a little wilder. Those of us who recreate in the valley have always cherished its remote beauty and raw mystique. Now its federal designation matches. U.S. Congress just expanded the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to include spectacular lands in the upper Middle Fork River Valley and near Snoqualmie Pass. They also designated the 10-mile Pratt River and a segment of Middle Fork Snoqualmie River as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
This designation didn’t happen overnight. It’s been over a decade of patient work by many conservation groups and our federal delegation to steward it through Congress. The passing of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion highlights the history and power of bi-partisan land conservation in the Pacific Northwest. Congressman Dave Reichert and Senator Patty Murray championed these designations, marshaling them through seven years of congressional sessions, never losing passion for seeing this completed. They were backed by strong support from The Wilderness Society, Washington Trails Association, Alpine Lakes Protection Society, American Whitewater, and others. Congress passed the bill last week and is awaiting President Obama’s signature this week to turn it into law.
It’s a fitting tribute to protect these lands on the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which was signed into law in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness was created in 1976 to encompass the remote alpine lands along the Crest of the Cascades from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. This expansion will add 22,000 acres of U.S. forest lands into the wilderness area.
What this means
The wilderness designation sets a new framework for how the U.S. Forest Service manages these lands. To protect their wild aspects, it limits group size to 12 and restricts the use of motorized equipment and wheeled vehicles. It will not change the mountain bike access along the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trail, which was not included in the wilderness expansion.
The Wild and Scenic River designation on the Pratt River and a segment of Middle Fork Snoqualmie River helps protect the free-flowing nature of these rivers for wildlife and recreational benefits. It restricts dams and other water projects along their lengths, and protects against other bank and channel alterations that adversely affect the river.
A year of land conservation
2014 has been a busy year for land conservation in the Mountains to Sound Greenway. In October we celebrated the acquisition of 47,921 acres of forest land by The Nature Conservancy, the second largest land conservation effort in the history of the Greenway. Other projects have included conserving 40 acres on Taylor Mountain, 191 acres in the Snoqualmie Valley at Tall Chief, 1,280 acres near the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area and the recent expansion of the Middle Fork and Mailbox Natural Resource Conservation Areas.
The Greenway coalition also launched a broadly-supported effort to increase public access into the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley. The valley is a nationally recognized example of public lands that are easily accessible from the Seattle metropolitan area. A huge amount of work has gone into conserving and cleaning up the valley over the past 17 years. A road construction project which began this summer, will be complete in 2016 and will bring thousands of more visitors into the valley each year. The Greenway Trust is working with the State DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, and King County to prepare for this increased demand by planning and building dozens of family-friendly trailheads and trails, river access points, picnic areas and other facilities to enable more public use in this amazing valley.
Learn more about these upcoming recreation projects in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley.
Map Credit: cartography by Matt Stevenson/CORE GIS, funded by Alpine Lakes Protection Society