Friday, October 23, 2009

Gold Bar Access Update

Last night, I attended an informational meeting the Department of Natural Resources held in Monroe to discuss their plan for the Reiter Foothills Area. The DNR made it known they they will be temporarily closing the Gold Bar road to all motorized vehicle access on November 2, 2009.

The DNR has decided to enact this closure in order to re-work the area into a more sustainable ORV use area with less environmental impact. The DNR's plan is to reduce the acreage accessible to ORV users from the current 10,000 acres to 2,000 acres of developed trails. They expect to re-open the area sometime during the Spring/Summer of 2010. During the interim, the Reiter Foothills area will be open to foot traffic only. There were roughly 200 ORV users at the meeting last night and, needless to say, they were livid. One woman in attendance repeatedly shouted "why don't you shut down Seattle, too!?" and another man kept interrupting the DNR representative with screams that "you're just a goddamn Democrat," an epithet that brought hisses and catcalls from the raucous crowd. There was no mention of rock climbing at the meeting, and given the crowd's open hostility to hikers and other non-motorized users of the land, I wasn't about to speak up.

It is still unclear what this temporary closure means for climbers. As a "primitive" user group, we will still be able to use the area in the manner we're accustomed to. To be sure, all climbing access to Gold Bar this winter will be via the three-plus-mile walk from Reiter Road. This drawback is somewhat offset by the fact that you will not risk getting run down by a dirt bike or rock-crawler on your way up the hill. Another benefit is that camping (albiet walk-in camping) will now be allowed. It is not clear, however, whether the DNR's plan includes restoration of the road to the clearcut or not. When the area re-opens, the road may be better, or it may quickly become worse. Because of the ORV acreage reduction, I expect that we will see more ORV use on the road to the clearcut, but less dirt bikers in the Forest areas. Whether the plan will be successful in combating the vandalism, illegal dumping, and illegal handgun use in the area is also yet to be seen. For now, the climbing community will simply have to go with the flow and take what we can get. To get involved with efforts to secure long-term climbing access in Gold Bar, contact the Washington Climbers Coalition. But for now, just get a good pair of walking shoes and enjoy the peace and quiet...

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