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Crowd-funding project could protect North Bend's Middle Fork

Every year, thousands of hikers, kayakers, anglers, bikers and campers visit the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. They come for the recreation, and for the remote beauty of a wilderness so close to home, about 30 miles from Seattle.

Also every year, and some would argue because of those users, the narrow, winding road into and out of the popular destination develops more ruts and potholes, the trails get worn down and the riverbanks are peppered with bootleg trails, campsites and even toilets.

In a novel tactic for solving some of these problems, several groups have combined efforts and are looking to users to help improve the Middle Fork area, most of which is federal- or state-owned public land. The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, Washington Trails Association, American Whitewater, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, The Mountaineers, Issaquah Alps Trails Club, and Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, have launched a crowd-funding venture, an indiegogo website (www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-trails-wildlife-in-the-middle-fork-snoqualmie-more-play-less-impact) to raise money for needed improvements.

“I think it’s a really good approach to letting people donate to what they really love,” said Mark Boyar, a founding and current member of the Greenway Trust board.

It’s also a good way for them, ultimately, to protect what they love, because the recreational population on the Middle Fork will only increase, say folks like Boyar, when a $20 million federal road reconstruction project is completed. Nearly 10 miles of the Middle Fork Road, from the eastern intersection with Lake Dorothy Road to the Middle Fork Campground, will be rebuilt and paved, re-opening in 2016 with even better access to the already well-used recreation areas.

“Some people say it’s the worst road in the state, and it may not be, but it’s the one that’s closest to three million people,” says Boyar. “Not that people won’t come if the road isn’t good.”

More people are likely to come, though, and Boyar is among the many people who want the area to be ready for them when they do.

“We need to make sure that people have good trails, good trailheads, with access to bathrooms,” he said, because “when it’s not available, people tend to create their own… and as often as not it will end up being in a wetland, or a spring feeding or nesting area for wildlife.”

To that end, the Greenway Trust and partners have planned a series of projects to repair and improve trails, control weeds, add facilities like portable toilets and trash cans and generally minimize the impact of both humans and the environment on the area.

The new road itself will solve “a lot of environmental problems,” Boyar says, with improved drainage and fish passages, so the Greenway Trust will continue work on its ongoing weed control project, as well as, they hope, two high-priority projects on the schedule for this summer.

“Our plan is to relocate a section of the Middle Fork Trail that’s collapsing into the river, and build a new access trail to the Pratt Bar,” for this year, Boyar said. Both of these projects have already been through the National Environmental Policy Act review, and all future proposed projects will go through the same review.

“It’s probably 60 percent improving what we have and 40 percent new improvements,” says Boyar.

To fund this year’s projects, the Greenway Trust has budgeted a $25,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service, and is hoping to raise another $25,000 from private donations. It is also hoping for another $50,000 the following year, to cover more projects — among the proposals are improvements to the Snoqualmie Lake trailhead and the Middle Fork, Garfield Ledges and Otter Falls/Lipsy Lake trails and trailheads, and construction of a picnic area at the Middle Fork trailhead.

So far, the fundraising effort has gone slowly, only $4,300 so far, but the campaign states that all funds will go toward the projects, even if the goal isn’t reached by the April 26 deadline.

“We’re still hoping to get as much done as we can by the end of the summer,” Boyar said. “If we don’t have (the donations), we’ll just have to wait till 2015, and try to get twice as much done.”

Whether or not the campaign raises the needed money, though, Boyar considers it a success. “The hope here was to engage more people who aren’t already participating in something like this… and I think it’s worked on that score,” he said.

Work is scheduled to begin on the Middle Fork Road on May 5, and continue through Oct. 31, with road closures planned for weekdays. The road will be open on weekends, with some delays, starting at midnight on Fridays and ending at midnight on Mondays.

Learn more about the project, and find out how to support the crowdfunding effort at http://mtsgreenway.org/our-work/middle-fork-snoqualmie-river.

 

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