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New paddler access to Middle Fork opens

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NORTH BEND - The Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River has some of the best whitewater around, but it hasn't always had the best form of access for kayakers and rafters. Until now.

Last week, King County, American Whitewater and a handful of paddling clubs celebrated the opening on a new 220-foot long, 12-foot wide gravel trail located on Middle Fork Road called the Granite Creek River Access. The new trail ensures easy access to the popular 7-mile stretch along the river that outdoor enthusiasts enjoy on a regular basis.

"Paddlers are ecstatic," said Tom O'Keefe of American Whitewater, an organization aimed at restoring rivers dewatered by hydropower dams, eliminating water degradation, improving public land management and protecting public access to rivers for responsible recreational use. "The Granite Creek River Access is less than an hour's drive from downtown Seattle and a popular 'after work' run. And, despite how close it is to a large metropolitan area, the river feels remote as it winds through a forested river valley."

Prior to the new access, located about 100 feet west of the concrete bridge on the Middle Fork, many paddlers were forced to traverse a slippery rocky slope near the bridge or even throw their kayaks over the bridge while holding onto them with a rope, said O'Keefe.

"It was just really difficult," added Jennie Goldberg, director of the League of Northwest Whitewater Racers.

Although no studies have been conducted to gauge the use of the area by paddlers, those involved with the sport say the Middle Fork is a popular after-work and weekend destination.

"Close-to-home outdoor recreation access is vital to the quality of life we enjoy in this region, so we are thrilled to be able to provide this new kayak, raft and canoe launch on the Middle Fork," said King County Executive Ron Sims. "I commend the paddling groups that worked with King County to make this happen and look forward to working with them in future partnerships."

The recent project is part of a larger plan that King County, U.S. Forest Service, state Department of Natural Resources, state parks, city of North Bend, Mountains to Sound Greenway and more than a dozen user groups are working on to develop a vision for the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Area.

The Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Area site management plan was completed in 1999 and called for public access on the Middle Fork at several sites including Granite Creek, Mine Creek and a spot near Tanner Road. King County acquired the Granite Creek site in 2000.

In addition, King County has also purchased a 40-acre undeveloped parcel of low-bank beach access about seven miles downstream near Tanner Road.

That 40-acre parcel, according to T.J. Davis, project manager for King County, is already a popular unloading spot for paddlers and will be made more accessible. Davis said the county is already working with the University of Washington for preliminary design ideas.

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