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Lawmakers tout Middle Fork wilderness Opposition expected on protection plan

Senator Patty Murray and Rep. Dave Reichert lead supporters through Three Forks Park to anounce joint conservation bills protecting the area. - Dan Catchpole / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Senator Patty Murray and Rep. Dave Reichert lead supporters through Three Forks Park to anounce joint conservation bills protecting the area.
— image credit: Dan Catchpole / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Representative Dave Reichert first came to the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River to bust up a methamphetamine lab when he was King County Sheriff.

Ten years later, Reichert, R-Wash., and Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., are backing bi-partisan legislation to designate the Middle Fork as a Wild and Scenic River and the Pratt River valley as national wilderness. Identical bills were submitted in the Senate and House on March 27.

No major roadblocks to the bills have appeared, but some opposition is expected. Reichert said he expects the bill to pass the House this year but the Senate could take a little longer.

“There will be a few naysayers,” Reichert said, standing on the Middle Fork’s bank, Friday, April 10.

Among potential opponents are Representative Doc Hastings, R-Wash., ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, and Senator Tom burn, R-Okla., who last year filibustered the Wild Sky Wilderness.

“What we’re fighting at the national level is people who think there shouldn’t be any wilderness land,” Murray said.

However, the Pratt River valley is not the contentious symbol that Wild Sky became.

The Murray-Reichert plan would add 22,000 acres of low-elevation land to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and would designate both the Middle Fork and Pratt River as Wild and Scenic Rivers, which protects a river’s natural, free-flowing character.

As wilderness, the Pratt River valley would be open for hiking, climbing, rafting, kayaking, hunting and bird-watching, among other activities. Mechanized transportation would be prohibited from the wilderness area. However, mountain bikes would be allowed on the Middle Fork.

Murray, Reichert and North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing touted the area’s accessibility to Seattle.

The addition to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area would help North Bend’s effort to market itself as a recreational destination.

“North Bend relies heavily on tourism. Seventy-five percent of our general fund depends on tourism,” Hearing said.

The meth lab and open-air chop shop that once operated in the area are gone due to the work of volunteers, conservation groups, and county, state and federal agencies. Conservation activists recalled bullets whizzing by them at least twice while hiking in the area.

But while the area is in better shape today, that is no guarantee for the future.

“Things change. If copper prices get high enough, it might pay to have a mine up there. Or timber,” said Mark Boyar, a conservation activist, as he walked through the flood-damaged Three Forks Park. Debris and uprooted trees littered the area.

Winter floods ravaged the area, heavily damaging the Middle Fork road and knocking out a bridge over the tributary Taylor River.

Murray said she wants federal tax money, possibly from the stimulus package, go to repairing and improving the area’s accessibility.

• To learn more about conservation along the Snoqualmie River’s Middle Fork, visit www.midfork.org.

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