Budget cuts to close Mount Si?
By SETH TRUSCOTT
Snoqualmie Valley Record Editor
January 12, 2010 · Updated 8:55 AM
Visits to some of the Snoqualmie Valley’s most popular outdoor destinations could trail off this spring if the Washington Department of Natural Resources shutters trailheads at Mount Si, Little Si, Rattlesnake Mountain and the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River.
Faced with a $278,000 budget cut in 2010, DNR may close dozens of facilities in the state in the next two years to close the gap.
Last summer, cuts forced DNR to reduce services at 40 of its 143 facilities. Now, a projected $278,000 reduction, proposed as part of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s latest budget plan, means that 23 facilities paid for through the state’s general fund must close or reduce services.
“The new ones are the big ones,” said Mark Mauren, assistant division manager for recreation and public access in DNR’s Asset Management and Recreation Division. “Some of the bigger names are there.”
With 350,000 visitors a year, the Mount Si trailhead is by far the most-visited site slated for closure in March. Little Si is second with 150,000 visits a year.
On average, the other sites listed for closure get about 8,000 visits a year.
Faced with a shortfall in the billions of dollars, Mauren said state legislators had to make tough decisions.
“When you’re making a choice between maintaining a welfare program versus keeping recreation, I think the choice is pretty obvious,” he said.
Closures would be in effect at least until June of 2011.
Changes at local DNR facilities “could mean anything from reduced services to closed trailheads to a lack of maintenance on trails,” said Doug McClelland, South Puget Sound Region Asset Operations Manager for DNR.
“We won’t know until the legislature meets and finishes up over the next few months. We’re trying to let people know, here are the potentials.”
During cuts last summer, DNR had time to go through a “thoughtful process,” singling out which sites were most suited for reduced service, Mauren said.
“This time, it’s pretty much wiping it out,” he said. “There’s no ability for developing thoughtful criteria.”
If nothing changes, DNR will lock up outhouses in February or March, and remove picnic tables, to ensure that vandals don’t destroy facilities during the closure.
“It’s pretty amazing what people will do,” Mauren said. “If we left them out there, they would not be there in a year.
“The funding will come back sometime,” he added. “We don’t want to start from scratch.”
Sites that have gates will be shut. Hikers may still be able to walk inside, but official maintenance of the trails will cease.
Closure could impact Snoqualmie economy
Shuttering amenities on the Valley’s mountain would have a huge impact on hikers and outdoors enthusiasts who frequent the area, impacting local business, said Gina Estep, Community and Economic Development Director for North Bend.
“That would be horrible,” Estep said of the closure.
North Bend recently gave itself a new brand, “Easy to Reach, Hard to Leave,” promoting outdoor activities as a big reason to visit the city. North Bend’s goal in promoting tourism has been to drive up the number of visitors, getting word out about restaurants and shops.
“If people choose to go to another mountain better served with amenities, that will have a huge impact on our tourism economy,” Estep said.
“From an economic standpoint, it’s hard to put a number on Mount Si,” she said. “It’s drawing 350,000 people — every one of those people have to drive through North Bend to get to Mount Si.
“When you have that kind of visitorship, you (should) want to grow the users of these areas,” she added. “I would think Mount Si would be a last resort.”
“Even with severe cutbacks, it would be a huge mistake to close the gate, because of the popularity of that hiking trail,” said Fritz Ribary, new executive director for the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Recreationist and North Bend resident Steve Kelly learned about the closures through a DNR-linked Web site. The loss of any of the Valley’s main recreation areas would be a hard blow, Kelly said.
“I live by Rattlesnake Lake,” Kelly said. “On Saturdays and Sundays, it’s packed out there. It would be bizarre to see that shut down.”
Likewise, the loss of Middle Fork trails leaves a void.
“All these kayakers drive to the Middle Fork,” Kelly said. “That would be huge.”
Wade Holden, president of Friends of the Trail, a non-profit group that assists DNR with trail cleanup, predicted a “screaming uproar” if the Mount Si trailhead closed.
“That gets lots of visitors,” he said. “I don’t know how they’re going to keep people out of there.
“I guarantee, at places like Mount Si, people will be trying to park down the road and sneak in there,” Holden added. “They’ll have to have law enforcement turn people away.”
Holden understands the quandary the state is in.
“The bottom line is, you’ve got to have the money to keep it open,” he said.
Mauren encourages community groups who are interested in partnering with the state to maintain trail sites to come forward.
DNR already has a model for keeping parks open with the community’s help. Last year, the state worked with private snowmobiler’s clubs to secure funding to keep five state snow parks open.
“It was an incredible effort by local clubs, that rallied the troops,” Mauren said. “All of them were saved.”
Similar solutions could come from a local level.
“The more people we get involved, the more talking we do, the more options we’ll find to solve the problem,” Mauren said. “I don’t think the governor or the legislature want to see recreation facilities closed permanently. They’re under the gun.”
Ribary voiced interest in seeing private hiking and conservation groups step up to help.
“There’s no reason to believe that people who appreciate that trail would not do more in the future,” he said.
Estep also advocated for local efforts to keep the mountain open.
“It would be in the best interest of the city in stepping up and being a partner, helping the state find grants. We’ll just have to get creative.”
To contact Mark Mauren regarding options to fund local trails, e-mail him at email@example.com.Contact Snoqualmie Valley Record Editor Seth Truscott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-425-888-2311.