Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail - 1 year ago today

A year ago today, President Obama signed a bill establishing the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, a corridor extending across 1,200 miles of northwest America from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide. The designation lifts the trail to the same national status as the famed Pacific Crest Trail running 2,638 miles from Mexico to Canada, and the 2,178-mile Appalachain Trail that connects Georgia to Maine. There are now eleven such trails in the U.S.

For someone beginning a full, east-to-west traverse of the Pacific Northwest Trail (or PNT) at Glacier National Park, Montana, you'll need to walk more than 900 miles to get to the first good view of the ocean. And where might that be? Blanchard Mountain, of course--the crowning gem of the Chuckanut Range. Okay, the view might not precisely be the ocean, but with Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands sprawled out before you, it's a heck of a teaser for the true ocean view awaiting another 200+ miles to the west at Cape Alava in Olympic National Park.

The entire 1,200-mile route is not fully developed, although many hundreds of miles exist where the trail passes through state and federal lands, typically along existing routes that have been threaded together in name only. If you insist on hiking the route anytime soon, expect lots of road miles in between the trail sections.

In theory, the U.S. Forest Service will be developing an overall plan for the newly designated trail, clarifying routes, acquiring lands or easements, building trails and support facilities and all the rest. To date, however, little progress has been made in that respect. But this is government work and it's only been a year, so no complaining quite yet. But if you have a point of view or some ideas to share, or just want to learn how you can get involved, visit the Pacific Northwest Trail Association's website at http://www.pnt.org/.

The PNT, as many are aware, runs through the heart of Blanchard Mountain, including areas the DNR would have logged by now had not the Chuckanut Conservancy derailed those plans in a legal challenge--at least temporarily. (Read about our court victory here.)
Let's hope the Washington DNR learns to appreciate this nationally significant trail and rethinks its fixation on logging the area. As it stands currently, they still plan to log more than two miles of the PNT on Blanchard Mountain, beginning at the trailhead known as Samish Overlook--yes the exact same place you would enjoy that first great view of the "ocean." You can help make sure that doesn't happen by supporting the work of the Conservancy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Conservancy Hires First Executive Director

The Chuckanut Conservancy announced this week that Ken Wilcox has agreed to serve as the organization's first executive director.

"We're excited to have Ken in this critical role for the Conservancy," said Seth Fleetwood, the group's president. "Everyone loves the Chuckanuts and Ken is the perfect person to help us ensure that our kids—and their kids—have an opportunity to enjoy this place as much as we do."

The Chuckanut Conservancy’s mission is to protect and preserve the Chuckanut Mountains of Northwest Washington which contribute immensely to our quality of life in the region. The Conservancy’s top priority is to make sure that everything that makes this area so special—the quality of life here, the trails, the spectacular views, rich history, diverse wildlife and a unique coastal forest ecosystem—are not lost to urban sprawl, intensive logging or other threats.

Wilcox is a long-time advocate for protecting trails and natural areas in the Chuckanuts and is perhaps best known as the author of several regional hiking guides.

“Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to hike at least a thousand miles of trails around western Washington,” said Wilcox, “and there is just nothing out there that quite compares with the fantastic urban wilderness we have right here in the Chuckanuts.”

“I am grateful for the opportunity to help safeguard this unique place,” he said.

As executive director, Wilcox will be heading up the group's efforts to protect and restore the Chuckanuts' spectacular wild country, while also implementing plans for a volunteer trails program and continuing the Conservancy’s ongoing work to protect Blanchard Mountain, the highest mountain in the Chuckanuts.

Wilcox has a professional background in environmental and recreation planning and has served on a number of boards and commissions, including the North Cascades Conservation Council, Sustainable Connections, and The Mountaineers, where he received a lifetime membership award for community service.

Ken also chairs the U.S. delegation of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, a $10 million international fund that sponsors conservation, recreation and education initiatives within the upper Skagit River watershed of Washington and British Columbia.

Wilcox is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in environmental policy. He and his wife Kris share a home with their cat Fuji in east Bellingham.

About the Chuckanut Conservancy

The Chuckanut Conservancy is working to protect and restore the beautiful wild country of the Chuckanut Mountains—a one-of-a-kind natural landscape encompassing 9,000 acres of public land and more than sixty miles of trails. As the last, big green space on the map between Seattle and Vancouver, the Chuckanut Mountains represent the largest maturing coastal forest left in the greater Puget Sound region.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who's hiking on Blanchard Mountain?

On Saturday, while hiking up the Pacific Northwest Trail toward Oyster Dome, I spent 90 minutes gathering 37 signatures on a petition asking Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark to establish a much larger conservation area (NRCA) than what's been proposed. (For more on the NRCA, see the blog entry for March 6 below.)

In those 90 minutes of ambling up the trail, chatting, nibbling and collecting autographs, I was amazed to be passed by about 80 hikers headed down, all of whom had obviously gotten a more respectable start than I. These were not organized groups, just friends and family enjoying the first day of spring.

While I was pleased that most of the trailsters I had a chance to speak with were happy to sign, what shocked me the most was just how far many of them had come to enjoy their day on the trail at Blanchard Mountain.

Of the 37 hikers who signed the petition, only six were from Bellingham. Just two lived in Skagit County. Three others were from Ferndale. That's 11 people--or 30 percent--whom I would consider "local."

Where were the others from? Seattle, mostly. Seattle and King County accounted for 17 (46 percent) of those 37 people who were concerned enough to sign the petition. One couple even came all the way up from Packwood, east of Centralia. Others were from Edmonds, Mill Creek and Oak Harbor. Later, I met someone from Vancouver, Washington, and several more from Colorado and Nevada who were visiting friends in the area.

I was amazed. When you do the math and consider all the trails at Blanchard Mountain--a splendiferous year-round trails destination--it's not unthinkable that 100,000 people may step foot on these trails over the course of a year.

And no, it certainly wasn't a scientific survey, but intriguing and enlightening, nontheless. For those who might think Blanchard Mountain is just a place for local hikers to kick up some dust, the mountain may be saying, think again.

You can help us save this place by donating to the cause today (then imagine the roar of 100,000 thank yous--good thing we're not all up there at once).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Volunteers needed for trail work

To complement our new hiking calendar, the Conservancy is also scheduling a few volunteer trail work parties in the Chuckanuts, including several spring walk-throughs--a dabble of work here and there while also enjoying a good hike. We need your help! Widgets, gizmos and cookies provided. If interested in joining our volunteer list, please drop a line to ken (at) chuckanutconservancy.org.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Conservancy to offer Chuckanut history and natural history hikes

The Conservancy is putting together a calendar of guided hikes this spring and summer to explore the history and natural history of the Chuckanut Mountains, including Blanchard Mountain. If there are specific topics or destinations you think we should include, please drop us a line or post a comment below. Most will be 2 to 4-hour excursions with a nominal donation requested. If you have expertise to share and would like to lead a hike, please contact us.

You can email us at: info (at) chuckanutconservancy.org. Thanks!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Blanchard Mountain/Oyster Dome geology

Dave Tucker's Northwest Geology Field Trips blog has some great posts on the geology of the Chuckanuts and Blanchard Mountain. Did you know that Blanchard Mountain and Mount Shuksan are made of nearly the same rocks? How did all that giant talus form below Oyster Dome? What causes the honeycombing effect in Chuckanut sandstone along the shore? What's with all the fossils?

Be sure to check out the long list of topics Dave has compiled over the past few months--very impressive stuff and a lot of fun for experts and non-experts alike.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Baby Steps: DNR Proposes a mini-NRCA for Blanchard Mountain

On February 24th, 2010, Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark announced plans to establish a 1,600-acre Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA) on Blanchard Mountain. While the NRCA is a positive, important step forward, the proposal contains nearly all of the shortcomings of the "management strategies" adopted by the previous commissioner in 2007. (The Conservancy challenged those strategies in lower court and won - more on that here.)

The DNR's press release acknowledges "amazing recreation opportunities, rich wildlife habitat and sweeping views” at Blanchard Mountain, then "amazingly" fails to offer a proposal that actually protects those values. The 1,600-acre NRCA proposed by DNR can't possibly provide the level of protection that's implied in the release.

The DNR's current NRCA proposal offers only token protection of a portion of the existing trail system. No meaningful wildlife corridors are provided, view protection is scant, and many miles of trails would be severely degraded, if not destroyed, by miles of new roads and large-scale logging across two-thirds of the mountain. The largest intact roadless area on the mainland coast of greater Puget Sound would essentially be frittered away.

Even the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, signed into law by President Obama just a year ago, is largely excluded from the NRCA, although the agency has agreed to protect the parking lot at Samish Overlook from logging.

The Conservancy has recommended a 3,100-acre NRCA, although the final area established may be somewhat less than that. The DNR's proposal must be submitted to the Legislature for consideration and approval. Funding will be a key issue, since the timber value of lands set aside as NRCA also needs to be accounted for. Given the tight economic situation we're in, funding issues will need to be addressed over the long-term.

Please email 40th District Senator Kevin Ranker to let him know you support a much larger NRCA at Blanchard Mountain: Ranker.Kevin@LEG.WA.GOV.

We applaud the DNR's willingness to consider the kind of permanent protection an NRCA can provide. Although the small size of the NRCA and the boundaries are major stumbling blocks, we believe these issues can be resolved if the DNR invites the public to participate in developing its NRCA proposal.

Conservancy Launches 10-Year Vision

In late 2009, the Conservancy launched its 10-year vision for the protection of the Chuckanut Mountains. You can view a detailed map of the proposal at our website, along with a short list of all the great reasons for saving this one-of-a-kind place.

The core of the proposal involves the designation of approximately 3,100 acres of DNR-managed forestland on Blanchard Mountain as a Natural Resources Conservation Area, plus the acquisition of another 1,000-plus acres of adjoining private commercial timber land. Under the proposal, more than 5,000 acres of working forest in the Chuckanuts would remain available for timber harvest (although some say we should protect it all!).

The areas most deserving of protection include a number of small lakes and wetland complexes, steep slopes, remarkable geology, trails and views, maturing forest and rich wildlife habitat corridors that connect to Larrabee State Park and other protected wildlands. The proposal also protects critical headwaters of Oyster Creek, Lake Samish and Samish Bay. Acquisition of a 200-300 acres on the ridge above Lake Samish would provide additional watershed protection for the lake, as well as long-awaited trail connections between Lake Samish Park, Mud Lake and the Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail system.
But we need your support to make it happen. Please donate today!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Welcome to the Chuckanut Conservancy Blog

Watch for news and information about the campaign to protect the Chuckanut Mountains of Northwest Washington, including the battle to protect Blanchard Mountain. We welcome your thoughts and participation. Visit our main page for details and contact information.