USFS Upper Nooksack Access and Travel Management Summary
Last week, the US Forest Service held two meetings (in Kendall and Bellingham) to discuss budgetary issues regarding the Forest Service roads that reside in the Upper Nooksack watershed along the Mt. Baker Highway. The meetings were well attended and had people from diverse user groups: snowmobile, hiking, mt. biking, motorcyle, equestrian, hunting, fishing, rafting/kayaking, etc.
At the meeting, the Forest Service discussed their budgetary constraints with maintaining roads to a level that keep them in usable shape and help eliminate the catastrophic failures that deposit sediment into the various creeks (and downstream into the Nooksack) and disrupt public access.
The District Ranger, Erin Uloth and her staff presented 3 Alternatives to the public. Please read further down to get more background information.
Alternative A: Maintain what is currently open (Status Quo)
- Cost: $148,000 per year
- 137 miles open
- Cost per mile: $1,080
- Pro’s: No changes to current road access
- Con’s: Currently not affordable
Alternative B: 12 miles of roads closed / some maintained at a lower level
- Cost: $123,000 per year
- 125 miles open
- Cost per mile: $984
- Pro’s: Most important access points stay open.
- Con’s: Currently not affordable and some roads go into lower maintenance level
Alternative C: 76 miles of roads closed / some maintained at a lower level
- Cost: $72,000 year (11 year average)
- 63 miles open
- Cost per mile: $1,142
- Pro’s: It fits into the USFS “funding average”, but that’s still not a guaranteed amount.
- Con’s: Canyon Creek Road and other important access points are decommissioned and road access is no longer available.
IMPORTANT: Before we go too far, if you use any of these roads to recreate, your input is due no later than March 7th!! You can send an email here:
There are currently 137 miles of road open to the public in the Upper Nooksack corridor. Like the majority of roads in the USFS system, these were constructed long ago for timber harvest along with some mining activities. With the majority of the USFS lands in our area no longer open to timber harvest, the revenues to pay for road maintenance has not been available and the Forest Service’s budgets have been shrinking. On top of their declining budgets, the USFS budget has changed over the past 2 decades where their overall budget to fight fires has gone from 10-15% of their budget and today is more than 50% of their total budget goes towards fire fighting/suppression. This has affected the agency in many ways, from trail crew sizes, office closures, road maintenance, general staffing, etc.
With the heavy rains this winter, there are currently 4 roads washed out: Wells Creek, East Church, Glacier Creek (FS 36) and Canyon Creek (FS 31) Roads. As many know, Glacier Creek and Canyon Creek roads washed out 5+ years ago and were repaired in 2013.
In the winter: Both Glacier Creek and Canyon Creek road closures affect the snowmobile and backcountry skiing user groups as those are the only access points for snowmobilers along the Mt. Baker Highway.
In the summer: The Canyon Creek closure affects mountain bikers and motorcyclists (Canyon Ridge is the only trail open to bikes/ motorcycles along the 542) along with hiking and horse access to Damfino Lakes and Excelsior from this area. It’s worth noting that the WMBC scouted and proposed a large reroute to Canyon Ridge Trail 2+ years ago that would dramatically improve the trail on it’s Western end. The Glacier Creek road closure (via Heliotrope Ridge Trail) affects hikers and mountain climbers as it’s the primary northside route up Mt. Baker for several thousand mountain climbers.
Currently, the Forest Service has $12,000 (in total) allotted to maintain their roads for this year. Looking back at the 11 years, the USFS has averaged ~$70,000 per year to maintain roads. To do the bare-minimum level of maintenance on the existing roads, they estimate they’d need $148,000 annually – which would allow the clearing of culverts / drainage ditches along with some brushing and grading.
To repair major washouts like the 4 that have happened this year, the Forest Service taps into USDOT dollars via the Emergency Relief for Federally Owned roads (ERFO) program, but it first needs to determine that it was a considerable “weather event” to be and then it often takes a good deal of time to get those funds to repair these washouts.
You can read more about the entire process and the 3 alternatives at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=47563 under the heading “North Fork Nooksack ATM”
Email comments to:
Written comments should be mailed or dropped off in person to:
Erin Uloth, District Ranger
Mt. Baker Ranger District
810 State Route 20
Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284-1263