The Teanaway Community Forest holds a special place for many outdoors enthusiasts in central Washington and throughout the state.
Its popularity among many different interest groups created the need for a new management plan specifically geared towards recreation, one of five goals in 2015’s strategic management plan. Extensive research and outreach to various groups as well as an active community led the state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to a proposed 15-year effort aimed at enhancing the 50,241 acres of state-owned forest and ensuring sustainability for years to come.
“It’s a special place,” said Doug McClelland, the DNR’s recreation planner for the project. “People love the Teanaway and it’s great to have all this interest.”
The state’s only community forest encompasses nearly as much land as Seattle, and hunters seeking elk, deer and turkey often fill up the three designated campgrounds this time of year. Wildlife department regional director Mike Livingston, a co-manager of the area, said it’s also ideal for trout fishing and swimming in the Teanaway River and its tributaries during the warmer months.
Hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, birdwatchers, motorcyclists and more seek out nature in the Teanaway to enjoy its magnificent views and unique geography. As co-managers of the forest, the DNR and wildlife department took on the challenge of bringing these many interests together by establishing a diverse 20-member advisory committee.
An estimated 100 people came out to the first of two public open houses in October 2016, and DNR’s recreation communications manager Sarah Dettmer said outreach continues with the release of a final draft plan and another open house last Wednesday. Darcy Batura of The Nature Conservancy, who recently left the advisory committee after accepting a promotion to forest partnerships manager, said her subcommittee dedicated to outreach learned a lot from engaging with citizens and organizing work parties.
She acknowledged challenges surrounding a high list of demands from various recreational groups with different interests. In the end, though, DNR region manager Larry Leach came away impressed with how the advisory committee united and found ways to improve access to and maintain all of the existing activities, even adding plans for a loop from Indian Camp to North Fork Teanaway Road for vehicles prohibited on trails.
“The unanimous support for the scenic driving route through the forest was something that I wouldn’t have expected at the beginning of the process,” Leech said. “But it showed that they were willing to take good suggestions, even though initially they weren’t leaning the way of adding motorized recreation use.”
It will still be limited under the plan Leech expects Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz and wildlife department director Kelly Susewind to officially sign in December. But motorcyles will be allowed on several multi-use trails, and during the winter snowmobiles will have access to nearly everywhere except a small area near a new West Teanaway Sno-Park and trailhead in the southwest portion of the community forest.
Leech said the recreation plan should begin next spring with some $600,000, mostly from state Recreation and Conservation Office grants, which will help move Teanaway and Indian Creek campgrounds out of floodplains. McClelland added other priorities for the plan’s first phase include installing amenities such as new restrooms and fire rings, as well improving roads and parking lots, where a Discover Pass is required.
Evergreen Mountain Biking Alliance and Washington Trails Association already reached out to Leach about coordinating trail building when warm weather arrives, and he expects volunteers to play a key role in those efforts. McClelland said recreation planners, landscape architects and other staff members will survey existing user-built trails to determine how they can be moved or replaced to meet environmental standards and protect habitat in the watershed.
The advisory committee agreed on a wide variety of trails with different uses, favoring loops whenever possible. Other added features on the maps based off of committee recommendations include backcountry camping, an entry station, and educational signage to share the history and important features of the landscape.
Another priority will be working with other landowners to establish connections to nearby places such as Red Top Mountain to the east and popular multi-use Forest Service trails to the west. Eventually, the community forest’s trails should connect to the future Towns to Teanaway trails on top of Cle Elum Ridge, creating more potential benefits for the local economies of Cle Elum, Roslyn and Ronald.