Plenty of snow over the last couple weeks finally rejuvenated winter recreation in the area, which faced multiple hurdles earlier this season.
Low precipitation and warm temperatures made it difficult to find places to ski, snowshoe, ride snowmobiles or anything else, particularly at lower elevations. Adding to those difficulties were areas still closed because of damage done by wildfires and a lack of maintenance due to the 35-day government shutdown that lasted until Jan. 25.
“The weather has not been good and then of course the shutdown was bad because all the grooming in our district is done by the Forest Service and they were all shut down,” said Miles McPhee, chairman of the Yakima Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing Council.
Forest Service public affairs officer Holly Krake said even during the shutdown the agency continued critical forest health work and provided some of its public services, including grooming for motorized trails. But many non-motorized trails, including those at Bumping Lake, went ungroomed and Washington State Parks winter recreation program manager Pamela McConkey said in some places Sno-Parks weren’t even accessible because of unplowed roads and parking lots.
Other areas such as Chinook Pass, White Pass and the Ahtanum saw little impact since private contractors handle grooming responsibilities. Some volunteers and State Parks employees also provided necessities like toilet paper in bathrooms when possible, but the federal shutdown brought other issues as well.
“I think the bigger thing for the public was they assumed that since the federal government was shut down that they didn’t need to have a Sno-Park permit,” McConkey said.
Officers used their experience and judgment to decide whether or not to ticket vehicles, since the state runs the winter recreation program and relies on Sno-Park pass revenue to fund its efforts. John Baranowski, an active member of the Yakima Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing Council, said he saw poor Sno-Park pass compliance as well and also noticed more people snowshoeing during the shutdown rather than cross-country ski, which generally requires groomed trails.
Members of The Cascadians, a local outdoors group, still held their annual New Year’s Day snowshoe, which is typically held at Round Mountain off of Highway 410 near Clear Lake. But damage from the Miriam Fire closed the road, so the group went to Bumping Lake, one of the areas that was ungroomed during the shutdown.
Nearby Forest Service road 1207 also remains closed, although Krake said conditions are regularly assessed to determine when the roads can be opened again. She acknowledged it took some time for staff to catch up after the shutdown, but said winter recreation efforts are now “running full steam.”
The Cascadians and others keep finding places where they can enjoy the snow, although there’s been too much of it in some areas lately. Dean Hata leads the Cascadians’ Free Spirits and they had to move a scheduled snowshoe hike earlier this month from south of Rimrock Lake to Oak Creek Road because of inaccessible forest roads after heavy snowfall.