Yikes. Flooding, Landslides Foreshadow a Rough Year Ahead for Trails, Roads
It will be several months before land managers can fully assess the damage to roads and backcountry trail infrastructure from recent storms, but the season ahead might be one for the record books.
In the last few days and weeks, winter storms and flooding have not only devastated local communities, but also washed out roads and damaged trails across the state. Every winter and spring brings some storm damage, but the severity of the flooding and landslides could mean a particularly tough season ahead for trails.
Early damage report
Road washouts around Mount Rainier cut off most access to parts of the park, forcing staff and guest evacuations, as well as emergency responses from road crews. The Upper Hoh Road in Olympic National Park is currently closed. In trip reports, hikers and WTA staff are seeing similar impacts from the storms. Some forest roads resemble rivers and parking lots and facilities are flooded or closed. Some trails are being badly damaged.
Struggling to understand the situation with State Route 706 outside of @MountRainierNPS ? You aren't alone - check out this excellent summary by @wsdot_tacoma to get the latest information. https://t.co/obIS1Z7c2L— MountRainierNPS (@MountRainierNPS) February 11, 2020
While it will be several months before land managers can fully assess the infrastructure damage to roads and backcountry trails, some are worried that this season might resemble some of the long-lasting damage from the historic 2006 storms.
2006: A moment in Washington's trail history
In 2006, a series of winter storms washed out roads, trails, facilities and even natural hot springs all along the Cascades and in the Olympics. At Mount Rainier National Park, the Carbon River Road washed out, cutting off vehicle access to the Ipsut Creek Campgound. (It is now a backcountry camp.) Mount Rainier's Sunny Point Campground disappeared entirely into a flooded river. Many trails, including the Wonderland Trail and Glacier Basin Trail needed to be rerouted or have entire sections rebuilt. The Suiattle River Road, in the Darrington area, washed out, cutting off many trails and a key access point into the Glacier Peak Wilderness for more than a decade.
The exceptional storm damage put land managers in a tough position. They already faced a maintenance backlog and declining budgets, and the winter season piled on millions of dollars and more than a decade of additional work to rebuild much of what was lost. Fourteen years later, we're still recovering.
If this season does turn out to be like 2006, there will be a lot of work ahead.
The good news
As a state, we're in a different place than we were in 2006. One result of the epic storms is that they forged stronger partnerships between government land managers like the National Park Service and nonprofit organizations who care about public lands and trails, like Washington Trails Association. The effort highlighted a real need to work together, and the spirit of that informs everything we do, from research to restoring lost trails to educating volunteers.
Hikers, too, are just as ready to jump in to help as they have always been, but now there are even more advocates, volunteers and donors willing to lend a hand or a few dollars to the effort.
We're just starting to talk to our partners about the impact of recent storms for the season(s) ahead, and they'll be assessing the total damage for a while yet. We won't know if any backcountry trails have been lost for months. Spring is bound to bring surprises, both good and bad. But one thing is sure: in the coming months, your trip reports and donations to help trails will be more important than ever.