Wallace Falls State Park features lakes, rivers, waterfalls and hiking and biking trails for visiting families and local residents alike. Nestled in the heart of the Skykomish River Valley – just minutes from the restaurants and shops of the scenic town of Gold Bar – the park is a special place to all those that visit. At many times of the year the park is “loved to death” as crowds often overwhelm the main trail access to the falls, if they can find a place to park. Parking is a significant issue, as overflow and illegal parking on busy summer days has frustrated the relationship with local residents.
The Washington State Parks Department is currently in the process of seeking input on their management plan for Wallace Falls State Park. This management process has the potential to help solve these problems and create a more enjoyable, accessible and sustainable experience to the hundreds of thousands of visitors in the future.
Washington Wild coordinated a joint comment letter to the Parks Department signed by 14 other recreation and conservation groups and local businesses like Skykomish Chamber of Commerce, Backcountry Horseman of Washington, Outdoor Adventures, and Sky Valley Environmental & Economic Alliance.
These groups expressed their support for suggested improvements to the park including:
- Providing additional recreation opportunities – People come in great numbers to Wallace Falls State Park because of what it has to offer, its proximity to Puget Sound populations centers and the charm of the local communities in the Sky Valley. The long-term planning process should consider new hiking opportunities, equestrian access and potential extended mountain biking opportunities.
- Expanding potential parking options to include land outside the park boundaries – Parking is a major issue currently for the park. Any plan moving forward needs to explore all options to address this issue. This is important for visitor experience, safety and the continued supportive relationship with local residents and the community of Gold Bar. Options could include using shuttle vans, using technology to have real-time parking availability, and exploring new additional parking locations.
- Work collaboratively with DNR to provide additional trail connections – Due to the shape and limitation in size of the current park boundary, it is important to cooperate with adjacent landowners to support recreational opportunities. This strategy could alleviate some of the stress on certain trails in the parks by giving alternative options to locals and visitors alike.
- Consider a dispersed parking scenario to spread out park access points and reduce trail impacts – Another major challenge of the park is that the vast majority of visitors use the same trail to reach the prime destination – the waterfall viewpoints. On a busy summer day this can feel more like a parade and impact visitor experience and the trail itself. The park needs to explore and invest in additional trail access points, especially to the falls viewpoints to take pressure off the main route and primary parking areas.
Groups also urged the Parks Department to consider two additional aspects in their planning process moving forward:
- Embrace the opportunity of targeted DNR trust land transfers to expand the park as part of the long-term boundary – In many cases DNR lands have been transferred from trust land to other agencies where they are managed for conservation, wildlife, watershed or recreation values. While trust land transfers within DNR (or between DNR and State Parks) can be complicated or even difficult, it is an option worth pursuing and can benefit the park, its visitors, the local beneficiaries or junior taxing districts and the local communities of the Sky Valley.
- Acknowledge and highlight the potential recreational connection to the park from the DNR non-motorized Reiter Forest recreational planning effort – For several years, DNR has invested in the Reiter Forest recreation area which includes a non-motorized trail system (e.g., mountain bikes, equestrian, hiking) just south and east of Wallace Falls State Park. There is excellent potential to design trail systems for a variety of users to include a destination of points within Wallace Falls State Park through DNR lands. This is particularly compelling for mountain bike and equestrian user groups who cover more miles per hour than hikers and therefore prefer longer trails. The trails can also provide an alternative approach to the park for hikers as well. Such a trail system would allow access to Wallace Falls State Park by equestrian and mountain bikers while avoiding: (1) user conflict issues; (2) exacerbating crowding on the most popular trail segments in the park; (3) and adding to parking challenges at the main park entrance.
We are hopeful this management plan will enact necessary improvements to the park maintaining its accessibility, natural experience, and furthering recreation opportunities in such a popular park.