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The Forest Service is currently looking for input on alternative trail locations near Baker Lake, aiming to balance the goals of enhancing and restoring fisheries habitat in the channel migration zone of the Baker River while also retaining recreational and Tribal access to the north Baker Lake area in a long-term sustainable manner.
Access to the lake is currently through an existing road that has been, and will continue to be, vulnerable to costly washouts and damage associated with its placement within the channel migration zone of the Baker River. One option discussed earlier was the construction of a new road through the Mt. Baker South Inventoried Roadless Area which would have violated the 2001 National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The Forest Service ultimately decided to protect roadless areas and that the two alternatives being considered as part of this project do not include building a road in a roadless area!
Both alternatives propose road to trail conversion in the area. This is an important tool to enhance recreational access, while mitigating future annual maintenance costs of legacy roads. This conversion will likely assist in reducing dispersed camping around the area and result in a reduction of detrimental instances of user impact while still providing access to places people use and enjoy.
Back in October Washington Wild coordinated a comment letter signed by 25 conservation and recreation groups to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest supporting the proposed action to Baker Lake Road to Trail conversion project. The letter expressed support not only for utilizing road to trail conversion as an important tool, but for also protecting roadless areas from new road building.
The proposed action also provides benefits to fisheries habitat and resources that will be realized by moving the last remaining infrastructure (i.e., the road segment) out of the channel migration zone of the Baker River. Removal of road fill will expand and reconnect open water wetland habitat beneficial to all juvenile salmon for overwinter rearing. Removal of parking lot armoring and fill will promote reconnection of historic overflow channels, providing additional rearing habitat while augmenting summer low flows in Channel Creek. Channel Creek is the highest producing stream of natural origin sockeye in the Baker Lake basin. The restoration of the channel migration zone is of great interest to local Tribes who rely on healthy fish populations to exercise their treaty rights as well as fishing and conservation groups, both locally and statewide.
The letter expressed support for the Forest Service’s Proposed Action for the following reasons:
- Long-Term Sustainable Use for Trail Users: Avoidance of the floodplain would allow for natural movement of the Baker River within the floodplain in the short and long-term. This trail would also be more sustainable over a 20-year period than the other alternative considered
- A Heightened User Experience: The proposed action offers sections of old-growth and changes in elevation, while still connecting to the original trail further up the river via an existing bridge crossing. The trail would connect with the Baker River Trail (which provides access into North Cascades National Park) and the East Bank Baker Lake Trail (which is the only year-round trail open to stock the Mt. Baker Ranger District).
- Reduction of User Impact to the Baker River and the Associated Floodplain: Diversion from the floodplain itself also indicates a reduction in the likelihood of user impact to the river and associated riparian landscape
- Additional Recreational Benefits for a Variety of Users: the longer trail connection to the Baker River Trail and the East Bank Baker Lake Trail will provide access to both the North Cascades National Park and the over 14 mile East Bank Baker Lake Trail for trail runners, equestrians and other users. The new trail through the roadless area will be constructed to equestrian standards providing an extended riding opportunity for equestrians.
In addition to supporting the proposed action, groups suggested finding new opportunities for shorter trails around the new proposed parking lot and ADA accessible areas. This inclusion would allow for users to experience the sights around the lake in an accessible manner without significantly increasing their distance-traveled.
Washington Wild applauds the Forest Service for their protection of roadless areas, and the use of road-to trail conversion for a more sustainable road and trails system!