INDEX — Five years later, Wild Sky is still wild.
This was precisely the goal of the people who pushed for the creation of the Wild Sky Wilderness area in the Cascade Mountains — to set aside a wild area to make sure it stays that way.
About 60 people gathered in Index on Tuesday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the designation of more than 106,000 acres near Index as off-limits to any kind of development.
“This is a big deal,” said Meg Town, who formerly lived near Index and now lives in Duvall. “This is a special area.”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, who saw the measure through Congress, attended.
“Hundreds of years from now people will walk through there and see what we see today,” Murray told the crowd of environmental activists, local residents and others, gathered outside the Outdoor Adventures Center in Index.
Larsen was elected in 2000, and he and Murray were given a guided hike into the area in 2001.
“I got excited about that effort right away,” Larsen told the crowd Tuesday.
At the time, Larsen’s district encompassed the area proposed for the Wild Sky Wilderness. The districts were changed beginning this year, with Larsen now representing a coastal strip from Lynnwood to Bellingham, including Whidbey, Camano and the San Juan islands.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene now represents Index, part of the 1st Congressional District that stretches from Bellevue to the Canadian border.
In the wilderness, logging, road building, motorized vehicles and other industrial uses are banned. Hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, fishing and rafting are allowed.
Murray and Larsen, both Democrats, encountered opposition from across the aisle in both the Senate and the House.
Locally, some farmers, ranchers, east Snohomish County politicians and recreation advocates argued that restrictions on federal land are unfair to the public that owns them.
The wilderness designation would make it difficult to thin diseased trees or use bulldozers to help fight future forest fires, some opponents argued.
Changes were made to the plan. The area was pared from its originally proposed 130,000 acres. Land was set aside to accommodate snowmobilers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
Murray and Larsen found bipartisan support, Congress approved the measure and President George W. Bush signed it into law in May 2008.
The area includes ragged mountain tops, valleys and low-elevation old-growth forest near salmon spawning streams. The wilderness preserves “wildlife corridors,” or areas that animals use to travel from one area to another. A lynx, rare in Western Washington, was seen in the wilderness a few years ago, said Mike Town of Friends of The Wild Sky, Meg’s husband.
Much of the Wild Sky is relatively low in elevation, allowing easy access for recreation while protecting wildlife habitat, proponents have said.
A U.S. Forest Service plan could add more trails to Wild Sky. There are currently 67 miles of documented trails within or adjacent to the wilderness, according to the plan. About 115 miles in possible new trails have been identified, and the plan lists about 60 miles of these as high or moderate priority. There’s currently no funding for the plan, however, said Tom Davis, a ranger at the Skykomish Station, who specializes in trails. The forest service often works with volunteer groups to develop trails, and more are welcome, he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Murray was led on a guided hike through part of the wilderness by Mike Town and others.
Wild Sky was reached via the Iron Goat Trail east of Skykomish. The trail winds through a steep gulch where a Great Northern Railway trestle once stood.
After about a half-mile of switchbacks and up-and-down terrain, a sign marked the entrance to the Wild Sky Wilderness.
“It was worth every ounce of effort to go up there and see a place that’s so beautiful that families can enjoy for years and decades,” Murray said after the hike.
Wild Sky has been harder to reach than originally envisioned. The Index-Galena Road, which formerly led to some popular hiking areas that are now on the edge of Wild Sky, was washed out by a flood in 2006. The road is outside of the wilderness area and could be rebuilt, but there are no immediate plans for repair.
Still, those hiking areas, including Troublesome Creek and Bear Creek Falls, can be reached by a trail that goes around the washout, Mike Town said.
The Outdoor Adventures Center offers river rafting and other guided outdoor activities. Owner Bill Corson said visitors specifically ask about Wild Sky.
“We direct people up there every week,” he said.
Repairing the road will be key to getting more visitors into the wilderness, advocates said.
“Wild Sky is not the main attraction (in Index) right now,” resident Louise Lindgren said, “but it will be.”
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Sen. Murray, Rep. Larsen visit Wild Sky on 5-year anniversary
Index, Washington The Skykomish River was sparkling last week as it danced with the sun, seeming to join in the festivities.
United States Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Rick Larsen traveled to Index on Tuesday, Aug. 20 to celebrate the five-year anniversary of the creation of the Wild Sky Wilderness Act. Wild Sky was a hard-fought designation which established 106,577 acres located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as a federal wilderness area. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush on May 8, 2008 and was the first new wilderness area created in Washington State in over 20 years.
Murray and Larsen worked in partnership, championing for the bill for nearly a decade. They were welcomed in Index by over 50 wilderness advocates and local residents, many of whom carried signs thanking them for the Sky Wilderness.
“It seems like just yesterday we were fighting to protect this area, and now here we are celebrating the five-year anniversary,” said Larsen. “Local businesses and government, environmentalists, timber companies, recreational groups and the forest service all agreed that it was important to protect this area. More importantly, all those groups did the work to get to a consensus on what Wild Sky was going to be.”
The Wild Sky Wilderness Area is located North of Index and Skykomish and has three units; the Ragged Ridge unit, which is located Northeast of Reiter Foothills; Eagle Rock, which encompasses a large area that lies North of Money Creek; and West Cady, which is situated Northeast of the Beckler River near Skykomish.
Originally introduced in May of 2002, the bill passed through the Senate three times, only to be stymied by opposition in the House of Representatives.
“There were tough challenges,” said Murray. “There were hurdles. We had to be creative, we had to keep going, we had to learn when to say ‘no, we’re not doing that,’ and we had to convince a lot of people. But at the end of the day, now, five years later, sitting in this gorgeous place, and watching what has been created here… It was worth every moment.”
The bill’s most ardent opposition was from a California Republican who sat as Chairman of the House Resources Committee named Richard Pombo. Pombo was known as a conservative, private property rights advocate.
Pombo thought that if he could bottleneck Wild Sky, he could bottleneck the next 10 public land use bills, explained Duvall resident Mike Town, who worked alongside Murray and Larsen from the beginning, helping to develop the legislation. Town, an instructor in environmental sciences, founded the non-profit organization Friends of Wild Sky.
When Pombo lost his seat in the November 2006 election, Murray and Larsen were ready. They reintroduced the bill to Congress yet again, in February of 2007. It passed the Senate for the fourth time.
As it turned out, the fourth time was a charm. The legislation forged a new trail, passing through the House for the first time in its history. It was a trail that led directly to the president’s desk.
Murray and Larsen worked in concert with multiple organizations to develop Wild Sky and to ensure its support and viability. Changes were made to accommodate state and local snowmobile groups who were concerned about losing riding areas. They worked closely with the Forest Service, Snohomish County, the Seaplane Pilots Association, hunting and fishing groups, along with local businesses, elected officials and wilderness advocates.
“It was not an easy task,” said Murray. “But I feel like I have learned more from Wild Sky about life, and about how you get things done, than anything else I’ve done.”
Murray took the opportunity to enjoy the results of her effort and hiked to the entrance of Wild Sky before her visit in Index. Guided by Mike Town, Murray hiked in from Iron Goat Trailhead, which is located east of Skykomish.
As a federally protected wilderness area, one of the unique characteristics of Wild Sky is accessibility and a high level of lower elevation areas which include some of the best salmon spawning streams in the Cascades. Approximately one-third of Wild Sky is below 3000 feet in elevation.
Approximately 25 miles of salmon streams have been protected within Wild Sky Wilderness.
The area encompasses much old growth timber at both lower and higher elevations. There are currently 67 miles of existing trails associated with the wilderness area. The terrain features everything from rugged mountain peaks, open forests, lakes, streams and flower meadows. The U.S. Forest Service has developed a prioritized plan for over 115 miles of additional trail projects in the wilderness area, and about 60 miles of the planned trails are being considered high-priority.
Wild Sky offers a wide array of recreational activities including; hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, rock-climbing, cross-country skiing and hunting.
Bicycles are not permitted in wilderness areas. Any motorized usage, including snowmobiles, dirt bikes and any other off-road vehicles are prohibited in designated wilderness.
Murray and Larsen took turns addressing the Wild Sky supporters who attended the celebration. Former Index mayor Kem Hunter spoke, as well as the congressional liaison for Suzan DelBene, who is the current representative for the area. DelBene was unable to attend, but extended her appreciation for Wild Sky.
“I’m proud to recognize and applaud the great work of our congressional delegation, Senator Murray and Congressman Larsen, in preserving this area for the future,” wrote DelBene. “Their effort has ensured that this beautiful part of the new First Congressional District can be enjoyed for generations to come.”
With the 2012 redistricting, Congresswoman DelBene became the representative for the Sky Valley area. This area use to fall within District 2, then represented by Congressman Larsen. District 2 now encompasses San Juan and Island Counties, in addition to communities along the I-5 corridor.
Larsen smiled as he told event attendees that being in Index was making him miss his former district.
The event was hosted by the Corson family who own and operate the Outdoor Adventure Center in Index.
For additional information on the Wild Sky Wilderness and access to the wilderness area, please visit: http://tinyurl.com/skyvalleywilderness, or call Outdoor Adventure Center at (425) 883-9039.
Family floats and Salmon swims are in!
August is the best time to enjoy warm summer temps and relaxing float trips on the Skykomish River! This is also the larger of the spawning seasons for pink salmon so now is the perfect time to experience the Skykomish River – raft and kayak only 1 hour from Seattle.
The river is as warm as it will get! It’s time to come out and practice your kayak rolling in front of the River House in Index. Then take a class and work on your combat roll with Jared, Justin or Blair on one of the Skykomish River’s whitewater sections. We’ll see you on the river!
Snorkle the River
Looking for some new river adventures? Come see the Skykomish River from a whole new perspective! Strong swimming ability required. Blair is excited to take you down the river – call for more details.
As the first snow begins to melt the river house begins to prepare for an exhilarating season of white water rafting. The Skykomish season began in May and went through the end of July this year. Whether it is on the North Fork, the Main or the Lower, we always seem to have a good time on the Skykomish River. Guide training was also a huge success this year. Our guides know exactly how to make rafting trips safe, fun and adventurous. We had a lot of big companies come out and experience the white water this year as well as families and church camps. Time flies when you’re having fun! Looking forward to another great rafting season!