>From The Oregonian, Oct. 18, 2000, p E1
Forest gets unwanted windfall
Washington's Mount Baker-Snowqualmie gets money for a campground that it
By MICHAEL MILSTEIN, The Oregonian
Pity the poor Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Congress has given officials of the forest east of Seattle $2
million they didn't ask for - money for a campground they didn't want to
build, don't need and can't take care of.
But some residents of the area see the pricey campground along the
Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River as key to reclaiming the isolated
mountain valley that has turned into a dumping ground for stolen cars and
the spoils of methamphetamine labs.
It is a contriadiction in goals growing more common in the
management of America's national forests, especially in the outdoor-
loving Northwest. Locals want more facilities to handle increasing
traffic and attract more tourist dollars, while forest officials want
simply to keep the facilities they have from falling apart.
"Our official agency position was that we had other things we'd
rather spend this money on rather than building new facilities," said
David Redman, recreation budget coordinatior for Mount Baker-Snoqualmie,
which sprawls over 1.7 million acres on the west side of the Cascades.
His forest cannot afford $7 million in needed maintenance on
campgrounds and other facilities; the national backlog is $812 million.
No wonder the U.S. Forest Service's stance is to not build any new
facilities on its 192 million acres until it fixes the decaying ones it
Problem is, that's often not a practical strategy for managers of a
national forest system that saw about 1 billion days of visitors' use
last year and that is under increasing pressure to provide more
recreational opportunities for urban refugees. As the closest mountin
valley to booming Seattle, some 45 minutes away, the Middle Fork of the
Snoqualmie bore the worst of such pressure, turning over the years into a
lawless wasteland of stolen cars, ruined drug labs and wild gunplay.
"It's like something out of the movie 'Deliverance,'" said Rick
McGuire, president of the Alpine Lakes Protection Society, one of the
groups pushing to remake the Middle Fork.
A road full of potholes leading into the upper end of the valley has
kept law officers from making regular patrols even when local groups
began hauling refrigerators and other garbage out of the river as part of
"It's really pretty hazardous to go hiking or camping or anything in
the upper valley," said Norm Winn of The Mountaineers, another supportive
Such groups enlisted Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., chairman of the
committee that controls Forest Service funding, to add $2 million for a
new campground along the river into an Interior Department spending bill
signed by President Clinton last week. They hoped the campground's 60-
plus sites and related road improvements would provide better law
enforcement access to the scenic valley and would minimize damage by
concentrating use in the new campsites.
Gorton, now locked in a re-election battle, said the prospect of
restoring the Middle Fork was well worth the cost of a new campground.
But the sudden cash surprised forest officials, who had not asked for it,
did not particularly want it and have been so preoccupied with their
existing maintenance backlog that they have not constructed a new
campground in at least a decade.
"It's been our emphasis to rehabilitate what we have before building
something new," said Gail Throop of the Forest Service's regional office
That's just what agency officials told Congress, adding that they
did not know if they could build the new campground even if they got the
money since it must first clear the same environmental hurdles known for
holding up timber sales in the Northwest. The project, for instance, lies
in potential grizzly bear habitat, could disturb imperiled spotted owls
and falls under the scrutiny of the Northwest Forest Plan, a sweeping
pact to protect wildlife in the face of logging.
And because the valley is steep and narrow, there may be no good
place to put the campground.
"We told them there is nothing to guarantee, even once a vast amount
of money is spent on the project, that the final decision would be to
build the campground," Throop said. "We could offer no guarantees in that
The $2 million price is only "the wildest estimate" of the project's
cost, she said.
The last Forest Service campground built in Oregon or Washington was
the Willamette National Forest's Cove Creek Campground, finished in 1998.
It took more than five years to plan and contruct and cost more than $2
No one knows how long the new campground on the Middle Fork might
take to build or how much it will cost.
"It's really hard to effectively say no to something like this,"
Throop said. "If it's a priority for the Senate, it doesn't matter if it
was a priority for us. It is now."
Comment by poster: Can you say "pork-barrel"?
Daniel B. Wheeler
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Before you buy.