From Rainier roads to Elwha dams, major developments are on the agenda for the new year We are only two days into 2011 and already it's clear that outdoor lovers are going to have plenty to talk about this year while they're hitting the slopes, trails and waterways around the South Sound. Here are some of the events and happenings we think will have the outdoor community buzzing.
BIG DECISIONS AT MOUNT RAINIER
Mount Rainier National Park officials are expected to make two decisions this year that will affect visitors.
A decision on the future of the flood-ravaged Carbon River Road should finally come. Also, expect the park to increase the cost for a climbing permit from $35 to $43 or more.
It is most likely that the Carbon River Road will be converted to a hiking and biking trail. Park superintendent Dave Uberuaga announced this as the park’s preferred option in October. He says it has become unrealistic to maintain the often-washed-out road.
The road has not been open to vehicles since it was damaged by flooding in 2006.
The final announcement is certain to upset many park users, who will not like seeing the once-easy 6.5-mile day hike to the snout of the Carbon Glacier turned into a 16.8-mile trek.
Uberuaga calls the decision “the most difficult ... I’ve made as a park manager.”
The park also is likely to increase climbing permit prices before this year’s climbing season. Uberuaga is proposing a possible annual increase based on the consumer price index.
Uberuaga says the increase is necessary to appropriately fund the climbing program and improve training for climbing rangers.
The park will accept public comment on the possible fee increase until Jan. 31.
THE FUTURE OF THE CAPITAL CITY MARATHON
After 16 years, Lesley Roberts has stepped down as director of the Capital City Marathon. The Olympia race is in danger of ending after this year if a new director isn’t found soon, race President Jim Lux told The Olympian in October. The job is unpaid and will continue to be a volunteer position.
The event includes the marathon, a half marathon and a five-mile run that averages about 1,800 participants. This year’s race is set for May 15.
ELWHA RIVER DAM REMOVAL
The long-awaited Elwha River dam removal project is scheduled to begin this fall. When completed, the $26.9 million project will restore more than 70 miles of river and stream habitat on the Olympic Peninsula to all five Pacific salmon species as well as steelhead.
The 108-foot high Elwha Dam and the 210-foot high Glines Canyon Dam are scheduled to be removed beginning in September.
Once the work begins, it is expected to take as long as three years to remove the dams. The work is expected to release large amounts of sediment now impounded in reservoirs behind both dams, so work stoppages have been built into the schedule to limit the amount of sediment released at any given time, particularly when adult fish are in the river, according to park documents.
According to some estimates, the largest dam removal in U.S. history will boost salmon populations from 3,000 to more than 300,000.
To help fish species recover, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering a five-year recreational fishing moratorium in the watershed. Ron Warren, regional fish manager, said a moratorium would help protect fish runs during the removal and maximize the number of fish available to spawn.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission will conduct a public hearing on the matter when it meets Friday. A decision could be made at the February commission meeting.
ANOTHER ATLANTIC CROSSING FOR OAR NORTHWEST?
In early December, four men will attempt to row from Liberia to South America.
The group includes former University of Puget Sound rowers Jordan Hanssen and Greg Spooner, both of whom will be making their second voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. In 2006, they (along with fellow UPS graduates Brad Vickers and Dylan LeValley) became the first Americans to row from New York to England.
They’re likely to make history on this trip because, as Hanssen says, “it’s probably the first time anybody has rowed from Liberia to anywhere.”
For this journey, they’ve added Canadian Olympic gold medalist Adam Kreek and former University of Washington rower Rick Tarbill.
Each rower committed $5,000 to the project and will have trained for more than two years by the time they shove off. The expedition will cost about $500,000 and they are currently looking for sponsors.
The team, OAR Northwest, also hopes to raise $500,000 for Right to Play, an organization that uses sports and games to improve the lives of children around the world.
STATE BUDGET CUTS
With the state facing a budget deficit of more than $4 billion, the agencies in charge of recreation could be combined. Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed combining the state Parks and Recreation department with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Also joining the new Department of Conservation and Recreation would be the Recreation and Conservation Office, along with the law enforcement unit in the Department of Natural Resources. A director, reporting directly to the governor, would replace the citizen commission now leading the agencies.
As part of the budget plan, Gregoire said 13 state parks and seven fish hatcheries would have to close. State Parks has already targeted South Sounds parks Joemma Beach, Kopachuck and Tolmie for closure.
Another proposal in the governor’s 2009-11 budget sure to impact users’ pocketbooks would take away more than $40 million in general fund support for state parks.
Don Hoch, who took over as director of State Parks and Recreation on Dec. 1, said the agency is looking at all types of revenue options, including day-use fees, annual passes, sponsorships and partnerships.
“We don’t have a dedicated fund source. We have to be creative. We have to look at our fee structures,” he said.
Hoch added that he has been talking to employees in the field to get their ideas about how to better manage the parks, reduce expenditures, save money and improve what they are doing.
The final decisions will come during the 2011 session of the Legislature, which opens Jan. 12.
If the 2011 Puget Sound pink salmon run is anything close to the 2009 run, local anglers will be scrambling to find any pink lure or fly.
Pinks return to the Sound on odd years, and 2009 was one of the best in recent years. The estimated return was 9.8 million fish, well above the forecast of 5.47 million.
The huge run had anglers flocking to spots such as the beaches at Dash Point and Brown’s Point and rivers such as the Puyallup and Green.
“Someone used the term ‘pink pandemonium,’ ” said Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound recreational salmon manager, when describing the action in 2009. “That was a very good year. That will be a tough one to stack up to.”
Preliminary forecasts for this year call for a Puget Sound run slightly smaller than two years ago, Thiesfeld said. Final run forecasts will be finalized in February and announced in early March.
Anglers can expect the first fish to start reaching this area in August and continue through September. On the Puyallup, the fishing gets hot the first two weeks of September.
Adding to the good news is the record out-migration of pinks from the Fraser River last spring. It was 50 percent higher than the previous out-migration, Thiesfeld said. That means anglers fishing the Strait of Juan de Fuca and around the San Juan Islands should be able to access those fish.
While many folks consider pinks to be the least tasty of the local salmon, they are probably the easiest to catch. Casting lures such as Buzz Bombs, or using corkies and yarn or flies like Clouser Minnows all in pink should do the trick.
RETURN OF SUMMIT EAST
The return of Summit East as a weekend ski area was supposed to happen in 2010, but a slight delay means this is likely to be the first bit of big news for skiers and snowboarders in 2011.
The smallest of the Summit at Snoqualmie’s four ski areas could open as soon as Jan. 8, according to resort spokeswoman Holly Lippert.
Summit East has been closed since a landslide destroyed the main lift in January 2009. When the ski area reopens, it will include a new lift that will service Hidden Valley for the first time in more than 20 years.