Capitol State Forest’s 100,000 acres and 500 miles of rough roads southwest of Olympia are open to the public. But it you drive up there and get stuck, there’s no guarantee you’ll get out.
Crews from the state Department of Natural Resources respond to calls from people in need of help in the forest. There are large swaths with no cell phone service and often callers don’t know where exactly they are.
These days, there is also about 3 feet of snow on the ground at higher elevations, according to Jason Bodine, a natural resources police officer with DNR. When Olympia gets a dusting of snow like it did Friday morning, Capitol Forest can get much more.
On Wednesday, crews rescued a diabetic man stranded for more than 24 hours without food or medication, Bodine said. The man’s nephew went looking for him and also got stuck in the snow.
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DNR had to call radio technicians with snowmobiles to reach the man.
On Friday morning, Bodine got another call about a 17-year-old boy who had been stranded overnight with no working cell phone.
Bodine said crews always get calls in the winter from people who are stuck. But this year’s series of snow falls — snow would fall, melt, freeze into a sheet of ice, only to be covered by more snow — has made conditions particularly bad.
“It’s a lot harder to get traction,” he said. “We’re not in the business of towing people out. We don’t have the equipment to do it, we don’t have the training to do it.”
DNR will get people who are stranded out of the area, but their vehicles might have to wait. Bodine said tow companies often turn down requests to pull out vehicles from Capitol Forest, not wanting to get stuck themselves. He knows of four or five vehicles still up there after getting stuck this winter
If you do go, he said, make sure you have the right supplies: a shovel, chains, phone charger, water, food, blankets and plenty of gas.
“We’re going to do what we can within reason,” he said. “If you’re going to go, be prepared.”