Comments needed to establish a Winter Non-Motorized Area in the Stemilt Basin
Our grassroots group on the east side of the Cascades, El Sendero Backcountry Ski and Snowshoe Club, has been working for 5+ years to establish a winter non-motorized area (NMA) on Washington State public lands just south and east of Wenatchee.
To create the non-motorized area, El Sendero first participated in the Naneum Ridge to Columbia River Recreation and Access Plan (Naneum Plan) planning process. The Naneum Plan was signed and approved by Washington state officials in 2015. It calls for a winter NMA to be established in an area just east of Mission Ridge ski area called the Stemilt Basin. El Sendero has also been participating along with other recreation groups in a local initiative called the Stemilt Partnership. The Stemilt Partnership developed an additional recreation plan for the Stemilt Basin, including a proposal for a winter NMA.
The proposed NMA begins at Clara Lake and includes the Stemilt Basin adjacent to Mission Ridge (extending down to the Upper Reservoir Loop Road). See map. We feel this is a fair and equitable sharing of the recreation lands in the basin. Unfortunately, a small number of motorized users are attempting to either eliminate the proposed winter NMA or change it to what amounts to an area that is unsuitable as a recreation area for human powered winter users.
It’s a critical time in the process. For the winter NMA to be approved, backcountry skiers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers must tell the county they support this non-motorized area. Please take two minutes NOW and weigh-in.
Nine Reasons The Stemilt Basin Winter NMA Should Be Established
(you might mention one of these in your comment)
- The winter non-motorized area is consistent with the larger state process of the Naneum Recreation Plan (approved two years ago). The Naneum Plan clearly mandates for a winter NMA in the Stemilt Basin and in the area surrounding Clara Lake. The total acreage for the proposed NMA is less than 4,000 acres, leaving snowmobilers with 226,000 acres of terrain for their recreation in the Stemilt Basin and in the adjacent state land covered in the Naneum Recreation Plan (the winter NMA is only 1.7% of the total). Scale this to a 2,300 square foot home and the proposed winter NMA is the home’s coat closet.
- Non-motorized winter recreation in aggregate (snowshoers plus backcountry skiers plus cross-country skiers) is a much larger user group (over 9 million people nationally) than snowmobilers (under 1.5 million people nationally). Non-motorists deserve space and opportunities in winter.
- Non-motorized winter sports are still growing quickly while snowmobile sales have declined steadily for 15 years. The Stemilt Recreation Plan does a good job of looking at current and future trends when it proposes wintertime non-motorized areas.
- Currently there are 170 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and zero miles of winter non-motorized trails in the Naneum-Colockum area. Likewise, there are over 185 parking spaces for winter motorized users and none for non-motorized users.
- These are public lands so no single user group should have a stranglehold. Both the Naneum and Stemilt recreation plans vision statements call for a balance of shared recreational use.
- The location of the proposed winter NMA is sensible because the land is among the most easily accessed for the largest number of recreationalists who snowshoe, ski, or winter walk. Furthermore, the proposed non-motorized zone flanks the Mission Ridge Ski Area which does not allow public snowmobile use. This means the winter NMA will see far fewer violations because the ski area protects several boundaries from misuse.
- Snowmobilers maintain we can all share the same areas but that’s like arguing basketball players should be happy playing hoop on a football field. Or that pedestrians should have no problem sharing sidewalks with cars. Non-motorists need separation for safe, high-quality recreational experiences. Several National Forest in the Western snowbelt realize this and are seeing good results by separating users with different needs.
- Non-motorists like neither the noise nor fumes of snowmobiles. Non-motorists also sometimes feel unsafe around the speed of snowmobiles (especially true of parents skiing or snowshoeing with children). Snowmobiles quickly track out the untracked-snow experience backcountry skiers seek and occasionally the deep ruts left by machines are injury hazards to skiers coming downhill. Finally backcountry skiers ascending steeper slopes can be exposed to unexpected avalanche hazard if snowmobilers arrive and begin high-marking the same slopes.
- Snowmobilers may question the need for non-motorized areas because they don’t see snowshoers or skiers in the areas they frequent. This is not because the non-motorized crowd doesn’t exist but testimony to the fact that non-motorists avoid places with heavy snowmobile use. Establish non-motorized zones in the Stemilt Basin and people will use them.
Click here to see documents and maps of the proposed Stemilt Recreation Plan.