‘Stop’ or ‘significantly downsize’ the proposed development. In brief, those were the two options that resonated with the 60 people who gathered on March 5 at the Wenatchee Valley Museum in Wenatchee, Washington for a community conversation about Mission Ridge Ski and Board Resort’s proposed plans to develop a “village” with a 4,000-person bed-base adjacent to the current ski area. The proposed development would forever change the character of the ski hill, recreation on the surrounding public lands, and the complexion of the entire community. In short, the resort developer is trying to turn Wenatchee’s hometown hill into a destination resort.

The meeting was organized by El Sendero Backcountry Ski and Snowshoe Club, a Winter Wildlands grassroots partner, to help the club determine how it could best represent the interests of backcountry enthusiasts who currently use the public lands around the ski area. This includes public lands near Clara Lake, as well as Mission Peak, Stemilt Basin, and Squilchuck Park. The meeting gave community members the chance to discuss benefits, opportunities, concerns, and issues revolving around the proposed development.

Many more concerns than benefits arose during the two-hour meeting.

Many people expressed concern over how a “village” with a potential population center equal to nearby towns would affect outdoor recreation opportunities on adjacent public lands, create parking issues for trails providing access to these areas, and eliminate snowshoe and ski routes on public lands. Skiers in the audience noted the proposed development barely adds to the resort’s skiable terrain, but would more than double the number of visitors skiing the resort.

Meeting attendees were even more concerned about environmental issues. Many expressed concern that a 4,000-person increase in summer recreation will seriously impact the Colockum elk herd. Wildfire was also a top concern. The eastern Cascades are a dry forest environment and development increases the odds of wildfire. This is an additional safety concern because the village, as proposed, would only have one access road. Water was another concern – the water rights for the Squilchuck drainage are already tapped out and the summer needs of the resort would take water from those living down valley. Traffic issues, housing issues for locals and minimum-wage employees, sewage issues, and infrastructure costs borne by taxpayers during fires were among the other issues voiced.

Near the end of the meeting, a straw poll was taken to help El Sendero gauge the ultimate sentiments of those in the audience. No one in the audience expressed support for the development as it currently stands.

Click here to read more about the issues that came up during the community meeting and how to submit your own comments. In order for this proposal to go forward the Forest Service will have to grant a right of way for a new road between the ski area parking lot and the proposed development and Chelan County must approve the resort’s Master Plan. Both the County and the Forest Service are allowing public comments on the proposal until March 30 and March 27 respectively.

Several resort expansion proposals are currently under consideration across the West. We work with local partners in affected communities to protect the backcountry and stand up for the environment. Right now El Sendero is asking for skiers from across Washington, or anybody who’s interested in the future of the eastern Cascades, to help them out by commenting in opposition to the Mission Ridge development proposal.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION

The epicenter of a tragic wildfire in 1910, the Great Burn has been left alone for a century of regrowth. Today, it is a recommended wilderness area along the Montana-Idaho stateline with an abundance of wildlife habitat. As the Forest Service rewrites the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Plan, the Great Burn needs continued protection.

For a long time, we’ve understood that motorized recreation disturbs wintering wildlife, and land managers often close winter ranges to motor vehicles to protect vulnerable species. However, new research is showing that non-motorized recreation, like backcountry skiing, can disturb wintering wildlife, too.  

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