Snowmobile Access in Wenatchee National Forest

snowmobiles and the national forest

The following ediitorial comes from the Wenatchee Mountain Coalition in Central Washington. The Wenatchee National Forest is not alone in its user conflicts. Read on . . .

Will it be Snowmobile National Forest, or expanded wilderness? What is the reasonable middle ground? The short answer is, please, U.S. Forest Service, manage the winter forest for multiple recreational uses, in some reasonable balance, in consideration of the impacts to nature, and for all of the public owners of the forest.

We are asking that the local Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest managers designate significant areas for non-motorized winter recreation an activity of the majority of off-highway winter forest users. We ask also for reasonable management of the single dominant use snowmobiles, by a relative few in the general public. The accessible areas set aside currently for non-motorized winter use are pitifully small. Most wilderness is inaccessible in winter to most people, although snowmobile riding allows access in some areas.

Skiers, snowshoers, winter campers, dog sledders, skijorers, climbers, runners, even snowmobile-assisted ski tourers, seek pristine, safe, snow-covered areas for quiet recreation. The challenge is to find quiet and pristine accessible areas away from the current typical situation of rutted, off-road, snowmobile speedways. USFS Wenatchee Forest management dates back to the days when snowmobiles were ridden almost entirely on roads.

The recent advancements of snowmobile technology and horsepower have allowed for the exponential expansion of off-road snowmobile riding in the winter forest. Areas normally ridden now include to the high summits of 5,000-plus feet to 7,000-foot peaks of the Wenatchee Mountains crest, from Mission Ridge to Ingalls Lake, and also across the wilderness boundary deep into the Alpine Lakes. To contrast, in summer, we all expect that when hiking a forest trail we will not see or hear loud, intrusive, motorized vehicles riding all over the off-road areas of the forest, and close to us as we hike (exception are trails legal for motorcycles or ATVs). Why, we ask, has USFS allowed the current snowmobile free-for-all to evolve on the winter forest?

Snowmobile riding is great recreation. However, that activity must be managed as are other uses. Cars, trucks, Jeeps, motorcycles, mountain bikes, motor boats, horses, and even camping and hiking all are managed in regard to where and how they are used on the forest. There has been little or no USFS consideration, planning, NEPA process, EIS, request for public input, not even a formal designation for snowmobile recreation for these currently used extensive areas of the pristine, unroaded Wenatchee Mountains. While snowmobile riding is a reasonable and legitimate activity, it is an activity on the forest that excludes the safe or reasonable quiet pedestrian use of the same terrain.

We ask for public input to Forest Service. We ask that winter non-motorized forest users describe how and where they recreate, and also share their thoughts about this issue and this need with the Forest Supervisor and the Forest Plan Revision Team. Contact Forest Supervisor Rebecca Heath and the Forest Plan Revision Team: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Headquarters, 215 Melody Lane, Wenatchee, WA 98801,

Robert Mullins, Leavenworth, and Gus Bekker, Wenatchee, represent the Wenatchee Mountains Coalition.