Concerns Continue About Overcrowding In Alpine Lakes Wilderness
There continues to be heavy concern about the extremely high number of visitors to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area in Chelan County.
County Commissioner Shon Smith says he shot video Saturday capturing hundreds of cars parked along narrow roads leading to the trail heads of Colchuck and Eight Mile lakes hiking areas.
He says he was told by a trailhead host that travel on the road was delayed for 35 minutes because so many cars were trying to move in and out of the area at the same time.
"It truly was a shock to see how many cars were there," said Smith. "And envisioning two to three people per car there, it had to have been a thousand people on those two trails just Saturday. And where you go for peace and serenity up there is not peaceful."
There's concern about safety with the high number of visitors in the wilderness area as wide body emergency vehicles would not be able to pass through the massive sea of parked cars on trailhead roads. There's also concern about the heavy expense the county's experiencing with the high volume of rescue calls it answers.
Smith brought up his Saturday experience during a public discussion with his fellow county commissioners Monday.
"It's just amazing where they're coming from, license plates from all over the country," Smith said. "It wasn't just west side. It wasn't just Washington. It was countrywide that was represented."
One idea to cut down on the overwhelming travel to the wilderness area is to limit parking access near the trailheads.
The idea was brought up during a workshop last week to address the overcrowding which was attended by members of Chelan County Sheriff's Office and Public Works Department, along with representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources, and several local backcountry groups.
No formal steps have been taken as of yet to curb traffic.
Commissioner Tiffany Gering asked Smith to encourage County Sheriff Mike Morrison to follow-up with the Forest Service every week to get the process moving to offset the excessive crowding.
Commissioner Kevin Overbay said it might make sense for the county to hire a third party to police access to the area.
The discussion also touched on a need to treat the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area like a national park instead of its current designation as part of the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest because national parks plan for heavy visitor traffic.
In addition, commissioners discussed the danger of a mass amount of people being trapped in the area if a wildfire ignited close by.
In terms of rescues, Chelan County Emergency Management has already responded to 33 calls for service in the wilderness area this year, including six involving a helicopter; eight involving a ground search-and-rescue team; and three fatalities. Last year, there were 27 calls for service in the area and four fatalities.