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A Trails Rebooted Plan for a Special Area Near Mount Rainier

Posted by Jessi Loerch at Aug 19, 2021 01:08 PM |
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WTA is working with our partners to create new and improved opportunities for outdoor recreation in the Snoquera area, which offers an excellent area to disperse use from Mount Rainier National Park and other trails.

By Rebecca Viets

The Snoquera region is a lesser-known area for recreation and dispersed camping opportunities in Western Washington. It’s located off of Highway 410 as you head south towards Crystal Mountain. The drive is picturesque and calm, with trees lining the road and plenty of good places to stop for a snack. The winding White River occasionally makes an appearance as you travel up and through the community of Greenwater. 

WTA has increased our time and energy in this area since we launched our Trails Rebooted campaign in 2019. It's an area that could really help disperse hikers, including from nearby Mount Rainer and hikes in the I-90 corridor. Part of our work has been helping the area recover from the 2017 Norse Peak Fire. It’s also been working with our partners to look at the bigger picture of recreation in the area. The U.S. Forest Service finalized a formal landscape analysis in 2020, a unique opportunity to work on ecosystem, watershed and recreation improvements at the same time. WTA has been partnering with the U.S. Forest Service, Conservation Northwest, WildEarth Guardians and Blue Forest to make this plan a reality. 

A trail traverses a slope with wildflowers and grass growing on each side. Mountains and skies stretch in the background.
Noble Knob is one of many trails in the Snoquera area that offer great hiking and expansive views. Photo by Andrew Holland.

In early spring 2021, WTA and our partners hosted a meeting of land managers and people who enjoy recreating in the area. A few key projects were identified as top priorities, including a detailed audit of the dispersed campsites on the landscape. Part of what makes the Snoquera area unique is it's many opportunities for camping. As more hikers discover the area, they will want to take advantage of the chances for camping, too. So we're excited to help support the work for sustainable camping options — it's a great way to supported our Trails Rebooted work while also carrying for the greater Snoquera ecosystem. 

Dispersed Camping Surveys

Conservation Northwest led the way to develop a field survey to gather information about dispersed campsites in the area. I had the pleasure of joining Laurel Baum of Conservation Northwest to support a day of field surveys in Snoquera. 

On a drizzly morning in early August, I arrived on site to one of many dispersed campsites in the Snoquera area. I was met by a small, jovial crew of volunteers and contractors who were busy at work improving campsites. They were using a backhoe to move large boulders to prevent cars from driving into campsites adjacent to the fragile, salmon-bearing Greenwater River. Laurel pointed out the new signs that they are placing at dispersed campsites to educate visitors on best practices such as packing out trash, how to manage human waste when restroom facilities aren’t available and how to be responsible with campfires. We then hopped in Laurel’s truck and headed up the road to survey more sites.

A new sign near a dispersed camping site.
New signs display dispersed camping best practices in the Snoquera area. Photo by Rebecca Viets. 

We were looking for litter and fire rings, as well as other information on how the land is being used, such as the general size of each site, the amount of wear on ground vegetation, as well as any erosion along the stream channel. We also looked for damage to trees, many of which had been cut down for firewood or used for target practice. Both of these practices are illegal. And shooting or cutting parts of trees can damage them, making them potential hazards to campers. 

While we were out surveying, we had a chance to talk with several groups of campers. Some people were visiting from out of state, returning to the place they had camped as kids. Another group was visiting for the first time after wildfires required them to relocate their annual family camping trip. 

A person wearing an orange safety vest takes photos of a tree with visible damage.
Laurel Baum of Conservation Northwest takes a photo of tree damage during one of the dispersed camping surveys. Photo by Rebecca Viets. 

The Snoquera area is an old and a new favorite for many people looking to spend time outdoors. These surveys will help the U.S. Forest Service to identify where infrastructure improvements may be needed. The surveys will also provide the information needed to support efforts to increase funding for regulation and education on responsible dispersed camping. As the number of outdoor recreationists in Washington increases each year, education is vital for protecting wildlife, reducing damage to the environment and maintaining safe hiking and camping opportunities in the Snoquera region.

After my day of surveys wrapped up, and before heading home, I decided to explore a section of the nearby Greenwater Trail before facing Seattle rush hour traffic. As I reached my hand into my slightly smashed bag of sour gummies and looked up at the old growth trees around me, I took a deep breath of fresh air and smiled. The Snoquera area is a true gem and one I hope to return to many times. 

A small lake among green grass and evergreen trees.Greenwater Lakes. Photo by Rebecca Viets. 

The Future of Snoquera

I’m excited for WTA’s future work in the Snoquera area. A week after I visited the area for dispersed camping surveys, a coworker of mine returned to Snoquera to attend a field tour hosted by the U.S. Forest Service, spotlighting projects (like the dispersed camping improvements) that are currently underway to improve the landscape for both recreationists and wildlife. 

Our hope is that continued improvements to the recreation infrastructure in the Snoquera region will create an ever growing appreciation for the area while also supporting our community partners, like Conservation Northwest, in their work to conserve habitat and protect wildlife. 

Upcoming Trail Work Parties

Interested in rolling up your sleeves and maintaining a trail in the area? Check out our upcoming work parties.

Snoquera Hiking Opportunities

  • Greenwater and Echo Lakes: Hike part or all of the Greenwater Trail for calming views of the Greenwater River and old-growth forests. Located just minutes from some of the best dispersed camping in the Snoquera area.
  • Snoquera Falls: See old-growth and a beautiful waterfall on this family-friendly hike just off highway 410 — and you can make it a loop!
  • Noble Knob: With minimal elevation gain to this former fire lookout, the payoff is huge: all-around views of meadows, alpine lakes and snow-capped peaks and, of course, Mount Rainier.
  • Kelly Butte: Enjoy volcano views from this short but steep fire lookout.

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