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Speak Up: Management Planning for Monte Cristo

Posted by Kristen Kubitza at Feb 16, 2018 04:00 PM |

This year the Forest Service will be developing a management plan for the old mining town of Monte Cristo and is seeking public input to help influence what that plan will include.

This year the Forest Service will be developing a management plan for the old mining town of Monte Cristo, and the agency is seeking public input to help influence what that plan will include.

Monte Cristo town by Impromptu Disco.jpeg

Photo of Monte Cristo townsite by Impromptu Disco.

Current Recreation Planning

Right now the Forest Service is asking the public to provide feedback on the future management of Monte Cristo — including issues related to trail maintenance, parking at the Barlow trailhead, bathroom facilities, historical signage, maintaining historical cabins, access on the county road, security and other management issues.

A Piece of MINING History

In the 1890s a mining boom drew thousands of people to Monte Cristo, an isolated area nestled in the mountains along the eastern edge of today's Snohomish County. To deliver the lead-silver ore to Everett, a railway was built along the South Fork of the Sauk River. Homesteaders filled the valley and the miners created two tiers of housing at the steep Monte Cristo site, as well as mills to process the ore. By 1893 there were more than 200 mining claims. However, the dreams of riches came to a crashing halt as funding woes, flooding along the rail line and miscalculations about the mining potential caused the production to stall and then cease by 1907.

Monte Cristo history by schmerica79.jpegSign of Monte Cristo History by schmerica79.

Modern Exploration of Monte Cristo

In modern times Monte Cristo has been a popular destination for hiking. An old county road provided an easy, family-friendly hike into the townsite until the early 2000’s. At that time a couple major floods damaged the road and destroyed the bridge that crosses the South Fork Sauk River, limiting access to those willing to ford the river or traverse over a slippery old tree that has fallen across the river.

Monte Cristo log crossing by Joe Henry.jpegA sometimes dicey log crossing by Joe Henry.

Environmental Impact from Mines

Unfortunately, the tailings left behind by the old mines contained toxins, including arsenic and lead, which polluted the environment and a posed public health risk to visitors. To address these issues the Forest Service completed a multi-million dollar clean-up over the last several years. In order to access the mines to complete the clean-up, a temporary road was constructed.

This road, known as the CERCLA road, had to receive special authorization to be built because it goes through an Inventoried Roadless Area (IRA). IRA is a special designation for sections of National Forest where there are no roads, and where it is illegal to construct roads or conduct logging activities. These areas provide vital ecological services — wildlife habitat, watershed protection — and provide unique backcountry recreation opportunities.

Once the monitoring period for the mine clean up ends, the road is required to be decommissioned and returned to its natural state. However, the Forest Service is currently considering keeping this temporary road open as a (subpar) hiking trail and to allow motorized use for administrative purposes. Unfortunately, keeping the CERCLA road open would threaten the strength of the roadless law and put other official roadless areas at risk of future development of roads.

WTA believes the temporary CERCLA road should be closed and that hiker access from the existing county road should be restored to Monte Cristo in order to provide a quality family friendly hiking experience.

How you Can Help

Prior to developing a draft plan the Forest Service is asking the public to weigh in. You can help shape the future of hiking in the Monte Cristo area by sharing your thoughts by March 5.

Email your suggestions to the Forest Service at: comments-pacificnorthwest-mtbaker-snoqualmie-darrington@fs.fed.us

Some suggested comments:

  • Monte Cristo provides a unique opportunity to explore the Cascades and connect with Washington history.
  • Historically, the Barlow Trail (accessed via the county road) provided an easy hike in to Monte Cristo, providing easy access to for families.
  • The Forest Service should work with Snohomish County to restore family-friendly access to Monte Cristo on the county road by replacing the bridge over the South Fork Sauk River.
  • The temporary CERCLA road should be closed because it provides a low quality hiking experience and it goes through an area that was never supposed to contain roads.
  • Add parking and bathroom facilities at Barlow Trailhead to accommodate current visitors and expected increase in visitation.
  • Add additional bathrooms at the townsite to accommodate current visitors and expected increase in visitation.
  • Make improvements and maintain the campsite to improve visitor experience.

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