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Pilchuck Creek (WA) Access Closed

Posted: 12/23/2003
by Thomas O'Keefe

Paddlers returning to Plichuck Creek with the winter rains have learned of a new access closure. The Washington DNR, in cooperation with other land owners has closed the Crane Creek Road System to the public. This was the road that provided access to Pilchuck Creek just upstream of Pilchuck Falls which has provided access to kayakers since at least the early 1970's, and has remained a popular run for paddlers in Western Washington during heavy fall rain events. Although you can still legally walk in, you can now only get your shuttle rig within one mile of the river making it less convenient for those wanting to use this access for an easy day trip.

This particular access point separates the upper and middle runs on Pilchuck Creek. Although many paddlers enjoy the full run at appropriate water levels (access still available), the intermediate access point that divides the two sections provided greater flexibility and options for a trip approrpriately suited to the skill of the group and water level. The road crosses the river at a site just upstream of the bedrock gorge section which represents the start of the middle run. This section is slightly less demanding, incredibly scenic, and holds its water a bit longer than the upper section. The upper section which ends at the bridge requires a bit more water, is more continuous, and is thus suited for paddlers with slightly higher skills. Loss of this access means that the river will be less accessible at the lower limit of flows and to paddlers who may not wish to tackle the upper section.

The problems of garbage dumping along this road were easily recognized and ultimately led to this closure. Nearly every season a new car or two were launched off the cliff where the access road approached the river at Pilchuck Falls. All along the run one can see evidence of old car parts that have been slowly working their way downstream. Although a problem clearly existed, it's unfortunate that the decision was made to close off all public access. If anyone would like to put time into this access issue there may be an opportunity to negotiate an access arrangement with the landowners.

Why the Gate was Installed
Information provided by Laurie Bergvall, WA DNR

The Department of Natural Resources (The Grantee) has an easement on the road system from Scott Paper (The Grantor). According to the easement language the following holds true on the road: "Said Road may be used by the Grantee (DNR) in connection with the growing, protecting, and removing of timber or other valuable materials presently owned or hereafter acquired by it." In other words, the DNR has adminstrative use only on this road and cannot legally grant the public rights to use the road, per their easement agreement, as they do not own/control the road.

The new gate was installed at the request of Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the private landowners. The BPA was supported and promoted the new gate installation, as they were bearing the burden of the car removals on the powerline, the creek, and their roads. Apparently, they removed at least 50 cars from the area over a short period of time, and this expense was an on-going and never-ceasing issue. In addition, historically, Scott Paper and Trillium have been wanting to limit access on this road system for many, many years due to the vandalism of the road, the garbage dumping, the expense of cleaning up the garbage, timber theft, and other vandalism. The DNR was facing similar issues with garbage dumping and underage partying along the river near the bridge and insufficient staff resources for enforcement or clean-up.

So, with all this taken into consideration, the new gate was installed with cooperation and support from the other landowners behind the gate. The gate was installed, in part, at it's current location, because the old gate at the bridge was too isolated and too much damage was occurring to the gate and the bridge.

Associated Rivers