The Skykomish River is one of the nation's spectacular whitewater resources emerging from the high country of the North Cascades, the river and its tributaries are a popular destination for paddlers from across the country.
- The Washington State legislature designated the Skykomish the first river in Washington’s State Scenic Rivers System (RCW 79.72). This recognition protects and preserves rivers possessing outstanding natural, scenic, historic, ecological, and recreational values.
- The peak paddling season on the Skykomish begins with fall rains (late October) and continues through spring snowmelt (early July) although year-round boating is often possible. It is one of only a handful of rivers in Western Washington that supports commercial rafting during the summer.
- The reach of river from Sunset Falls to Railroad Bridge, or on to Big Eddy, is the region’s “backyard” run serving thousands of paddlers who have easy access from the major metropolitan area of Seattle-Everett, Washington. It is an internationally known classic whitewater run, featured in the books World Whitewater and Whitewater Classics: Fifty North American Rivers Picked by the Continent's Leading Paddlers.
- Local paddling clubs use this section of river for instruction and for many of the region’s paddlers, this run is their first introduction to intermediate whitewater. In a survey of whitewater enthusiasts on Whitewater Paddling in the North Cascades, American Whitewater found that the Skykomish was one of the most popular rivers in the North Cascades (62% of paddlers had done the run), it was rated as having outstanding recreational and aesthetic qualities of regional and national significance, and it was identified as the top favorite run out of 158 recognized whitewater runs in the North Cascades.
- The Skykomish River provides recreational opportunities for several thousand users year-round from across the country and around the world. A 1990 study by Washington State Parks, estimates 10-15,000 users per year. These users make a significant economic contribution to businesses along State Highway 2, especially in Monroe, Sultan, and Goldbar.
American Whitewater supports protection of rivers in the Skykomish drainage through Wild and Scenic designation. We have previously worked to support protection of the headwaters of the drainage through Wild Sky, wilderness legislation that was signed into law in May 2008. The Forest Service has recommended the Skykomish River and many of its tributaries for Wild and Scenic River designation (Mt. Baker Snoqulamie Forest Management Plan 1990, Appendix E). American Whitewater supports the designation of the Skykomish River and its two forks that include the South Fork and North Fork as well as its major tributaries of Deception Creek, Beckler River, Rapid River, Foss River, Miller River, Troublesome Creek, Tye River, and West Cady Creek under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Wild Sky Legislation
SEC. 101. WILD SKY WILDERNESS.
(a) ADDITIONS TO THE NATIONAL WILDERNESS PRESERVATION SYSTEM.—
(1) ADDITIONS.—The following Federal lands in the State of Washington are hereby designated as wilderness and, therefore, as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System: certain lands which comprise approximately 106,000 acres, as generally depicted on a map entitled ‘‘Wild Sky Wilderness Proposal’’ and dated February 6, 2007, which shall be known as the ‘‘Wild Sky Wilderness’’. (2) MAP AND LEGAL DESCRIPTIONS.—As soon as practicable after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall file a map and a legal description for the wilderness area designated under this section with the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives. The map and description shall have the same force and effect as if included in this section, except that the Secretary of Agriculture may correct clerical and typographical errors in the legal description and map. The map and legal description shall be on file and available for public inspection in the office of the Chief of the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture. (b) ADMINISTRATION PROVISIONS.—
(1) IN GENERAL.— (A) Subject to valid existing rights, lands designated as wilderness by this section shall be managed by the Secretary of Agriculture in accordance with the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq.) and this section, except that, with respect to any wilderness areas designated by this section, any reference in the Wilderness Act to the effective date of the Wilderness Act shall be deemed to be a reference to the date of enactment of this Act. (B) To fulfill the purposes of this section and the Wilderness Act and to achieve administrative efficiencies, the Secretary of Agriculture may manage the area designated by this section as a comprehensive part of the larger complex of adjacent and nearby wilderness areas. (2) NEW TRAILS.— (A) The Secretary of Agriculture shall consult with interested parties and shall establish a trail plan for Forest Service lands in order to develop— (i) a system of hiking and equestrian trails within the wilderness designated by this section in a manner consistent with the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq.); and (ii) a system of trails adjacent to or to provide access to the wilderness designated by this section. (B) Within 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall complete a report on the implementation of the trail plan required under this section. This report shall include the identification of priority trails for development. (3) REPEATER SITE.—Within the Wild Sky Wilderness, the Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to use helicopter access to construct and maintain a joint Forest Service and Snohomish County telecommunications repeater site, in compliance with a Forest Service approved communications site plan, for the purposes of improving communications for safety, health, and emergency services. (4) FLOAT PLANE ACCESS.—As provided by section 4(d)(1) of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(d)(1)), the use of floatplanes on Lake Isabel, where such use has already become established, shall be permitted to continue subject to such reasonable restrictions as the Secretary of Agriculture determines to be desirable. (5) EVERGREEN MOUNTAIN LOOKOUT.—The designation under this section shall not preclude the operation and maintenance of the existing Evergreen Mountain Lookout in the same manner and degree in which the operation and maintenance of such lookout was occurring as of the date of enactment of this Act. (c ) AUTHORIZATION FOR LAND ACQUISITION.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to acquire lands and interests therein, by purchase, donation, or exchange, and shall give priority consideration to those lands identified as ‘‘Priority Acquisition Lands’’ on the map described in subsection (a)(1). The boundaries of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the Wild Sky Wilderness shall be adjusted to encompass any lands acquired pursuant to this section. (2) ACCESS.—Consistent with section 5(a) of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1134(a)), the Secretary of Agriculture shall ensure adequate access to private inholdings within the Wild Sky Wilderness. (3) APPRAISAL.—Valuation of private lands shall be determined without reference to any restrictions on access or use which arise out of designation as a wilderness area as a result of this section. (d) LAND EXCHANGES.—The Secretary of Agriculture shall exchange lands and interests in lands, as generally depicted on a map entitled ‘‘Chelan County Public Utility District Exchange’’ and dated May 22, 2002, with the Chelan County Public Utility District in accordance with the following provisions:
(1) If the Chelan County Public Utility District, within 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, offers to the Secretary of Agriculture approximately 371.8 acres within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in the State of Washington, the Secretary shall accept such lands. (2) Upon acceptance of title by the Secretary of Agriculture to such lands and interests therein, the Secretary of Agriculture shall convey to the Chelan County Public Utility District a permanent easement, including helicopter access, consistent with such levels as used as of the date of enactment of this Act, to maintain an existing telemetry site to monitor snow pack on 1.82 acres on the Wenatchee National Forest in the State of Washington. (3) The exchange directed by this section shall be consummated if Chelan County Public Utility District conveys title acceptable to the Secretary and provided there is no hazardous material on the site, which is objectionable to the Secretary. (4) In the event Chelan County Public Utility District determines there is no longer a need to maintain a telemetry site to monitor the snow pack for calculating expected runoff into the Lake Chelan hydroelectric project and the hydroelectric projects in the Columbia River Basin, the Secretary shall be notified in writing and the easement shall be extinguished and all rights conveyed by this exchange shall revert to the United States.
For nearly a century the Skykomish has been identified for its hydropower potential. While the City of Everett constructed a water storage reservoir on the Sultan River that was enlarged for hydropower by Snohomish PUD, the rest of the river and the major tributaries remain free-flowing. Several proposals have been advanced for hydropower development at Sunset Falls and in the early 1980's dozens of sites were identified for hydropower development in the tributaries. Recent interest in hydropower development has focused on Youngs Creek (a new project constructed by Snohomish PUD in 2011), Sunset Falls, Martin Creek, and Barclay Creek. American Whitewater is actively engaged in efforts to keep the Skykomish and its major tributaries wild and free-flowing.
American Whitewater has partnered with the conservation community to highlight the value of more than a dozen parcels — totaling about 3,000 acres — owned by private timber companies that includes roadless, high-elevation old-growth forests and lands along the Miller, Beckler and Tye rivers as well as near Lake Serene, Mount Persis and Index Creek. American Whitewater seeks to bring parcels adjacent to the river, most threatened by development, into public ownership to protect the water quality and scenic vistas of the Skykomish River.
American Whitewater advocates for public access to the Skykomish River and its tributaries. While many of the tributaries flow through public Forest Service lands, access along the Skykomish and the lower reaches of the North Fork and South Fork has presented challenges. Washington State Parks conducted a Skykomish Scenic River Recreational Access Study in an effort to begin to resolve uncontrolled public access along the Skykomish River. Local citizens and other river interests directed the State Parks Scenic Rivers Program to study the problem of private property trespass and high concentrations of public use along the Skykomish Scenic River System. Access at Big Eddy is now maintained by Washington State Parks. Access at the Railroad Bridge and Split Rock is in private ownership but American Whitewater seeks to maintain positive relations with landowners. Outdoor Adventure Center owns access in Index and Trout Creek on the North Fork Skykomish that they have made available to the boating community as long as individuals sign in and fill out a liability waiver at the Riverhouse in Index.
American Whitewater's Goals
- Access at the traditional Sunset Falls put-in owned by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)
- A cooperative working relationship with WDFW to prevent future conflicts throughout the state.
- Sunset Falls was used as an informal access point for whitewater paddlers for over 50 years. In August 2000, WDFW suddenly began enforcing year-round closure of the area to the public, including paddlers.
- The Sunset Falls property was not developed as a public access area. It is located on a small parcel of public land that WDFW manages as a limited entry site to authorized personnel for the trapping and hauling of fish. The facility is in operation from early August to early December with a peak activity in early October. In the past, those managing the facility allowed paddlers to walk down the road and put-in below the falls. WDFW formally closed the falls to the public in August 2000.
- WDFW now states that they must enforce the closure to protect employee safety as well as public safety. Department staff cited conflicts with paddler vehicles along the narrow access road (especially parking below the locked gate when it was left open) and near misses with paddlers and/or their vehicles with the loaded fish trucks traveling up the road, as reasons for the closure.
- American Whitewater and representatives from local paddling clubs have participated in meetings with WDFW, State Parks, US Forest Service, property owners, and local land trusts. Discussions with some of these groups are ongoing and will continue.
- Options may include allowing paddlers to build a trail along the road so paddlers aren’t in the way of fish trucks, working out an agreement with the local paddling clubs where paddlers pay for, post and maintain signs and ensure paddlers don’t park below the gate, whether it’s locked or not, and instituting the closure only when the fish trap and haul facility is in operation, rather than year-round. Access on the south side of the river has also been explored.
Please contact us if you have additional ideas or would like to assist.
AW Comments on Proposed Sunset Falls Hydro Project (WA)
07/19/2013 - by Megan Hooker
Today, numerous partners joined American Whitewater in filing comments in opposition to Snohomish PUD No. 1's proposed hydroelectric project on the South Fork Skykomish river at Sunset Falls in Washington. Our comments highlight the significant impacts the project would have to fish and wildlife habitat, water quality and quantity, recreation and scenic values, and call out the questionable economics of the project.
The contacts below include staff and volunteers working on this project. Make sure you are logged in if you wish to join the group.
Washington Kayak Club