The North Cascades Highway shortly after it re-opened in 2013. File photo by Don Nelson

The North Cascades Highway shortly after it re-opened in 2013. File photo by Don Nelson

Washington State Department of Transportation crews will begin clearing snow from the North Cascades Highway on March 31 if the weather cooperates, with goal of opening the road by mid-May, WSDOT said in a press release.

Last year the clearing began March 25 and was complete in less than four weeks.

“There’s twice as much snow at the summit than last year and it’s likely to take closer to the usual six weeks to reopen this year,” said Avalanche Control Supervisor Mike Stanford in a press release.

On Tuesday (March 11), WSDOT avalanche-control specialists and maintenance technicians toured the North Cascades Highway from the Early Winters information center near Mazama to Washington Pass via snow cat, the WSDOT release said.

Along the way they stopped to measure snow depths at two dozen sites. Snow at the summit of Washington Pass measured almost 10 feet, which is double the depth of last year. Snow on the highway below the Liberty Bell avalanche chutes averaged 35 feet deep. Crews observed conditions similar to those they encountered in 2011 when it took approximately six weeks to clear and reopen the highway.

WSDOT closed the highway for the winter last on Dec. 3. The highway typically opens between mid-April and early May. The earliest recorded opening was March 10, 2005. During the drought of 1976, the highway remained open all winter. Due to avalanches in 2011, WSDOT couldn’t begin clearing the road until April 11 and didn’t reopen it until May 25.

Public meetings to air proposed rec district issues

Candidates for the board of directors of a proposed Methow Valley Recreation District will be invited to appear at a public forum on March 27 at the Twisp Valley Grange.

The meeting, arranged by the grange in partnership with the Twisp and Winthrop chambers of commerce, will start at 6:30 p.m. and is scheduled to last about two hours. The moderator will be Peter Morgan, co-owner of the Methow Valley Inn.

Thirteen local residents have filed for five at-large positions on the recreation district board, which won’t be created unless the district itself is approved by voters in an election set for April 22.

The candidates are: Position 1 – Don Fitzpatrick Jr. and Julie Palm; Position 2 – Christine Holm and Kevin Van Buren; Position 3 – Brent Walker, Steven Stacy and Camden Shaw; Position 4 – Mike Fort, Bart Bradshaw and Kristin Devin; Position 5 – Paula Stokes, John Northcott and Julie Muyllaert.

The recreation district proposal will appear on the ballot as the result of a successful petition drive conducted by local residents in recent months.

In addition, two community meetings sponsored by Friends of the Recreation District (FORD) are scheduled this month to provide more information about the recreation district proposal. The meetings will be held at the Mazama Community Center on March 13 at 6:30 p.m., and at the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink on March 20, also at 6:30 p.m.

The meetings are “a chance to learn more about the proposal for the recreation district and to talk to the candidates proposed by the district,” said Fred Wert of FORD.

District backers have endorsed a slate of candidates for the five seats on the commission that would govern the district, and most of those candidates are expected to  attend the community meetings, Wert said.

The district would be formed under a state statute, RCW 35.61, authorizing creation of  “Metropolitan Parks Districts.” The proposed recreation district has the same boundaries as the Methow Valley School District, and would raise money through a tax levy on property in the district to support recreational facilities, programs and services.

Under the statute, district commissioners have the authority to levy up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on property in the district, although the actual amount will be based on a budget set by the elected commissioners.