A Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) avalanche team may travel to the Washington Pass area of the North Cascades Highway this week.
Dan Sarles, WSDOT administrator for the North Central Region, said in his weekly update that an avalanche team visit would help “determine our approach for reopening the highway later this spring.”
The highway was closed for the season on Nov. 12, 2015. Last spring, the highway opened for the season on April 3, 2015 — the earliest opening since 2005.
On a somewhat related matter, Sarles answered a question raised by a Winthrop resident, who asked about snowmobiles parked on Highway 20 west of the seasonal road closure gate. The writer said that 38 snowmobiles were parked behind a snow berm, and many were buried in snow.
“Is it legal for these machines to be left on the highway even though it’s closed?” the writer asked. “There have been incidents of theft of gear that has been left on the parked snow machines.”
In his response, Sarles said that “the parking of snowmobiles at Early Winters has been a tradition for many, many years. Rather than hauling them away every time they go sledding, some choose to leave them. Our maintenance crew says that poses no problem for our access when we need to go in to review snow depths and conditions. When the highway is closed, activities there generally come under the purview of the U.S. Forest Service, as Early Winters and most of the highway is inside the national forest.”
Sarles said he was not aware of any vandalism but “that is their risk and they know it. When we get ready to reopen the highway each spring, we announce when we plan to start. Typically, when we get there the snowmobiles are gone.”
However, Sarles added, the highway is open for about a tenth of a mile before the Early Winters closure sign, and it is illegal to park on the roadway there. Violators may be ticketed and towed, he said. “No Parking” signs will be installed he said.
Some residents with homes on Arrowleaf Road were concerned that vehicles parked on the highway could prevent emergency access vehicles from reaching them, Sarles said.