Andrews Creek Trail blocked by tangle of trees

Photo courtesy of the USFS
A tangle of trees brought down by an avalanche blocks Andrews Creek trail in the Pasayten Wilderness.

By Ann McCreary

The Methow Valley Ranger District is hoping to receive permission to use chain saws to help clear hundreds of trees deposited by an avalanche on Andrews Creek Trail, a popular route into the Pasayten Wilderness.

District Ranger Mike Liu said the district is requesting permission to use chain saws, normally prohibited in designated wilderness areas, with the goal of clearing the jumble of trees before the end of June. That would allow a large group of volunteers to carry out trail maintenance projects planned for early July.

The approval to use chain saws would come from the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest supervisor in Wenatchee, Liu said.  “We’re trying to get that approval very quickly,” he said.

The federal Wilderness Act prohibits mechanized equipment, including chain saws, in designated wilderness areas, unless a non-conforming use is permitted.

The massive slide came down last winter about 8 miles up Andrews Creek Trail from the trailhead, and covers about 300 yards, said Meg Trebon, special uses and minerals administrator for the Methow Valley Ranger District. The avalanche occurred in an area that was burned in the Farewell Fire of 2003, and contains many dead trees.

“It’s impassable, and extends quite a ways around the trail. It’s a thick, nasty mess of trees. The trees are jackstrawed and not easy to take out,” Trebon said.

Because the trees are tangled together and about head-high in some areas, removing them poses a danger, particularly if crews are required to do the work manually with cross-cut saws.

“Using a chain saw allows crews to make multiple cuts to relieve tension in trees that are jackstrawed all over the place. It minimizes the exposure to people,” said Trebon.

Volunteers ready

Clearing the trail by the beginning of July will enable volunteers from Backcountry Horsemen and the Washington Trails Association to carry out trail work planned for July 2–5, said Steve Darwood, a local outfitter and guide who leads trips into the Pasayten Wilderness.

The volunteers planned to do a variety of trail work, including clearing downed trees and repairing damaged bridges on Andrews Creek, said Darwood, who operates Cascade Wilderness Outfitters and North Cascades Outfitters with his son Jess.

“I’ve volunteered mules and a couple packers for this project,” said Darwood. “That trail is in terrible, terrible condition. We were really looking forward to having these work parties in there.”

He said the volunteers include four cutting crews and a bridge building crew — “probably 20 people,” Darwood said. The crews would use cross-cut saws to clear trees in the wilderness.

If the slide is cleared and the volunteers can get through, they plan to clear trees and brush on Andrews Creek and other trails in the area, including Peepsight, Ram Creek and Crystal Lake trails, Darwood said.

“There was a variety of work they were planning, including packing planks for some puncheon [boardwalks] we hope to construct later this summer,” said Liu. “If the slide isn’t cleared in time, we would have to look for other opportunities, assuming the volunteers were willing.”

Budget cuts have made the U.S. Forest Service increasingly dependent on volunteers to do trail clearing and maintenance that the agency used to do. This season the Methow Ranger District has a trail crew of about 10 people to work on more than 1,000 miles of trails in the district.

Andrews Creek Trail “is an important arterial trail that people use to access the Pasayten Wilderness,” Liu said. “The impact [of delaying its opening] would be to the general public as well as commercial outfitters and guides.”

In asking permission to use chain saws on Andrews Creek Trail, “we’re requesting a pretty short time period to minimize the impacts to the wilderness character,” Liu said.