By Don Fitzpatrick
On Dec. 1, a new Sno-Park opened on Highway 20 at the Silver Star Bridge. It will serve a multitude of users, including both motorized and non-motorized. Snowmobilers, backcountry skiers, cross country skiers, snowshoe hikers, mushers, fat-tire bikes and heli-skiers will all be beneficiaries of this project.
But what is amazing is the number of people, organizations and the amount of effort required over five years to get this project complete.
The project started over six years ago when James DeSalvo, executive director of Methow Trails, recognized that the Early Winters parking was becoming swamped by the huge number of recreation vehicles parked there, especially when that was where the highway closed. It affected not only the users but also residents who gain access to their homes there. DeSalvo started working on the project to enlarge parking, make access better and include some sanitary facilities.
When the Methow Valley Trails Collaborative was formed, their first project approved was the establishment of a Sno-Park farther up Highway 20 to relieve the stress at Early Winters and enlarge the ability to service more users. After significant research of potential sites, the Silver Star chain-up area was decided as the best area to use.
The project itself was relatively simple: improvement of the existing chain-up areas along both sides of Highway 20 at the Silver Star gate, with an enlarged turn-around area for snow removal equipment, slight widening and fill along one side, signage, and sanitary facilities. It also included adding sanitary facilities at the existing Early Winters Site.
Completing the project was not so simple.
Many groups met, including the U.S. Forest Service (Mike Liu and later Rosemary Siefried and Chris Furr); Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT, Don Becker and Bill Gould); Methow Valley Snowmobile Association (Don Fitzpatrick); Mountain Grooming Association (Adam Osin); North Cascades Mountain Guides (Josh Cole and Larry Goldie); North Cascade Heli (Paul Butler); Methow Trails (James DeSalvo); Washington Parks and Recreation Commission (Jason Goldstein and Pam McConkey); Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (Joe Brown) and many more.
Others that became involved as the permit work was pursued were the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (Brandon Troyer); Andy Hover (Okanogan County commissioner); and NEPA inspectors to obtain a “Category Exclusion” for the project. There was also a cultural survey; a hydraulic analysis; the county engineer and county planner for the vault toilets; Federal Highway Administration involvement; survey work and preliminary engineering by Larry Zimmerlund; bids by Palm Construction; followed by final drawings and bid solicitation by WSDOT including highway traffic management for construction, signage design and, of course, an avenue for public comment.
The Federal Highway Administration provided a FLAP (Federal Lands Access Program) Match Agreement Grant. Users had to provide 13.5% in matching funds to receive the grant. It was issued June of 2015 and administered by the Forest Service. A large contribution was made by Methow Trails. The Washington State Winter Recreation Commission (which gets its funds from snowmobile registrations) made a grant, and the Methow Valley Snowmobile Association contributed.
The Snowmobile Association also took the lead in putting up a solar-powered sign (“beeper sign”). It electronically determines if your avalanche beacon is working. Backcountry skiers, snowmobilers, heli-skiers and other users routinely carry an avalanche beacon in case of an avalanche. Parts were donated by the North Cascades Mountain Guides, the Methow Valley Snowmobile Association, and Back Country Access. The sign was constructed by Methow Valley Industrial (Mark and Leone Edson) and painted by Donna Keyser of D*Signs.
Dozens of trips were made to the site by various people prior to the actual construction. We are so glad to have it open now. The success of this huge collaborative effort was due to the work of all these people and more that were not mentioned.
Don Fitzpatrick lives near Mazama.