Voices support for recovery
Gov. Jay Inslee got an up-close and personal view of the widespread impact of this summer’s fires in a visit to the Methow Valley on Wednesday (Sept. 29).
Inslee met with firefighters, mayors and a county commissioner, health care providers, the head of Clean Air Methow, and social service and conservation organizations to understand how the health of the community and its economy fared in a summer nearly eclipsed by fires and smoke.
He also got a tour of Sun Mountain Lodge, which remains closed while undergoing major cleaning for smoke damage.
The governor heard from representatives of local trails groups to understand the effects on biking, hiking and ski trails — and, in turn, on the valley’s economy.
Inslee summarized his day in a briefing at Sun Mountain Lodge, surrounded by lush vegetation and green lawns. Although the patchwork of burned forest just across the ridge shows how close the fire came to the lodge, the buildings and grounds were untouched, other than smoke damage.
The severity of the fires and their significance cannot be overstated, Inslee said. He wanted to see the fire damage to the Methow first-hand, and to look at ways to make the Methow more resilient to wildfire and smoke, he said.
The state is committed to working with communities to reduce risk through scientific fuels management, Inslee said. He pointed to a recent state forest health and thinning project on Virginia Ridge that helped protect Sun Mountain Lodge.
Clean Air Methow described their plan to create smoke-ready communities in Okanogan County to help people understand sources of air pollution, work to reduce them, and be equipped to protect vulnerable populations. They asked Inslee for funding to build this effort, Clean Air Methow Director Liz Walker said.
Inslee hailed the coordination that’s developed between agencies since the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire. That cooperation has assisted with forest management, wildfire prevention and firefighting, he said.
“I’m optimistic about the Methow’s future, even after these fires,” Inslee said.
Trails: economic driver
Representatives from Methow Trails and the Methow chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance briefed Inslee on impacts to trails — and how recreation is inextricably connected to the valley’s economy, chapter president Joe Brown said. Trails support all facets of the economy, from lodging to construction to grocery stores, Brown said.
The bike trail network developed near Sun Mountain was a $300,000 investment. While many of the trails burned severely in the Cedar Creek Fire, some could reopen once debris is cleared and hazard trees cut. Others will require a complete rebuild. In some cases, badly scorched soil needs time to recover, Brown said.
Inslee was interested not only in seeing the effects of the fire season on the valley, but also in seeing how climate change is affecting communities in eastern Washington, Methow Trails Outreach and Access Manager Erika Kercher Halm said.
Methow Trails is looking at proactive approaches to fire mitigation. For example, rather than constructing and de-constructing fire lines every year during an emergency, they’re exploring opportunities for permanent fire breaks that would protect neighborhoods — and serve as year-round trails, she said.
“We discussed the social and economic importance of the trail system to the valley, and the urgent need to think creatively and strategically about how our trail system and valley as a whole will need to adapt to climate change,” Halm told the News by email.
Inslee was very supportive and said the state would work to bring people back, Brown said.