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Monday, August 29, 2011

A Hands-On Experience

In celebration of Washington’s Great Outdoors Week, I chose to participate in a trail work party led by the Washington Trails Association on the Pratt River Connector Trail, located on Forest Service land near the town of North Bend. Two days later, my sore arms and legs are still reminding me of my wonderful experience and of the stunning environment so close to Seattle. What a perfect way to enjoy Washington’s outdoor recreation activities!

While taking a break to snack beneath a shady canopy of trees, other volunteers remarked about the progress made on the Pratt River Connector Trail during the past year. Through arduous work and laughter, groups of WTA volunteers have restored the 3.5 mile-long segment of trail. They shared stories of working in miserable weather conditions, and proudly pointed out trail features they played a key role in constructing. Their stories, as well as the work we were engaging in, made me pause to think about the forces that coalesce so that hikers, fishers, horseback riders and outdoor enthusiasts can partake in various recreational activities in the stunning old-growth forest along the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River.

As we were scooping dirt and collecting rocks to construct a rock wall, numerous people enjoying the Middle Fork scenery stopped to thank us for the trail work we were performing. It felt great to give back some of my time and labor in return for the revival of a popular trail that had been downtrodden by time and weather. The Pratt River Connector trail weaves through lush forest, spotted with ferns and lively undergrowth. Once restored, the trail will provide users with access to both the Pratt River trail and the trail up to Rainy Lake, allowing more people to experience the pleasures of being outdoors.

The WTA trail work crews are one force that foster outdoor recreation activities and access to wild lands. This access, and the continued stewardship and preservation, is a combined effort with a variety of different organizations and actors. Over the past few years Washington Wilderness Coalition has led coalition efforts by conservation and recreation groups to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness boundary down the hill to include lower elevation forest along the river and designate the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers as Wild and Scenic. This would directly impact the Pratt River Connector trail and its surrounding wild lands. The trail starts on the other side of the Middle Fork trail bridge in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, a section of wild land which is currently not permanently protected. Gaining a Wilderness designation on this low-elevation old-growth forest is extremely important: currently, roughly 94% of existing designated Wilderness areas in WA State are above 3,000 feet elevation. Low-elevation areas such as those nearby the Pratt River Connector Trail are particularly important, since they are extremely biodiverse and contain more wildlife and fish habitat than their higher-elevation counterparts The inclusion of the Pratt River Valley into a Wilderness area would allow for greater accessibility to wilderness, and truly provide a backyard wild lands that all could enjoy.

Washington’s Great Outdoors Week reminded me of how blessed I am to live in an area with access to such stunning natural treasures. While celebrating the availability of so many ways to get outdoors, it is imperative that we recognize and appreciate all of the organizations and people who are working to further protect and preserve these precious areas.

Sarah Gruen is WWC's summer wildlands research intern. Last year, she graduated with a degree in geography from the University of Washington. Sarah has helped to conduct crucial research for WWC on wilderness policies and their use around the state. For information, contact Sarah at

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