2011 may be the year for Washington’s beloved Alpine Lakes Wilderness

If you’re ever in Seattle, the spectacular Alpine Lakes Wilderness is an absolute must-see getaway for jaw-dropping scenery. The area, accessible with just 45 minute drive from the city, is one of the country’s most visited wilderness areas, providing incredible wild mountain vistas, impossibly craggy peaks and lush old-growth forests – not to mention over 700 mountain lakes and tarns, living up to its namesake.

Yet, not all of the region’s abundant beauty is protected, and that may soon change if local citizens, conservation groups and two Washington state politicians have their way--a recent development in Congress suggests they may do just that.

For years, these groups, along with The Wilderness Society, have been working to pass legislation in Washington, D.C., that would expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to include equally spectacular areas adjacent to the official Alpine Lakes Wilderness area. That includes the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, which offers a world class rafting and kayaking experience. We managed to get the bill all the way to Congress last year, but it fell off the agenda in the final hours of the last Congress.

Now we’re very happy to report that the bill that would expand this wilderness area was reintroduced jointly today by Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Dave Reichert. The “Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act” was reintroduced Feb. 10 by Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Dave Reichert.

Passage of the bill would help ensure that some of Washington state’s most popular backcountry recreation areas are forever protected by designating more than 22,000 acres of wilderness adjacent to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. The legislation would also protect nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River and 10 miles of the Pratt River as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Powered by strong local support, identical legislation passed through the House of Representatives and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year – the only wilderness bill to do so – before running out of time in the Senate.

“Expanding the popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness is an amazing opportunity to preserve a pristine area that is right in our backyard,” said Peter Dykstra, Pacific Northwest Regional Director for The Wilderness Society. “This legislation preserves key recreation opportunities for more than three million people in the region, improves wildlife habitat and enhances our communities. Future generations will look back on this measure as one of the most significant in our efforts to ensure the future of Washington’s remaining wildlands for our children and grandchildren.”

Congressman Reichert and Senator Murray have worked tirelessly for this legislation. Through their consultation processes they developed a balanced proposal that protects the remaining wild resources, while ensuring future recreational opportunities.

As a result the proposal has garnered local support from key stakeholders including nearly 80 local elected officials, more than 100 local businesses, more than 50 conservation and recreation groups and nearly 70 Washington faith leaders. There has also been strong support from the Washington Congressional delegation. Senator Cantwell and Representatives Inslee, Smith, Dicks and McDermott are original cosponsors of the legislation.

The Wilderness Society is optimistic that the broad-based support for this bill will get it over the finish line in the 112th Congress.


Photo by Thomas O’Keefe, American Whitewater