OMAK, WA — The magic of the Forest in wintertime has arrived in the mountains of Okanogan County. Anticipation builds with backcountry skiers and snowmobilers as white begins to blanket the area. Many who cut their own Christmas Trees are hurrying to do so before many forest roads are closed to wheeled vehicles beginning December 1st.
“This time of year, prior to December 1st, there is potential for both four-wheel drive vehicles and snowmobiles to be traveling the same roads,” said Mike Liu, Methow Valley District Ranger. The late season hunters are focused on looking for game and others who are driving Forest Roads this time of year are not necessarily expecting to encounter snowmobiles, so it’s really best if snowmobilers wait until December 1st to travel Forest Roads. Those that don’t should be vigilant in expecting traffic around every bend.”
When gates are closed each year on December 1st some Forest Roads become snowmobile routes as part of a groomed and non-groomed winter recreation trail system in Washington State.
Even after the December 1 shift to gates being closed to provide for snowmobile use, there is the potential for permitted wheeled vehicle use. Forest visitors are encouraged to check the Travel Plan Map to determine seasonal restrictions and then to check current conditions online at www.fs.usda.gov/detail/okawen/alerts-notices/ or by calling the Forest Service Offices in Omak (509) 826-5145, Tonasket (509) 486-2186 or Winthrop (509) 996-4000. Log haul begins mid-December on Benson Creek Road (Forest Road 4150), southeast of Twisp Washington and when conditions allow, harvest activities are also planned near Crawfish, east of Riverside.
Wilderness trespass by snowmobilers has already been documented this season around Harts Pass.
“We’ve closed the gate on Harts Pass Road to further deter snowmobile access to the Wilderness,” said Liu. “Motorized activity in the Pasayten Wilderness is prohibited by law to protect wilderness values. Right now we’ve got individuals who are willfully and deliberately breaking the law so we have to take this step despite the impact it may have on those who are operating within the law. After December 1st, the district snow ranger program will resume again for the winter, providing opportunities for increased patrols.”
How ever a person chooses to enjoy the Forest in wintertime, there are a few essential safety tips to follow.
Check the weather, be avalanche aware and ensure equipment is in good working order. Make sure safety and first aid equipment is packed and functioning, bring along a shovel, notify others of plans and routes and carry sufficient food and water should the trip extend longer than planned.
(By Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest)