After several years, Congress agrees to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area near Seattle by an additional 22,000 acres.
The Alpine Lakes Wilderness area is located in the Cascade Mountains, north and east of Snoqualmie Pass. Most of the 22,000-acre expansion is located to the north and west of the current wilderness area boundaries.
This wilderness bill represents the largest one-time expansion of the national parks system since 1978. The wilderness area expansion also designates the Pratt River and a segment of Middle Fork Snoqualmie River as Wild and Scenic Rivers, affording them additional protections as well.
The wilderness area is located within a 45-minute drive of Seattle, making it convenient for city dwellers to retreat quickly.
Rep. Dave Reichert, who has been pushing the bill since 2007, said he hoped the expansion would economically benefit towns like North Bend and Snoqualmie, since visitors will likely be drawn by the new designation.
Rep. Reichert passed the bill through the House in 2010, while Sen. Patty Murray got the Senate to approve it in 2013. However, the bill never passed both chambers in the same congressional session. As a result, the Alpine Lakes expansion was one of nearly 100 public land measures that were inserted into an unrelated defense policy bill that ultimately passed on Dec. 12, 2014.
The new designation will permanently prohibit logging, roads, development and mountain bikes on these lands. During the course of negotiations with mountain bike advocacy groups, however, the boundary was moved to exclude the popular Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trail. This trail was instead designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers program, which does allow mechanized and motorized vehicles on such designated lands.
Several other public lands measures in Washington were passed by the Senate. They include:
- Illabot Creek in Skagit County, which will be designated a Wild and Scenic River.
- Hanford's B Reactor near Richland, which will become one of three sites for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
- The boundary between the Stephen Mather Wilderness and North Cascades National Park, which will be reconfigured so a 10-mile stretch of destroyed road in Stehekin Valley north of Lake Chelan can be rebuilt.