Glacier Creek Road closed for foreseeable future

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 15, 2013 

GLACIER - Glacier Creek Road has been closed to vehicle traffic at Thompson Creek Bridge because of a washout - about seven miles from the start of the heavily used Heliotrope Ridge Trail.

The trail, which begins in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and enters Mount Baker Wilderness, is popular with hikers when the snow melts out, and is a major access route for climbers heading up Mount Baker.

"It's a pretty substantial impact," said Tim Page, program coordinator for American Alpine Institute in Bellingham. "The bulk of the climbing in the summer season goes up the Coleman-Deming route or various other routes that start from the trailhead off that road."

Climbers also get to Mount Baker using the Easton Glacier Climbing Route, which is on the opposite south side. Both routes are used heavily, Page said.

The area also is popular with snowmobilers in the winter.

Glacier Creek Road also is known as Forest Service road 39. The access is off of Mount Baker Highway, about 1 mile from the Glacier Public Service Center.

The road has been closed since the morning of Tuesday, May 14, when about 18 inches of asphalt had fallen away.

"It's still moving," Jim Mitchell, roads manager for Mount Baker Ranger District, said of the washout.

He said the cause could be heavy rainfall or Glacier Creek, which is running high, undercutting the slope on which the road sits.

"We don't really know how it started yet," Mitchell said.

When the road might be repaired and reopened was unknown Wednesday.

"Funding is a major issue," Mitchell said. "There is no funding source that we know of at this time. Our budgets are depleted."

He and a ranger planned to go back to the site Thursday.

"We're just going to monitor the site since it just happened," he said. "We'll be monitoring to see what the rain does to it."

Mitchell said that after the visit on Thursday, officials will try to figure out "what we do from here forward."

The washout is about 2.7 miles up Glacier Creek Road; the closure is about 1.7 miles below the washout.

He said the road in the area has been the site of previous landslides and washouts.

"This is the third site that's had problems in the last few years, all within about a 300- to 400-foot piece of the road," Mitchell said. "It's a problem area."

Money was available for previous fixes - federal dollars released in the aftermath of a storm that was declared a disaster paid for the last repair - but that doesn't seem to be the case this time.

Mitchell said there would be no vehicle access to the closed part of the road in the "foreseeable future."

"That's going to put pressure on the other roads and the other trailheads," he said.

Reach KIE RELYEA at kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2234.

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