INDEX — Five years later, Wild Sky is still wild.
This was precisely the goal of the people who pushed for the creation of the Wild Sky Wilderness area in the Cascade Mountains — to set aside a wild area to make sure it stays that way.
About 60 people gathered in Index last week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the designation of more than 106,000 acres near the town as off-limits to any kind of development.
“This is a big deal,” said Meg Town, who formerly lived near Index and now lives in Duvall. “This is a special area.”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, who saw the measure through Congress, attended the event Tuesday.
“Hundreds of years from now people will walk through there and see what we see today,” Murray told the crowd of environmental activists, local residents and others, gathered outside the Outdoor Adventures Center in Index.
In the wilderness, logging, road building, motorized vehicles and other industrial uses are banned. Hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, fishing and rafting are allowed.
The area includes ragged mountain tops, valleys and low-elevation old-growth forest near salmon spawning streams. The wilderness preserves “wildlife corridors,” or areas that animals use to travel from one area to another.
A lynx, rare in Western Washington, was seen in the wilderness a few years ago, said Mike Town of Friends of The Wild Sky, Meg’s husband.
Much of Wild Sky is relatively low in elevation, allowing easy access for recreation while protecting wildlife habitat, proponents have said.
Last Tuesday, Murray was led on a guided hike through part of the wilderness by Mike Town and others.
Wild Sky was reached via the Iron Goat Trail east of Skykomish. The trail winds through a steep gulch where a Great Northern Railway trestle once stood.
After about a half-mile of switchbacks and up-and-down terrain, a sign marked the entrance to the Wild Sky Wilderness.
Wild Sky has been harder to reach than originally envisioned. The Index-Galena Road, which formerly led to some popular hiking areas that are now on the edge of Wild Sky, was washed out by a flood in 2006 and there are no immediate plans for repair.
Still, those hiking areas, including Troublesome Creek and Bear Creek Falls, can be reached by a trail that goes around the washout, Mike Town said.
The Outdoor Adventures Center offers river rafting and other guided outdoor activities. Owner Bill Corson said visitors specifically ask about Wild Sky.
“We direct people up there every week,” he said.
Repairing the road will be key to getting more visitors into the wilderness, advocates said.
“Wild Sky is not the main attraction (in Index) right now,” resident Louise Lindgren said, “but it will be.”