Clearing the road to Artist Point
OK, Whatcom County — it's officially unofficially summer. Ski to Sea is now in the rear-view mirror. Graduations are only a handful of days away. The sun is out more than it's not, and the thermometer is pretty consistently reaching the 70s.
It doesn't get much better than this — or does it?
On Friday, the Washington State Department of Transportation announced in a press release that crews have begun work on clearing the final section of the Mount Baker Highway to Artist Point.
While the rest of us long ago buried the snow shovel deep in the garage, WSDOT is just digging in, working to uncover the final 2.7 miles of State Route 542 so that we can make weekend outings to fill our Facebook and Instagram timelines with some of the prettiest pictures any of our friends from out of state have ever seen and get in those awe-inspiring summer hikes.
"Crews will work to clear the snow from the road as quickly as possible," the release said. "They'll work with the avalanche team to make sure the area is safe, reinstall signs and repair any winter damage before reopening the highway for the season, which is usually sometime in July."
Despite a high snow total in 2017, the road to Artist Point actually opened a few days early last year, on June 29, according to WSDOT historical records. It remained open until Oct. 9 — slightly earlier than the Oct. 14 closing in 2016.
In fact, crews have been able to open the road before July the past three years, as it opened June 23 in 2016 and May 14 in 2015, after a remarkably dry winter season. But before then, it had not opened before July 1 since 2005.
As of May 25, crews faced 21 feet of snow at the center of the Artist Point parking lot, according to WSDOT snow measurements, approximately 7 feet less than was measured a month earlier. There also was 16 feet of snow at the season gate last week, 35 feet in the Lake Ann parking lot and 16.2 feet atop the restroom at Artist Point — all down about 5 feet from April 25 measurements.
Fortunately, WSDOT has got more than a snow shovel to get through.
"Using two bulldozers, a rotary snow blower and a snowmobile with GPS to help keep them on the road, crews will work 10-hour days Monday through Friday to clear this stretch as quickly as they can," the release said.