Despite dismal snow season, work to open Artist Point won’t start early

Transportation crews aren’t going to start clearing the last 2.7 miles of Mount Baker Highway to where it ends at Artist Point any sooner this year despite the low snowpack.

The Washington State Department of Transportation already is getting phone calls about when Artist Point will open for the season.

The snowpack in the North Cascades and the rest of Washington state is well below normal this year. Bamboo poles placed on both sides of the highway up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area are bare. The poles act as guides for DOT plows and are usually poking out from snow that’s been pushed to the side of the highway.

On Sunday, March 1, snowshoers going to play in the snow off the ski area’s upper parking lot, which is roughly at 4,300 feet, found the lot devoid of snow, bare patches in spots, and small melting lakes that usually are covered by snow in this part of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Up at Artist Point, the roof of the public restroom could be seen poking through the snow when it’s usually still buried under many feet of snow this time of the year.

DOT crews won’t be going out to measure snow depth and assess the road for plowing until mid- to late May, according to DOT spokesman Tom Pearce.

That’s the usual timeline.

“We want to plow that road once because it’s expensive to keep a crew out there and have to plow it over and over again,” Pearce said.

Because it’s more than 5,000 feet above sea level, Artist Point can get snow into May and June, he added.

The last 2.7 miles aren’t plowed all winter, and a gate over the highway just past the Mt. Baker Ski Area prevents motorists from driving up to Artist Point.

The road to Artist Point is usually open from mid- to late July until the first substantial snowfall of the year in late September or early October.

It is a popular viewpoint that features 360-degree views of Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. The jumping-off point for numerous stunning mountain hikes, Artist Point’s opening is highly anticipated each year.

It closed Oct. 23 after the longest season on record, according to the DOT. It opened July 1, 2014, and remained open for 115 days — four days longer than the old mark set in 2004.

The earliest opening in recent years was June 29 in 2005.

Pearce said people don’t have to wait until the road is opened to automobiles; Artist Point is open to foot traffic year-round.

Keep updated on snow removal at Artist Point online at wsdot.wa.gov/Northwest/Baker/ArtistPoint.

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