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When will hikers, nature lovers be able to get up to Artist Point?

Washington State Department of Transportation crews started clearing snow from the last 2.7 miles of Mount Baker Highway to the parking lot of Artist Point on May 31, 2016. It will open Thursday, June 23, providing access to a number of popular mountain hikes in the area.
Washington State Department of Transportation crews started clearing snow from the last 2.7 miles of Mount Baker Highway to the parking lot of Artist Point on May 31, 2016. It will open Thursday, June 23, providing access to a number of popular mountain hikes in the area. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Itching to get up to Artist Point for an outing in the mountains?

Then lace up your hiking shoes. The road to Artist Point is opening at 9 a.m. Thursday, June 23, the Washington State Department of Transportation tweeted cheerfully Wednesday.

That’s a little over three weeks since WSDOT crews started, on May 31, to clear the final 2.7 miles of Mount Baker Highway that lead to the Artist Point parking lot.

The opening is a little earlier than usual, thanks to a warm spring that helped melt snow.

“The warm weather played a role in helping us out this year,” WSDOT spokesman Marqise Allen said.

Crews clearing the road also found less snow than usual — 15 to 20 feet in most places compared to the 30 to 50 feet of years past.

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.

Given that mountain weather can be fickle early in the hiking season, Allen said those headed up to the area should prepare for a last burst of winter conditions. Bring a blanket, tire chains and a bit extra food and water.

“You never know what could happen,” Allen said.

More than 5,000 feet above sea level, Artist Point is a popular viewpoint with 360-degree views that include Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. It’s also the jumping off point for stunning mountain hikes.

This year’s opener isn’t the earliest, not even close.

A dismal snowpack led to a May 14 opening last year — more than a month ahead of the previous earliest opening on record. Crews started clearing the road in April 2015.

It also closed later than ever — on Nov. 1.

The 172 days were the longest open stretch for the road on record. The previous mark was 115 days, in 2014.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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