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Mount Baker-Snoqualmie NF Invites Backpacking by Bus as a "Stakeholder" in Alternative Transportation Study Meetings

Squeegee bearsThis was a "stakeholders' meeting," for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Alternative Transportation Feasibility Study, organized by the MBSNF, the US Department of Transportation, as well as a couple other state agencies, seeking input from locals with interests in, as the name suggests, getting single-occupancy vehicles off the congested access routes to MBSNF by finding--and funding--alternatives. I had received a forwarded email a few weeks prior to the event, and had responded back that I would be delighted to attend. I quickly received a response along the lines of "thank you but we're not sure what organization you're with or who invited you or why - so who are you?" So I responded back with the usual Backpacking by Bus shtick, told them that I'd figured out ways to actually get out into the backcountry using (largely) local transit...and ever so promptly received a response saying,

"Yes, indeed, we need you to be there, we'd be delighted to have your expertise...." I almost cried for joy. Even my editor has never referred to what I do in terms of 'expertise.' It's usually just "that crap that you do that no one is really interested in except perhaps some damn' tree-hugging foreign college students, or folks too dumb or poor to have a car. Oh - and the site had eight hits last year - and four of those were your Mom." [editor's footnote: I've recently voluntarily joined the ranks of the car-free, and have embraced transit in Puget Sound, Cleveland, Central California and Pierce County. My sympathies have escalated. Slightly.]

So of course I showed up. Apparently there is federal grant money available to accomplish such things as getting more people into federal recreation lands without putting more cars on the highway, and the MBSNF wants to get some of that. And if they do manage to receive some of that grant money, they are looking for concrete ideas from locals on how best to use it. When I explained to one of the national agency people what I've been doing, he asked,

"Why do you do that?"

"These are public lands - there should be public access to them."

He looked, for a moment, like he was filing that one away. "You can use that, if you want," said I.

This study is looking at four specific corridors:

The other "stakeholders" at the meeting I attended (one of five meetings held) represented various local groups. There were two who worked with agencies that introduced urban, at-risk youths to backcountry experience. There was a member of Sound to Greenways. Another fellow belonged to a group that maintains the fire lookout cabins. There was a MBSNF ranger. Only one or two of the fifteen stakeholders present had any inkling that there was any transit access to these areas; they were all anxious to pick my brain and learn about Backpacking by Bus.

We tossed around the current problems, such as the horribly dangerous traffic snarls that occur every weekend on Highway 2 (across Stevens Pass) year-round when up to 20,000 or so people funnel up from the Puget Sound basin for recreation purposes on Friday evening or Saturday morning, only to funnel back down on Sunday afternoon. All along what is largely a two-lane highway. Along with solutions: why CAN'T the Amtrak that cuts across Stevens Pass stop at the Pass and disgorge the thousands of skiers right there--and get all of those cars off the icy, snowy highway?

(As we volleyed this issue back and forth, I had a wonderful visual: Bears, bears coming out of the woods with raccoons on sticks, squirrels on sticks, cleaning off windshields of the cars idling along clogged Highway 2, hustling for food. All it lacks is a punchline - to be delivered, of course, by one of the raccoons. Where's Gary Larson when you need him?) (Sadly, I did not share this visual in discussion. I wish I had.) [Click image at top for the full glory of Gail Preset's interpretive illustration of your hallucinatory vision. We do think it would probably go about like this. -ed.]

One of the questions that the federal agencies who are involved in the Study was looking at was: "The demographic of Puget Sound is THIS. Why is the demographic of people visiting the MBSNF, THAT. Why do the two demographics differ?" Or, very roughly paraphrased by me, "Why are there no brothers in the Forest?"

Well, one answer might have to do with a urban preconception of 'rednecks in pickup trucks with gun racks behind every tree.' A fair concern.

For another answer, I'll refer to a girlfriend I once had who grew up dirt-poor in Holly Park, in Seattle's south end. When I made the proposal of a camping trip, responded with, "Rough it? I've been ROUGHING it my WHOLE LIFE! When I go on vacation, I want someone to bring me a drink, and I'm going to be sitting in a comfortable chair. Then I'm going to be sleeping in a comfortable bed. I do not 'rough it!' "

So, in other words, the difference in demographics is probably more of a socio-economic thing than it is anything else.

I hope that I made a favorable impression on these people, and hope to be included in further discussions. When I learn more I'll pass it on to you.



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