Chelan-Douglas Land Trust faces growing pains with increased traffic

Submitted on Tue, 06/13/2023 - 14:47

WENATCHEE — The Chelan-Douglas Land Trust (CDLT) continues adding acreage to conserve recreational trails for everyone, but it’s coming with some growing pains.

In December, the CDLT worked with the city of Wenatchee to acquire 430 acres of land from the state to double the size of the Saddle Rock Natural Area.

And recently, the CDLT acquired a 20-acre parcel to expand the area even more.

“(But) with the more land we acquire, the more people have been using the land,” said CDLT executive director, Eunice Youmans.

She said and her team have noticed more people using the trails, starting at the beginning of the pandemic, although no numbers were available pre-pandemic.

In May, Youmans surveyed and counted 237 people using the Horse Lake Trail, she said, and she asked them where they were from on a Saturday afternoon. She said three-quarters of the people were from outside Chelan and Douglas counties — mostly from the Seattle area.

“They were coming because they saw posts on social media of wildflowers at Horse Lake,” Youmans said. “There are things we could have never predicted. Like no one would have ever guessed that three-quarters of those people wouldn’t be locals. All these people are coming here to see our beautiful foothills and wildflowers.”

The trailhead for Horse Lake can host up to 20 cars and Youmans said many cars were parked on the side of the road.

The increase in trail users has brought more maintenance needs on the trails.

“There has been a lot more dog poo on the trails,” Youmans said. “People have been going off trail and making trails of their own, which is not great for the environment.”

She also said she has seen more garbage around the trails and even found a 6-foot fence post inside a portable bathroom recently.

Youmans said it is around $400,000 annually to for the trail infrastructure maintenance. In May, the CDLT was awarded $30,000 from Chelan County in lodging tax grants for trail improvements and trail-related infrastructure.

“People think that the trails are a natural, wild system, you don’t have to do anything with it. Well, that is not true,” Youmans said. “It is actually quite expensive to keep the trail safe and well-maintained.”

The CDLT is a private, non-profit organization that gets its funding from grants and donations. It works with the city, private owners, and other government entities to connect and manage the 4,600 acres of Wenatchee Foothills trail systems for public use.

“It’s sort of a patchwork; we’re managing a lot of it and it’s different people actually owning the land,” Youmans said. “So our job is to make sure the recreational trails are maintained and that people have access.”

The city of Wenatchee does not pay the CDLT to maintain the trails.

Youmans said the city is in charge of trails that have parking lots, bathrooms, and garbage cans at certain locations, such as Saddle Rock, Castle Rock, and Sage Hills. But the CDLT keeps maintenance of the trails and of the trailheads at its own properties: Horse Lake Trails and Jacobson Preserve Trails, and has an easement on the Dry Gulch Preserve Trails.

As far as the rise in visitors, Mickey Fleming, lands program manager, said the organization doesn’t want to gatekeep the trails from tourists because most people who enjoy the outdoors respect it.

“We’re not trying to exclude anybody; we’re not saying locals only, or anything like that,” Fleming said. “Other sectors of the community benefit from visitors coming here. Tourism is a huge thing here. We’re just surprised we had 237 people in a trailhead that is designed to hold less than 20 cars.”

Youmans added if people would pick up after themselves and their dogs, and stay on the trails, it would make CDLT workers’ jobs easier.

Link to article in the Wenatchee World here