Glacier Peak Wilderness Gains a Ridge

Start up the Suiattle River Trail and continue on past Sunnybrook Camp. Stay left at the next junction, and after climbing through some of the most spectacular hillside meadows in the North-Central Cascades, you’ll find yourself on Miner’s Ridge, between the old Miner’s Ridge Lookout (6,210-feet) and Image Lake (6,050 feet). That hasn’t changed in decades (the lookout was erected in 1938). What has changed is the status of the land.

After years of long battle, Miner’s Ridge is now officially part of the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. The ridge was the scenic of bitter fighting in the late 1960s, when then-owner Kennecott Copper Corporation proposed ripping open the ridge top and dredging up scarce copper in its core. That open-pit mine proposal was opposed by many locals and the growing environmental community of Washington. Wilderness advocated, led by no less than U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, launched a protest hike up the Suiattle Trail in 1966 to bring attention to the mine plans.

Shortly after that, as public opposition to the mine grew, copper prices tanked and Kennecott conceded defeat in the face of costly legal battles and low resource values.

The land remained in the mine company’s hands, though, until the late 1980s when Chelan County PUD bought it from the mine company, with an eye toward using it as a planning tool. The PUD routinely flew helicopters to the ridge – which is surrounded by designated wilderness – to measure snow packs and estimate summer water flow rates into Lake Chelan. When the US Forest Service called a halt to those flights into wilderness, the PUD was stuck with a parcel that had now commercial or agency value — but a great deal of wilderness value. So began the long, slow process of exchanging that wilderness in-holding for another piece of USFS property that has more fiscal value and less recreational value.

That exchange recently took place – the PUD received a small parcel near other PUD property and an agreement that permits limited helicopter access into a remote snow-pack monitoring site nearby  – and the Forest Service quickly completed the paperwork to roll the ridge into the wilderness designation.

A bitter, hard-fought battle followed by a slow concession of practicalities yielded the long-sought objective of Washington’s favorite son, William O. Douglas: Miner’s Ridge will never be mined. Rather it will be enjoyed in its pristine condition by generations to come as part of one of Washington’s wildest Wilderness Areas.

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