LEAVENWORTH — Piles of trash, human waste and cars parked on either side of a one-lane road.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest says it is happening too often at the Stuart Lake Trailhead and has begun restricting parking, said Les Moscoso, Wenatchee River Ranger District recreation program manager.
The agency will put up no-parking signs, no longer allow parking along the edge of the Eightmile Road and could ticket drivers $80 or tow vehicles.
“We’re not coming out of the gates here revving to go start writing tickets and start towing cars,” Moscoso said. “We want to educate and inform because this is a pretty big change for the user groups up here.”
Parking has become such an issue that it is almost impossible for emergency vehicles to get to the trailhead, he said. On weekends, the trailhead can see as many as 200 cars a day. The most ever recorded was 298 and the Forest Service wants to reduce parking to about 90 parking places.
The high level of use has also led to large amounts of trash that Forest Service employees are removing from the trailhead, as well as human feces in the parking lot, Moscoso said. There are also a number of unofficial side trails around the Stuart Lake Trailhead, which lead to areas being used as open-air latrines.
“They are seeing one instance of human waste in the parking lot every time they visit,” he said. “I am told one of them found human waste in a McDonald’s cup sitting in the middle of the road. It was like, ‘Here you go. Can you throw this away for me?’”
The Forest Service is trying to keep up with the use, Moscoso said. It cleans up the trailhead three to four times a week. More remote trailheads in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest with rooms get cleaned about every two weeks.
The Alpine Lake Wilderness is a popular hiking area known for its alpine lakes, soaring granite peaks and unique high-altitude vegetation. It is so popular the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has instituted a permit-lottery system for overnight hiking through an area called The Enchantments.
One of the solutions to parking could be a shuttle service, he said. The problem with a shuttle service is it would mean more people using the trail and impacting the wilderness. The Colchuck Lake Trail can see as many as 600 people on a single day.
“Here comes the guy who has got the boombox blaring as they are going down the trail because that's what they like,” Moscoso said. “So that’s one impact, the social impact.”
Another issue is that the Colchuck Lake Trail is in the Alpines Lakes Wilderness, he said. Wilderness areas are supposed to experience minimal human impact, without any mechanized use in that area, according to the Wilderness Act.
They are also experiencing wildlife, like mountain goats, getting used to humans and possible water pollution, he said.
“The amount of people going into Colchuck Lake all lathered up with their sunscreen and oils — that has an affect on that,” Moscoso said.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest hopes to do some recreational planning for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and The Enchantments next fiscal year to look at these impacts, he said.