Plateau is part of byway proposal
April 30, 2009 · Updated 10:39 AM
By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald
Hoping to take advantage of some of the prettiest scenery in the region, representatives from various foothills communities are hoping to complete a loop of “scenic byways” around Mount Rainier.
Enumclaw and Buckley are included in that group, which is looking at creating a western stretch that would team with the existing Chinook Scenic Byway, White Pass Scenic Byway and state Route 7.
While all agree there's mutual benefit to forming an entire “byway” loop around Rainier, there's apparently some serious disagreement over which roads should be included. Arguments center upon a philosophical difference: should the scenic loop offer travelers the most aesthetically-pleasing experience possible or should it force visitors past well-known attractions?
Enumclaw attorney Trip Hart is a longtime booster of the byway system, instrumental in the formation of the Chinook Scenic Byway and now involved in the Enumclaw-to-Eatonville effort.
“A lot of people have advised us on this,” Hart said, noting that a representative from the state's Scenic Byways Program has become involved. That followed a pair of meetings, one in Enumclaw and the other near Eatonville, during which Steve Pruitt was picked to spearhead the effort. Pruitt is president of the Eatonville Chamber of Commerce.
The group previously sent a letter to the state's Department of Transportation, noting a desire to form a new stretch of scenic byway.
The process isn't easy. A team from the Scenic Byways Program evaluates proposals and ultimately decides if a proposed route is forwarded to the head of the Department of Transportation, who then decides if the route goes before the state Legislature for funding.
Carrie Sunstrom, who coordinates the Scenic Byways Program, has been quoted as saying the proposed West Rainier Byway makes sense, since it provides the final link in an around-the-mountain loop.
Hart said a glitch has developed over the proposed route a final byway link might take.
“Our group is all about the visitor's experience and how to enhance it,” he said, stating a preference for a route that would travel state Route 7 to Elbe, then either to Ashford and into Mount Rainier National Park or south on Skate Creek Road toward Packwood.
Another group, Hart said, would like to see a new byway reach Elbe, then head south to state Route 12 and the Morton area.
There could be disagreements even before a new byway reaches Eatonville, Hart said. Some would like to see a byway using rural roads between Orting and Eatonville, while others would prefer the route using state Route 161, which would have travelers passing by the popular Northwest Trek attraction.
The state of Washington now boasts of 25 scenic byways. Six of those have gained National Scenic Byway status, including the Chinook Pass Scenic Byway, the stretch of state Route 410 between Enumclaw and Naches.