Pierce County Council signs off on Carbon River agreement

With Pierce County’s signature, Carbon River Corridor agreement is full steam ahead

The future of the Carbon River Corridor, a natural area about 20 miles long stretching from Wilkeson to Mount Rainier National Park, is about to get a lot more organized thanks to an agreement called the Carbon River Corridor Cooperative Action Plan (CAP).

The Pierce County Council adopted the CAP at their Nov. 22 meeting, providing the final major co-sign to the plan on recreation, development and safety in the communities around Mount Rainier’s northwest entrance. (Pierce County is only one of the agencies involved.)

They were effectively the last organization of the original Steering Committee to officially adopt the plan, according to Pierce County Parks Senior Planner Tiffany Odell, and the new Coordinating Council will be able to begin meeting soon.

“We were so glad to see the unanimous support of the County Council supporting this important effort that I hope will bring more efficiency in response to challenges in the Corridor and collaboration to better serve residents and visitors,” Odell said in an email.

While parts of the plan are already underway, the signature is a sign that the CAP is now really in motion.

Why is the CAP so important? Thousands of acres of land, with owners from Pierce County to timber companies and the federal government, fill the area. Much of the land is undeveloped but could provide opportunities for future recreation and visitor services. But it would require everyone involved to work from the same blueprint.

And between ATV access, invasive weed control, trail-building, illegal shooting and trespassing, wildlife preservation, commercial logging and access to cell service, there’s no lack of issues to chew on as the local population swells and usage of the area increases.

So in 2020, the county convened major landowners, the National Park Service and land managers in the area to draft a 10-year action plan to address recreation, property development, public safety, environmental and historical preservation and other important needs in the area.

Now the work of those who love the Carbon River Corridor is bearing fruit.

The Pierce County Council unanimously passed the CAP during their Nov. 22 meeting, along with two amendments which were also unanimously passed.

The first was to include a dedication to local resident Chuck Morrison for his work on developing and getting the community involved in the plan. (Morrison, who has been deeply involved in several land-use projects locally over the years, died unexpectedly in early November.)

Chuck spent “hours and hours and hours” working on getting people involved in the CAP project, his wife Mary Morrison said at the meeting, and would be “so incredibly pleased” by the council’s action on the CAP.

The second amendment added two sections to the CAP; the first a disclaimer that the objectives of the plan are unfunded and not necessarily mandatory, and that implementing the plan will depend on department workload, community engagement and the cooperation of other partners. The second addition asks the Pierce County Parks Department to provide annual reports to the council describing progress made on implementing the actions of the CAP.

Morrison has been part of a team called the Carbon River Forum working on the issue for more than two decades.

Mount Rainier National Park is one of the oldest and most prestigious national parks in the U.S., and the Carbon River Entrance is the fastest way to get to Mount Tahoma from the Seattle / Tacoma area.

But it’s also isolated from the rest of the park, accessible to the public only through Highway 165. While areas like Paradise, Sunrise and Longmire get lots of love from tourists and ink from newspapers, the Carbon River Entrance can sometimes seem like the odd one out.

And with the entrance open 12 months a year and communities dotting the road down to it, there’s no lack of issues in the area, Morrison said.

Take, for example, plans back in 2008 to spray treated septage, or treated waste, on forest land near Carbonado. The proposal, which was approved at the time by Pierce County officials as being safe for the environment, was fiercely opposed by some local environmentalists and the Friends of the Carbon Canyon group, who were concerned the waste could find its way into streams that feed salmon-spawning rivers. The plan was eventually scrapped.

Or consider the thrashings that Mother Nature can deal to the trails and roads in the area, which can disrupt access to the park or prevent locals from getting in and out.

Additionally, Morrison said there needs to be more signage along the road to help visitors.

“We get people that can’t speak English, (who) have a layover in Seattle, and say ‘I want to see Mt. Rainier,’ rent a car, and put it into their cell phone,” Morrison said in an interview a few weeks before his death.

But when their GPS dutifully sends them to the Carbon River Entrance, those tourists risk ending up stuck or lost, a problem magnified when there’s snow on the ground.

“What I am stressing in a lot of my outreach is that we will get out of it what we put into it,” Morrison said. “We’ve got to cooperate and get together with a lot of people. The framework is there for this to happen. Now we need somebody to help push it along.”

The CAP identifies the following areas of interest and concern:

• Vandalism, trespassing, dumping, illegal shooting and irresponsible camping

• Expanding visitor services and information

• Improving parking, roads, signage, cell service and public restrooms

• Addressing ideas for new recreational or infrastructure projects, like hiking, biking and ATV trails and campgrounds.

• Conserving the natural and historic resources of the region

There are many projects proposed in the plan, which covers the next 10 years, including:

• Expanding the Foothills Trail from Wilkeson to the Mount Rainer National Park Carbon River Entrance.

• Building a pedestrian bridge over the Carbon River

• Developing more day use resources at Coke Oven Park in Wilkeson.

• Establishing a visitor contact center in Wilkeson

• Building an online service to allow virtually viewing conditions at the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park from home

• Identifying sites for management and preservation of historic or wildlife migration zones

This simplified diagram, provided by Pierce County, shows the planning area covered by the Carbon River Corridor Cooperative Action Plan. It stretches from the towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado all the way to the Carbon River entrance of the Mount Rainer National Park.

This simplified diagram, provided by Pierce County, shows the planning area covered by the Carbon River Corridor Cooperative Action Plan. It stretches from the towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado all the way to the Carbon River entrance of the Mount Rainer National Park.