The following is by Sara Sutterfield, author of the monthly column “The Wilkeson Weigh”:
Following the Carbon Glacier Highway through the Glacier Gate in Wilkeson, you will find an unyielding corner of Mount Rainier National Park. Massive temperate rainforest tree monarchs proudly display their age in unmanicured layers of old-man’s beard. Lichen is likened to wine pairings and Transformers as the symbiotic life forms blend with other forest organisms and morph together into a greater being than before.
A visit inside the northwest portion of the Park on a rainy off-season weekday can place you as the sole hiker sharing the canopy’s shelter with black tailed deer. Outside the park, neighbors talk of summers spent languidly handpicking blackberries as black bears gorge themselves on the opposite end of the patch.
The Carbon River Corridor to the National Park boundary and its primitive offshoots are traveled by an increasing number of people year-round.
Humans have tried to break the stubborn nature of the area since before colonization. Indigenous tribes revered the Mountain as Tahoma with spirits and legends, and through observation made sense enough to exist as best they could alongside a living land. Then, explorers like the Flett brothers and Bailey Willis, sparked industrial ingenuities attempting man’s control over the natural wonders named after them.
In the book “Glimpse of a Charmed Land 1925”, by Louis Jacobin, under the headline “New Carbon River Highway Shortest Route to Mt. Rainier”, knowledge of “The completion and opening of the Carbon Glacier road to the mountain means much, not only to the tourist, but to this entire section of the state, for it means the…buildings of one of the greatest and most scenic play grounds in the world, of which Carbon Glacier is in the center and Wilkeson the gate city.”
But for the nearly 100 years, this has struggled to be the case.
Dumped garbage, shot gun shells and stolen vehicles pile like bones at the bottom of a buffalo jump on the edges of the canyon.
In this tight hallway to the Mountain, differences of “what is important where?” and “who is going to pay for it?” have got in the way and efforts to maintain visitor services, environmental protections, and cultural resources have not packed much punch. Not-too-mention, the scenic attractions, like the Carbon River, perpetually undo whatever the people have just done.
Yes, the area is stubborn and (because of this) the corner often feels forgotten.
Still, as the John Watkins quote goes, “a river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.”
Adding the professional, organized oomph needed for a multiple story fixer-upper, Pierce County took on the challenge of flipping the corridor.
Pierce County, in co-management with The National Park Service – Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance programs, has planned 10-year goals that, in the cooperative action of the people, can be accomplished. It is called the Carbon River Corridor Cooperative Action Plan, or simply the CAP.
For over twenty years, the “Together We Are Stronger” model has been building within the Carbon River Canyon. This past November, Pierce County Council officially adopted the Resolution. We are ready to bust a CAP.
Currently, a Coordinating Council has begun work with the local community, stakeholders, and visitors of the Corridor to improve user access and address challenges- challenges like effective sign verbiage and placement.
This last tourist season, handcrafted signs have appeared vigilante-style to save folk the disappointment of driving to what they thought was the Paradise-side of the Mountain, while others tell in bold Sharpie of important information like ONE LANE BRIDGE. These words holding more warning for the narrow Historic O’Farrell Bridge (250 feet above the icy roar of the Carbon River near Melmont and Fairfax) than the blasé YIELD TO TRAFFIC regulatory sign.
Friends of the Carbon Canyon is a committed partner in the CAP. The non-profit organization has been tasked to lead a Signage Work Group, since they know the canyon like the back of their helping hands.
Friends of the Carbon Canyon hosts annual Spring and Fall Road Clean Ups along the corridor, usually meeting at the Mowich Y. The non-profit volunteers many often-labor-intensive hours showing and educating people on how to “Respect and Enjoy” the Carbon River Corridor.
Friends of the Carbon Canyon invite everyone to their next Spring Clean Up on Sunday, April 16th from 10 a.m.to 12 p.m. Bring a grabber, gloves and a bucket and join in the fun.
When all is said and done, outdoor recreation, natural preservation, and local Native American and early industry histories will be showcased. You’ll know where you can park, hike, e-bike, horseback ride and WATV safely and considerately…with preparedness options for no cell service past Carbonado.
Yet, even as the many agreeable parties form committees, unlock doors and bridge valleys, stubbornness crosses its arms within major forest fathers.
On the Pierce County Proposed Resolution portion of their official website, Carl Fabiani makes public comment on being “quite disappointed to see that the Carbon River Corridor is described as beginning near Wilkeson and ending at the Carbon River Entrance to Mt. Rainier N.P.”
Fabiani, was a trail foreman at the Mount Rainier National Park for 45 years. He is described as “Rainier’s Picasso” in an article from The News Tribune in October 2010 highlighting his career. Colloquially, Fabiani’s post-retirement volunteer work is understood as single-handedly keeping this side of the National Park open.
“In reality the Corridor should extend to the very base of Mt. Rainier since that is where the Carbon River begins and also where some of the most beautiful portions of the Corridor are found,” the comment made by Fabiani continued, “This Corridor definition suggests that Mt. Rainier National Park will likely continue to limit/reduce access and facilities for this part of the Park as they have done for so many years. It’s a sad loss.”
Recently, the announcement that the Enumclaw Forest Service’s financially-forced retreat to North Bend (come 2024) is also being viewed as a sad loss.
Is it working cooperatively that is so frightening? Or the potential disappointment of long, backbreaking work hours rewound in a flash of nature? Certainly, the deadliness of the Mountain, itself, could be causing these VIP stakeholders to uproot. (A reality that should definitely bring all hands on deck.)
In the CAP, the National Park Service is to have a pilot program visitor contact center in Wilkeson. The Park owns property in the town, but the old inhabitance has been described as a building with no spine.
Not quite accepting that as a thing, perhaps the backbone needed is for the Forest Service and the National Park Service to co-pilot through the Carbon River Corridor and strengthen the Plan.
Every tributary donning this CAP will bring about the modern and substantial revolution needed within Wilkeson and the rest of the Carbon River Corridor.