Fall road closures seek to protect grizzlies near Sullivan Lake

Gypsy Peak and Watch Lake are in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness northeast of Metaline. (Rich Landers)
Gypsy Peak and Watch Lake are in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness northeast of Metaline. (Rich Landers)

Gypsy Peak, the highest mountain in Eastern Washington, is a little lonelier than usual this week.

The annual late-summer closure has begun on two roads leading to prime recreation areas in the Sullivan Lake Ranger District of the Colville National Forest.

The closures were instituted in the 1980s to reduce human disturbance in prime grizzly bear habitat and berry areas when they are most attractive to bears, according to Mike Borysewicz, Forest Service wildlife biologist.

The hunting seasons will be gearing up, and bear managers have learned that protected grizzlies are more likely to survive until the next years when they’re separated in fall from motorized vehicles, people and guns.

The gates were locked Tuesday on two notable roads leading to trailheads:

• Johns Creek Road 500 off the 2200 Road just east of Sullivan Lake Campgrounds. It provides access to Trail 540 trailhead for the shortest hike (2.5 miles one way) to Hall Mountain, which looms over Sullivan Lake.

 Because of the late spring weather and snowpack, the road closed this year before that area’s huckleberry crop is ripe.

• Bear Pasture Road 200 off the 2212 Road near northwest of Gypsy Meadows. It runs to the border of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, offering the easiest foot access to Gypsy Peak (elevation 7,309 feet).

The route from Bear Pasture area is about 4 miles one way using the alpine-bound Trail 515 and off-trail scrambling.  But you’ll have to wait until next year to check it out. 

I drove up both of these roads and hiked the spectacular trails last week to beat the closures.

The huckleberries were green but the mosquitoes were at their peak, especially at Watch Lake at the base of Gypsy Peak. The experience was Alaska-like.

If you want to hear the buzz for yourself now that Road 200 is gated, you’ll have to hike all of Crowell Ridge from the Sullivan Lake Lookout, that’s more than 8 miles one way to Gypsy Peak.

On the plus side, you might have a huge chunk of wilderness to yourself.

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