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Writers, Roads Breed Crowds In Backcountry

A Forest Service employee winced as I walked into her Sandpoint office recently.

“You’re not going to write something else about our trails, are you?” she pleaded.

The hiking guidebook I’ve published plus newspaper stories have ruined some formerly pristine areas in the Idaho Selkirks, she contends.

As a writer who describes trails to a mass audience, I must assume some blame. Hikers who shamelessly follow published trail descriptions also must share the blame.

And perhaps the Forest Service is partly responsible. The agency employee who winced at me admitted that she has written regular where-to-go stories for the Sandpoint paper.

But I suspect none of these published accounts have had as much impact to backcountry crowding as the roads the Forest Service continues to build into onceroadless drainages.

Indeed, the Forest Service recently announced new restrictions for areas along the Trout Creek Road, which leads high into the Selkirks west of Bonners Ferry. The road provides access to a trailhead for Pyramid, Ball, Trout and Big Fisher lakes.

The restrictions are as follows:

Parking will be limited to 10 vehicle slots plus three slots for horse-trailers. Overflow parking will be allowed two miles away. Vehicles that are parked along the road, as they have been in past years, will get a ticket.

Groups without a special permit will be limited to no more than 12 people. Only three or four group permits will be issued in a season.

Groups larger than six people will be limited to three nights at each of the area lakes.

Campfires will be discouraged at Pyramid and Trout lakes except in emergencies.

Overnight camping with stock will be prohibited at Pyramid, Ball and Trout lakes.

Camping will be limited to designated sites at each lake basin. These sites will be small and situated at least 200 feet from lake shores.

Creating new campsites at the lakes will be prohibited. Some existing sites will be closed.

Forest officials decided these restrictions would be more palatable than other alternatives for curbing use, such as quota systems and road closures.

Maybe some of these restrictions could have been avoided if the Forest Service hadn’t improved the Trout Creek Road from a rough, high-clearance-only logging route to a backwoods highway suitable for Formula One race cars.

Maybe not.

Spokane County has grown to about 395,000 people, an increase of 30,000 in the past five years. The county grew by only 20,000 throughout the entire 1980s.

Kootenai County’s population has swollen to 92,000, and is mushrooming at a rate of 3,000 a year, according to J.P. Stravens Planning Associates of Coeur d’Alene.

Surveys by agencies such as the Idaho Fish and Game Department show that these people aren’t coming here to spend their free time in the the bingo halls.

Most are attracted to our region because they like hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, skiing or boating.

“The Spokane area is no secret,” said Mike Steere, author of a story citing Spokane as an outdoor dream town.

The story, which appears in the July issue of Outside Magazine, hails seven towns, including Twin Falls, Idaho, Madison, Wis., and Durango, Colo., as dream towns that have it all - culture, commerce and the great outdoors.

Boise and Albuquerque aren’t included in the list “because they’ve already been done,” Steere said from his home in Chicago.

Most of these great outdoors areas, including Bend, Ore., and Bozeman, Mont., are having similar problems, he said, noting that “Durango is already wondering where the next Durango will be.”

“The only way I can live with myself for writing about great outdoor towns and places to hike is that it might create some pressure for preservation,” Steere said.

Old-timers likely will protest the new rules on Trout Creek Road. Newcomers are more likely to applaud them because they learned their lesson before leaving places that have already been trashed.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review

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