Federal officials have closed a popular rockhounding location in northeastern Washington because of the damage caused by years of illegal digging.
The U.S. Forest Service announced in a news release Tuesday that it was shuttering the Solo Creek site, an area directly west of Priest Lake prized by people looking for quartz crystals. The closure will be in place for at least a year.
Patrick Lair, a Forest Service spokesperson, said years of digging – which isn’t allowed without a mining permit – have created giant holes and tunnels and caused some trees to fall in the area.
“It’s getting trashed and beat up,” Lair said. “It’s time to stop and go in and try to fix years worth of damage at this point.”
Photos provided by the Forest Service show giant craters in the ground and several downed trees. The agency’s news release says there are “dozens” of dead and dying trees posing a public safety hazard.
The Solo Creek site is among the better known rockhounding destinations in the region, and it’s been listed in guidebooks and on rockhounding websites.
It consists of about 5 acres off a Forest Service road in Pend Oreille County, near the Washington-Idaho border.
Rockhounding is allowed on federal land, Lair said, but the catch is that people aren’t allowed to dig deep into the ground.
“Where it crosses the line is when they start excavating,” Lair said.
Anything beyond surface disturbance is considered mining, Lair said, which requires a permit and a reclamation plan approved by the Forest Service.
The closure, which is set to run through Oct. 23, is meant to give the Forest Service time to clear hazard trees, fill holes created by the digging and likely replant vegetation in the area.
Lair said there aren’t hard dates for when the work will get done, and that it depends on when the Forest Service can hire contractors to do the work. He added that the Forest Service will also have to come up with a plan for the area going into the future.