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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bureau of Land Management opens new recreation areas along the Yakima River

Visitors to the Yakima River Canyon have some new public land to explore. 

The Bureau of Land Management on Thursday celebrated the grand opening of its newest recreation areas along the famous trout stream south of Ellensburg.

One is the Bighorn recreation site, which includes a campground and a boat launch on the upper end of the river. The other is the Lower Umtanum site, next to the BLM’s existing Umtanum campground. 

The parcels are two of three that the BLM purchased from the Western Rivers Conservancy. In all, the properties added 647 acres to the more than 9,000 that BLM manages in the 27-mile Yakima River Canyon. 

The land was once part of the Yakima Canyon Ranch. Western Rivers Conservancy bought the parcels in 2021 with plans to transfer them to the BLM.

The BLM paid about $3.3 million for the properties using money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

The sale closed in March. On Thursday, the agency and the conservancy held a ribbon cutting at the Bighorn launch to mark the opening of the two sites. BLM officials have not said when the third site, known as Beavertail, will open. 

Supporters of the deal have lauded it for the benefits it will provide both for public access and for fish and wildlife habitat in the 27-mile canyon. 

Anglers and floaters have used the Bighorn boat launch for years. It was privately managed, and users were required to pay a fee. Red’s Fly Shop had been managing  access for several years.

The transfer into public ownership puts management into the BLM’s hands, ensuring permanent public access to the site. After the sale closed, BLM officials installed signs and took other steps to get the parcel ready to open.

Travis Edwards, a BLM spokesman, said Friday there are no launch fees at Bighorn.