June 19, 2008

Fishing Access — Long Way Lake

By Scott Sandsberry, Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash.

Jun. 19--YAKIMA -- A fishing trip to Mud Lake used to be a short jaunt. Now it's a long journey -- and a dicey one at that.

For Layne Hansen of Naches and all the other anglers who liked the four-acre lake's hungry trout and its proximity to town -- the old access road was less than three miles past the "Y" on the State Route 410 side -- this is an inconvenience.

But it's less of one than that faced by the Horseshoe Bend landowners whose private property the old road crosses -- the vandalism, the middle-of-the-night gunfire and the rampant garbage dumping. Years of those issues and concerns about their own liability led those landowners to gate the road last fall.

Anglers wanting want to drive to what was once a very popular fishing lake, especially for fly fishermen, now must do so by way of Garrett Canyon or Bald Mountain Road. Either adds an hour each way to the drive -- and the Garrett Canyon route, uh, leaves something to be desired.

"You ain't taking a passenger car up there, I guarantee you that. No way," said Dan Cypher, a Yakima County Sheriff's deputy who well knows the county's back roads. "And you're not going to want to take your 2008 brand-new Dodge Hemi up there. It's a rough ride, it's not very wide, just big enough for one vehicle -- passing two ways would be very difficult, and in some ways impossible. It's a long, slow ride.

"And if you're not completely familiar with it or have a map and know where you're going, you could probably take a wrong turn."

Which is precisely what Hansen and his son, Kyle, did on a recent Friday, when they went to Mud Lake via Garrett Canyon.

"If we didn't get lost, it'd probably have been about an hour drive," Kyle Hansen said. "It was an hour and a half with all that messing around."

And none too enjoyable a 90 minutes, either.

"The first 30 minutes are pretty grindy, because it's really a terrible road," Layne Hansen said. "And I'll tell you, the brakes were really feeling the heat on some of those downhill stretches. You could smell it."

They made the long trip, though, because they wanted to bring in pontoon boats to fish. Mud Lake is shallow and quite reedy around the edges, making bank fishing difficult. "Really," Layne Hansen said, "with this lake, you've got to have a float tube to fish it, or a pontoon boat."

Because of the lake's popularity with anglers and the fact that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has annually stocked the fish with nearly 1,000 trout -- most of them jumbos and hefty triploids -- Oak Creek Wildlife Area manager John McGowan has been trying to come up with a less harrowing route for anglers to reach the lake.

"Our agency feels we pretty much are obligated to provide some reasonable access to the thousands of public acres up there," McGowan said.

"But if that access project impacts the residents that have to live there, and they're right adjacent to where the access point would be ... we have to consider those people, too."


There's a lot to consider.

The only way to put in another road -- or even just a trail -- up to the lake without becoming mired in bureaucratic red tape is to do it all on state wildlife land.

But there are two problems with that.

One is the mixed ownership in the area -- much of it checkerboarded between WDFW and Department of Natural Resource, with patches of privately owned land along the 410 corridor.

The second is the land itself. Mud Lake is roughly 300 feet higher than the 410 roadway, and putting in a new access route to the lake within that same block of WDFW land would mean putting in a small parking lot about a half-mile west of the lake angling a road or trail up and across a 45-degree slope.

"The first couple of hundred yards are pretty much straight up," says Mel Henle of Yakima, who has taken to walking up that route to fish the lake since its gate closure. "I take my float tube and stuff and put it on a packboard and carry it in. It's not really that heavy -- 45 pounds, maybe."

Henle, who has done some backcountry road construction in his day, doesn't believe it would be that difficult to construct a road across that slope and following up the west side of the canyon down which the lake's overflow drains.

"If (state wildlife officials) have a little bit of money, that would be an easy place to put a road in," he said. "On the west side (of the canyon) it's pretty open, only a couple of rock problems. It'd be nice to get the road in there -- or, if not, maybe a hiking trail."

Across from the place where that trail or road would begin, though, is a small cluster homes overlooking the Naches River. Some of the homeowners there have signed a petition opposing such an access road -- some because of what it might look like cutting across that slope, some because they fear what problems it might bring.

Harold Knapp, who generated the petition and lives across 410 from where that access road would begin -- or where the parking lot would sit if the WDFW put in a trail instead -- is convinced the same problems that prompted the Horseshoe Bend landowners would simply move to this new location.

"All of those problems -- the kids partying up there, shooting guns at all hours, vandalism -- that's just going to move it up a half-mile up the road to our house," Knapp said. "There's two little girls living on my right, two little boys living on my left, and they want to put a big parking lot at the bottom of the hill across the street. If they do that, they're just moving all those problems into a populated neighborhood.

"It's a bad deal."


Not everyone agrees.

Dorene Gurley, another resident across the street from would-be new access point, opted not to sign the petition.

"I'm not opposed to it, but the neighborhood is. We don't want a road, but as far as a hiking path, I don't see any reason why they couldn't have that," she said. "The biggest concern of the neighbors is parking; if you have a path, apparently you have to have parking. We've all decided that could be pretty dangerous -- people like to pass right through here. We're concerned about safety, because there are several small children in this neighbor."

Gurley added that, "in a selfish way," she'd like to see a trail going up to Mud Lake so she could use it. But not everyone hoping to fish at Mud Lake is physically capable of hauling gear up a steep, half-mile-plus trail.

"Not most fishermen," said Brian Wiens, who represents the fishing community on the Oak Creek Citizen Advisory Group. "I'm not a young person. You have a float tube or a pontoon boat, you have fins, waders, fly rods ... that's too far for me to tote up there, plus the steepness of it.

"There's all kinds of opportunities for people who can stand the physical rigors of a long, steep hike, but very few opportunities for people who aren't physically able to do that."

McGowan is the man in the middle, serving both wildlife and the people who like to hunt, fish or observe that wildlife. It's a delicate balancing act made more delicate by the Mud Lake situation.

"As far as the wildlife is concerned, the easiest thing for us would be to say 'We lost a road, that's it,'" McGowan said. "But people are the ones who are the drivers in this."

Some, like many of the people near the new access point, want no new road or trail; some, like Gurley, would like a trail but not a road. Wiens wants to see a road to Mud Lake, not a trail. So, too, does Paul Zeimantz, who represents motorized recreation users on the Oak Creek advisory group.

Zeimantz, a hunter, hiker and fisherman -- as well as a snowmobiler, motorcyclist and four-wheeler -- is quite physically capable of hiking to the lake. But his argument is for those people who can't, or who one day won't be able to.

"The one thing we have to remember is," he said, "it's public land and all of our interests eventually overlap, no matter what your special interest is. If you're a hunter, you're going to overlap into hikers and motorized use. If you're a birdwatcher, you're going to want to be able to drive into the habitat; you're not going to want to have to hike 20-plus miles to get in to see anything.

"Today you might be a hiker, but people get hurt. Things happen. You might blow out a knee and not be able to hike anymore.

"That's what we have to think about when we're making decisions today: We have to think about what could happen tomorrow."


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