Trampled by Tourists

Recreation in the scenic Methow draws in hordes of visitors each year. Valley locals have watched “West Siders”—as they are often called—flock from Seattle, Tacoma and Portland to the Methow in search of less crowded recreational opportunities. This tourism has brought in significant revenue and development to the valley, but increased traffic comes at a cost.

Heather is a small woody plant that grows in alpine areas where shallow soils made rich Mount Mazama ash soils. Heather is hardy enough to withstand harsh winter conditions and deep snow burial, but fully-formed communities can take as long as 10,000 years to develop. Increased recreation is threatening heather, and the impacts are noticeable. Heather is trampled by hikers on the sides of wet and muddy trails, particularly in the spring as snow thaws. In an attempt to escape poor trail conditions, people walk on the heather, which destroys it and threatens the species is some places. 

The Forest Service is working to mitigate this impact and to protect heather for the future. The agency identifies volunteer work, spreading knowledge and maintaining a presence as the three most important aspects of their plan. Educational signs are used to increase public knowledge, volunteers work to replant heather in many areas, and improving trail conditions in sensitive places is an ongoing project to help protect this fragile, threatened plant. In the face of pressures to overuse parts of the Methow, work is being done to preserve what has been growing here for centuries.