Friday, October 14, 2016

The end of the road until next summer

By Andrea E. Petrich

The road to Artist Point is closed for the winter.

With an inch of snow at the ski area and four inches at the top of Artist Point, our maintenance crews swept the area of hikers and then closed the gate for the season on Friday, Oct. 14.

Some people refer to the last 2.7 miles of State Route 542 as a dead end. For many it’s not an end but a beginning to access more than 117,000 acres of Mt. Baker Wilderness.
Once the rain turns to snow, crews close the gates to Artist Point for traveler safety
That starting point is fleeting. Each year, we have just a few months to use that access road before the snowflakes start flying again, the orange gates on SR 542 to Artist Point are closed, the road signs are removed (for skier safety) and WSDOT season crews turn their focus to making sure winter enthusiasts can safely get to and from Mt. Baker Ski Area.

It’s less than 3-miles, while not keep it open?
Clearing that last stretch of highway all winter would cost tens of thousands of dollars and wouldn’t benefit many due to the amount of snow that would be everywhere except the parking lot.

Year-round access is also limited because part of Mt. Baker Ski Area, which has been in operation since the 1920’s, runs across part of the highway. If you’ve ever skied or ridden down Blueberry Cat-Track, you might recognize some familiar road-like turns.
Blueberry Cat-Track runs near the Heather Meadows Visitors Center
That’s why crews remove the few road signs that run along this stretch – they want to make sure things are safe for skiers no matter what the snow depth.

Well then, why clear it at all? 
Clearing it at the end of the snow season allows extended use for thousands of people who come up each year to hike, backpack or just take in the view of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan from the visitor center.

So for now – think snow – to benefit all the skiers, boarders and businesses who use SR 542 during the winter. We’ll be busy clearing the stretch of road up to the ski area throughout the next few months, but next year we’ll be excited to reopen this dead end stretch to help begin your summer adventures.