WENATCHEE — As wildfires continue to burn across parts of north-central Washington, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is encouraging tourists to come visit parts of the forest that aren’t burned or threatened by fire.
The agency issued a public statement that much of forest that sprawls between Yakima and the Canadian border — more than four million acres — is fire-free and open for visitors.
“All everybody hears about is ‘big fire’ and it’s really been a hard economic hit for communities like Pateros, Brewster, Twisp, Winthrop, Entiat, Leavenworth and Lake Chelan,” said forest spokesman Mick Mueller recently. “A lot of that fire danger has passed and those towns are trying to stay open for business.”
He added, “We’re trying to do what we can to say ‘Come on over. We’re open for business.’”
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August is typically a busy month for recreation tourism in North Central Washington. But outdoors-minded tourists have largely stayed away due to fires burning across a large area of Okanogan County, the Entiat Valley and the Leavenworth area.
Mueller pointed out that of the seven ranger districts in the Okanogan-Wenatchee forest, four have no recreation closures. All national forest sites in the Naches, Cle Elum, Lake Chelan and Tonasket districts are open.
However, many of the forest sites in the Entiat Valley are closed because of the Duncan Fire, which has closed the Entiat River Road to the general public at milepost 18. All campgrounds and most hiking trails are closed.
In the Methow Valley, most national forest lands are closed for public safety due to several fires. However, recreation sites along the North Cascades Highway are open, along with the Pacific Crest Trail and trails in the Harts Pass area.
And in the Wenatchee River Ranger District, the only closure is the Little Wenatchee River basin west of Lake Wenatchee, which includes a number of hiking trails and small campgrounds. But the Icicle Valley near Leavenworth, which is hugely popular for rock climbing, hiking and camping, has no closures.
“I think the message people are hearing is that this area is trashed, completely burned over,” Mueller said. “So everybody is staying away.”
A ban on all outdoor burning, including campfires anywhere in the national forest, remains in place.