For the first time, Pacific Crest Trail hikers are being warned that people who hike across the border from Canada into the United States are committing a federal crime, and risking a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
MAZAMA — For the first time, Pacific Crest Trail hikers are being warned that people who hike across the border from Canada into the United States are committing a federal crime, and risking a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
In a June 1 letter to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the U.S. Border Patrol urged the group to educate their members and other hikers to cross the border only at designated ports of entry.
The 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which goes from Mexico to Canada, crosses the U.S. border in the Pasayten Wilderness and continues for about nine miles to the Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia.
The nearest port of entry is 50 miles to the west, at Sumas, Whatcom County, or more than 50 miles to the east, at Nighthawk or Oroville, Okanogan County.
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Beth Boyst, a U.S. Forest Service manager who oversees Pacific Crest Trail issues, said she’ll be meeting with the Border Patrol in the next few weeks to determine the best ways to comply with security needs while accommodating hikers.
“The Forest Service is trying to work out something with the Border Patrol to try to figure out how to allow for passage in a legal way,” she said.
Danielle Suarez, Border Patrol spokeswoman in Spokane, said the warning doesn’t apply to people who cross into Canada from the United States. That’s up to Canada to enforce, she said.
Suarez said the letter is an effort to educate hikers that everyone entering the United States must go to a designated port of entry — even hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. She said there was no specific incident that prompted the letter to the trail association.
“We just want to create that awareness, so it doesn’t get to a point where there are criminal penalties,” she said.
Suarez said the Border Patrol is checking that part of the border, and other trails on or near the border, for people crossing illegally.
Mike Dawson, trail-operations director for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, said he’s hoping there can be some exceptions for hikers, but even strict enforcement won’t impact a lot of the hikers — particularly not those who try to make the journey in one year.
Nearly all of those hikers travel from south to north, because there’s still snow in the North Cascades long after hiking season starts in Southern California.
He said there are people who hike sections of the trail, some of them attempting to hike the entire trail a section at a time, and others just out to enjoy part of the national scenic trail.
“If the Border Patrol determined they were going to simply not allow anybody to cross from Canada into the United States from that location in any circumstances, we would probably suggest people doing section hikes should do it south-to-north” on that section, he said.
Dawson said the association has already set up a method for dealing with hikers traveling into Canada.
Hikers can download a form from the association’s website that should be filled out. It shows the types of identification needed, and when people finish the trail, they end up at Manning Provincial Park headquarters, where they can turn in their form and show their identification.
To get home, he said, many people take a bus or other transportation from the park to one of the designated border crossings, where they’ll have to be ready with a passport to get back into the United States.