Bill would open Rattlesnake Mountain

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMarch 14, 2013 

The top of Rattlesnake Mountain would be open to the public at least periodically under a bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.

The bill passed the House in the 2011-12 congressional session, but failed to reach a vote in the Senate. Hastings also introduced the legislation in 2010.

At 3,600 feet above sea level, Rattlesnake Mountain is the highest point in the Mid-Columbia.

In World War II it was included in the security zone around the Hanford nuclear reservation, and in 2000 was named part of the Hanford Reach National Monument managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

However, it's on part of the monument closed to the public.

"As I've said many times, people are permitted to scale the top of Mount Rainier and they should have the opportunity to take in the sights from the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain," Hastings said in a statement.

His legislation would require the secretary of the interior to provide reasonable public access to the mountain's summit for educational, recreational, historical, scientific, cultural and other purposes.

Access would be on foot, by vehicle and other nonmotorized transportation, such as bicycles.

The bill does not dictate how and when public access could happen, only that it be allowed, according to Hastings' staff.

"Since the public owns these lands, everyone should be permitted safe, regular and carefully managed access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain," Hastings said.

Versions of Hastings' bill would allow the interior secretary to enter into agreements with state and local government and other entities for purposes such as organizing and leading tours. The bills also would allow cooperative agreements for maintenance of an access road to the summit.

Fish and Wildlife has been working on public access to the mountain, but it has taken longer than planned, as discussions continue with tribes that consider the mountain sacred, James Kurth, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, told a House subcommittee, in fall 2011.

The agency's intent is to find the right balance between protecting the natural resources and respecting the cultural history on Rattlesnake Mountain, while making the site available to the public in a way that will increase awareness and appreciation for the mountain, he said.

Limited access is appropriate, he said.

A 15-year management plan for the monument approved in 2008 keeps most of the Rattlesnake Mountain area off limits.

Concerns include the steep and deteriorating one-lane road to the top that was built for military access during the Cold War.

In addition, Fish and Wildlife also is concerned about protecting the top of the mountain. Winds blow up to 100 mph on its treeless top and only a thin layer of soil covers the rock, but plants have adapted to the ecosystem and grow there.

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