Allowing public “open access” days with limited activities on the mountain several times a year and re-establishing guided tours of Rattlesnake Mountain could be considered, according to a new report.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a report Monday that looked at what access to Rattlesnake Mountain might be feasible and what options would require environmental assessments if they are pursued by the federal government.
Retired U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, dismayed by the lack of access to the Department of Energy-owned mountain near Richland, got legislation passed in late 2014 that requires at least limited vehicle access and also pedestrian and other nonmotorized access to the summit. It is the highest point in the Mid-Columbia.
Fish and Wildlife responded with a process to consider not only what type of access should be allowed to the summit but also access to the 81,070 acres of the Rattlesnake Mountain Unit of the Hanford Reach National Monument.
The unit, which is southwest of Highway 240 where it crosses Hanford, is national monument property closed to the public.
The area was part of a security zone established for the Hanford nuclear reservation during World War II and has had little human disturbance for 60 years.
It survived as one of the largest remaining intact shrub-steppe habitats in the Columbia Basin.
Public comments on access to the mountain were collected in the fall, with the agency following up with a “scoping” report released Monday as the next step in the legal process to establish public access.
Among options that could be evaluated in the next phase are open access days several times each year and what activities could be allowed on those days.
Rattlesnake Mountain access that might be feasible includes biking, hiking and horseback riding on existing roads on occasional open-access days.
Activities could include nonmotorized biking on existing roads, including to the summit of the mountain. Hiking and horseback riding on existing roads might be allowed on open access days.
Access to the road along the base of the mountain, called the 1200-Foot Road, which goes to Snively Canyon, also might be considered. The mountain rises about 3,000 feet from its toe to a crest with an elevation of more than 3,450 feet.
Additional possible uses that were analyzed in a previous study of the Hanford Reach National Monument management and could be considered for Rattlesnake Mountain include re-establishing guided tours.
Allowing special classroom access and access for special uses, such as charity events and teacher training, might be feasible.
Proposals to train volunteers to assist with access, helping keep costs down and supplementing limited staff, also might be considered.
Some options that were proposed in public comments have been eliminated from consideration based on prohibitions established by law or limitations set by the presidential proclamation that established the Hanford Reach National Monument.
Improvements that will not be considered include adding gondolas, trams or ski lifts. Cross-country biking or biking on new trails to be built will not be allowed. Cross-country ATV access also will continue to be prohibited.
Some suggested uses may be legal, but have been analyzed previously for the monument and have been prohibited. They include backpacking and camping, including in campgrounds. Hang gliding and paragliding are not allowed.
Rattlesnake Mountain access that has been ruled out includes cross-country bike, ATV and horseback riding.
Visitors also will not be allowed to walk dogs. Cross-country horseback riding would continue to be prohibited.
Access cannot legally be limited to Native Americans, as some people commenting had requested, even though Columbia Basin tribes consider the mountain a sacred area and it continues to be an important site for their cultural and religious activities.
Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Energy, which owns the land managed by Fish and Wildlife, have established a working group with Columbia Basin tribes to discuss access to Rattlesnake Mountain.
The tribes do not support public access, saying it would interfere with the qualities that make the mountain sacred, according to the report.
Some tribal members, speaking in the working group meetings, also have said they will not support development of trails or activities that require groundbreaking and suggested that public access be limited to two days every decade.
The mountain has been designated a Traditional Cultural Property under the National Historic Preservation Act.
The act requires Fish and Wildlife to consult with the tribes and the Washington State Historic Preservation Office, in addition to considering environmental factors as the agency develops a plan for public access.