You can see Rattlesnake Mountain from most everywhere in the Mid-Columbia. So it's not surprising that the top of Rattlesnake offers the region's most expansive view.
It's a beautiful site. But relatively few Mid-Columbians have been there. Access has been restricted since 1943.
That needs to change.
Several groups in the Mid-Columbia share our point of view. And a few very pivotal groups don't.
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Mid-Columbia Indian tribes have mounted the stiffest opposition to public access. Tribal members hold the land sacred.
And it's hard to argue against sacred.
But certainly a compromise can be found that allows controlled public access without destroying the mountain's spiritual significance.
It's a big place up there.
To be clear, we don't think Rattlesnake should be open to anyone anytime. Even at Badger Mountain, where the Friends of Badger Mountain have toiled endlessly, it's easy to see where people leave the trail and selfishly cut across delicate landscape, causing erosion.
And it's only been a couple of years since one foolish driver decided to go four-wheeling on Badger Mountain in the middle of the night. (It took months to retrieve his vehicle from the ravine it was stuck in.)
Sadly, people don't always make good choices.
When the top-secret Manhattan Project came to Hanford in 1943, the whole area, especially the vantage points, were closed off as a matter of national security, including Rattlesnake.
At that time, most of the mountain was owned by private citizens, not the tribes. In fact, old homesteads and fields of grain that have been left unattended all these years can still be found on the mountain.
Fast forward several decades.
When the Hanford Reach National Monument was formed in 2000, Rattlesnake Mountain was included in the designation.
The mountain is nearly pristine. It's not contaminated by the plutonium production that occurred nearby and has pretty much been left to itself for nearly 70 years.
Rep. Doc Hastings. R-Wash., routinely pushes the issue of public access. He introduced legislation in May to allow access to the top of the mountain.
During a recent hearing on his bill, Hastings complained that this issue has been sitting in the lap of U.S. Fish and Wildlife for 10 years, with practically no movement whatsoever -- and no progress expected anytime soon.
In fact, he doesn't think Fish and Wildlife can be trusted to make anything happen.
That's a little harsh, but not undeserved.
In James Kurth's defense, he was only recently appointed chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System and inherited this problem with his new job.
Kurth has asked Hastings to work with him in finding ways to speed up the process. We hope the collaboration leads to some concrete plans and not just political posturing.