We’ve long been advocates for a measured amount of public access to Rattlesnake Mountain.
Retired U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings got us one step closer to that with legislation passed in 2014 requiring some amount of access, including pedestrian and non-motorized access to the summit of the mountain owned by the Department of Energy.
After receiving public input last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released a report outlining what that access might look like in the future, as well as what would be required of the federal government should those plans move forward.
Fish and Wildlife actually took the directive a step further, looking at what access should be allowed to all of the 81,070 acres of the Rattlesnake Mountain Unit of the Hanford Reach National Monument.
Unlike much Fish and Wildlife property, the Rattlesnake Mountain Unit southwest of Highway 240 is not open to the public. It was part of a security zone created for the Hanford nuclear reservation during World War II and has been closed ever since.
In some areas undisturbed by the Hanford project and its aftermath, the lands are pristine.
Wildlife that enjoys our kind of desert environment is thriving. While DOE can take guests on the property and the tribes are allowed to access it, very few folks have been on the land in decades.
But that could all change with the new report offering at least a glimmer of hope for offering “open access” days and allowing guided tours of the site to resume.
The “scoping report” was released as the next step in the legal process to create some form of use of the land by the public.
The next phase of the process calls for evaluating what type of activities might be allowed if those open access days become reality.
Biking, hiking and horseback riding are all possibly under consideration within limits.
But some proposed improvements already have been eliminated from consideration for the monument, including gondolas, trams and ski lifts.
Cross-country biking or new biking trails are not an option. ATV access will continue to be prohibited. Backpacking, camping, hang gliding and paragliding are also not up for discussion. No dogs or cross-country horseback riding, either.
Another factor limiting what will be allowed there is the mountain’s designation as a Traditional Cultural Property under the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires Fish and Wildlife to consult with Columbia Basin tribes and the Washington State Historic Preservation Office. The tribes consider Rattlesnake Mountain a sacred site.
When the public finally gets access, it will be limited in scope, as it should be, given the ecological and cultural sensitivity of the site.
Limited access is better than no access. We’re pleased by the progress and hopeful appropriate access will be available in the not-too-distant future.