The view from Rattlesnake should look to the future

Come take in the view from the top of Rattlesnake Mountain!

Oh, wait, you can't. That was just a tease from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when public tours were announced a few weeks ago.

The rare opportunity for the general public to go to the top of Rattlesnake grabbed the community's attention, and the 40 seats available were filled in five seconds. No exaggeration.

But the tours were just as quickly canceled.

Along the long and winding road to the creation and dedication of the Hanford Reach National Monument 10 years ago, public access to the mountain -- part of the monument -- had to have been discussed. Tours were a part of the Monument's management plan, approved just two years ago.

But as soon as the first tours were filled, the plug was pulled over a "legal issue."

Public access always has been a question on Rattlesnake, given the Department of Energy's role and the fact that the mountaintop has been part of the Hanford nuclear reservation's security perimeter since World War II. DOE has been working to clear the mountaintop of manmade structures -- the observatory, for example -- since 2008 to protect areas of the mountain deemed sacred in treaties with area Indian tribes.

Part of Rattlesnake has been declared a traditional cultural property and the top is considered sacred ground.

Fish and Wildlife experts on the National Historic Preservation Act and the agency's tribal partners told the agency it had not covered the full legal process in opening the area for tours.

The mountain falls under the National Historic Preservation Act because of its links to military use and the tribes.

Now Fish and Wildlife has to backtrack and jump through all the proper hoops of the National Historic Preservation Act, conferring with the tribes and the State Historic Preservation Office. Fish and Wildlife will take the next year to develop a cultural resources management plan.

It seems to us, given the significance of Rattlesnake Mountain, that cultural resource management should have been addressed in the management plan for the Hanford Reach in the first place. After all, DOE has been working on cultural management of the site since 2008.

But this is the hand we've been dealt, and we'll all have to have some more patience if we ever hope to see the view from the top of Rattlesnake Mountain on any kind reasonable basis.

That will take cooperation on all sides -- state and federal agencies, tribes, DOE, historic preservationists and the whole lot -- to make public access a reality on Rattlesnake Mountain. We hope all parties come together and become part of the solution in sharing this great natural resource.

The land belongs to us all, and we should all have the opportunity to visit it while respecting the needs of others, while preserving the mountaintop for future generations of visitors.