Tuesday, November 10, 2015

PSA - Wisherd Ridge/Lockwood point access changes

Wisherd ridge skiing. Photo: Jeff Schmalenberg
Wisherd ridge is a semi-popular ski destination for Missoula area skiers. The two conventional access points are to snowmobile in from Gold Creek (Blackfoot river drainage), or approach Lockwood point from Rainbow Bend up West Twin creek. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has recently acquired Plum Creek land in Twin Creek and has come up with a solution for public parking and access to Lockwood Point and Wisherd ridge from West Twin Creek. I have written this post in conjunction with TNC to help convey their access policy for all winter public users, both backcountry skiers and snowmobilers. Pray for snow and happy skiing.

Disclaimer: I have not done a lot of skiing at Wisherd, however I do advocate strongly for backcountry skiing access, and I hope skiers, snowmobilers, and lovers of all things winter and wild will find this information useful. I encourage folks to use the new West Twin creek parking area to access Lockwood point and Wisherd ridge, and to abide by the basic common sense restrictions in order to maintain access. TNC has taken on a messy but ultimately beneficial job of acquiring Plum Creek lands and conveying them to agencies like the Forest Service that will ensure they are managed sustainably into the future. It is at times controversial and messy work, but the ultimate outcome is remarkable for both the land, and for long-term public access.

The past situation: There is no established public parking area, so folks have generally used one of the following access points. Both have been problematic.

· Rainbow bend school bus stop. In the past, folks have parked along the highway and used an ATV trail to access the West Twin Creek road. There are “No Parking” signs here, since in the past there have been problems with trucks and snowmobile trailers interfering with the bus stop. Some vehicles have been ticketed in the past. Don’t park here.

· West Twin Creek road: The section of this road from the highway to TNC’s section line (old gate location) is a county road, but it is narrow single lane 12 foot road prism. Parking along the road is technically legal, but it has caused problems with Private land owners trying to get in and out of their houses. Don’t park along the road.

The solution (for now): The current route to the Lockwood area passes through TNC land and two separate private parcels. TNC has developed a new parking area and is going to try to allow snowmobile and foot access in winter. The private landowners currently permit public access through their lands, but if snowmobiles start going off roads and such, this access could easily be revoked. See private land denoted on map.

· TNC has moved the gate further up the West Twin Creek road and created a parking lot on their property. The parking lot is about 1,000 feet up the road from the highway. All public users should park here.

· TNC, thankfully, has tentatively agreed to keep the gate open from December 1 –April 1 to allow snowmobile and skier access through the gate. The gate will be signed describing the access. Snowmobile use through the gate is allowed from December 1 –April 1. There are also rootwads, boulders and such that ensure the gate is effective. Under TNC’s rules, Snowmobiles are requested to stay on the groomed/signed trails and/or on the forest road system. If accessing Wisherd by foot, just park here and start trudging. Just be sure to stay on the road where it crosses Private.

It is admirable for TNC to work with snowmobilers and backcountry skiers and to provide a public access point on their land. BUT, if someone screws up and starts driving wheeled vehicles past the gate, or deviates from the road where it crosses Private land, this will end. So please get out, enjoy the new access point and always be smart and courteous.

Map showing the new parking area and overall site. 
Provided courtesy of The Nature Conservancy. 

The second document in TNC’s Open Lands Policy. These policies haven’t changed and are the same that Plum Creek had adopted. For those unfamiliar with Plum Creek’s public access policy, the basic idea is to allow relatively unrestricted public access where it does not impact their operations or negatively impact natural resources.
Document provided courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

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