Trails & Tides

Tristan Baurick, the Kitsap Sun's outdoors and public lands reporter, writes about hiking, biking, kayaking and everything else Kitsapers do under the sun.
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Kitsap kayakers rescued off stormy B.C. coast

October 1st, 2014 by tristan baurick

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After battling 10-foot-high swells and capsizing in the surf, Poulsbo sea kayaker John Kuntz figured his problems would be over when reached shore.

But that was only the start of a five-day ordeal on a remote, storm-blasted stretch of the British Columbia coast. Kuntz and his paddling partner, Luca Lezzi of Bainbridge Island, found themselves trapped until the Canadian Coast Guard could reach them.

“It was combination of terror and just amazement,” said Kuntz, owner of Port Gamble-based Olympic Outdoor Center. “I’ve been in a lot storms but never a storm that lasted so many days and was so intense. It was like standing next to a jet engine for about five days.”

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Kuntz and Lezzi, who works for Kuntz, ended up staying on the windswept beach for five nights. On Friday, the Canadian Coast Guard pushed through gale-force winds to reach them. Both are now safe at home.

They had set out on Sept. 19 from Fair Harbour on north Vancouver Island. They planned to turn around after three days and paddle back.

“On Sunday, it was calm and sunny and beautiful but the wind picked up pretty quick,” Kuntz said. They were hit with gusts of up to 25 knots as they raced for shore.

Kuntz has been paddling for more than three decades. Lezzi, 21, has far less experience, but he made up for it with youthful courage and brawn.

KayakRescue2

“I was proud of the kid,” Kuntz said Lezzi, who used to row for Pacific Lutheran University. “His inexperience didn’t even show.”

They reached land in the nick of time. Within a half hour, the wind’s strength had doubled.

They camped on the south end of the Brooks Peninsula Provincial Park, a 71,100-acre, densely-wooded preserve that gets few visitors. When they woke, the storm was still surging, eventually reaching 74 knots and tossing 40-foot waves off the peninsula.

Kuntz radioed for a water taxi, but the captain said there was no way he was going into the storm.

“We went into survival mode,” Kuntz said.

Read the rest of this entry »


Forest Service delays decision on journalism restrictions

September 29th, 2014 by tristan baurick

ShiersNFS

After getting an earful from journalists, First Amendment advocates and lawmakers, the U.S. Forest Service says it will delay finalizing rules requiring the press to get special permits and pay a fee to shoot photos or videos in wilderness areas.

The Forest Service will allow public comment on the rule for an additional month, until Dec. 3.

“The U.S. Forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment,” Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a statement. “To be clear, provisions in the draft directive do not apply to news gathering or activities.”

But, as Craig Welch of the Seattle Times pointed out, Forest Service practices often don’t match Tidwell’s words. Several journalists reported having to obtain permits not just to shoot photos and video but to conduct interviews in wilderness areas.

In one case, permits to Idaho Public Television were delayed for months while the Forest Service determined whether government officials would approve of the finished story.

“It’s pretty clearly unconstitutional,” Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Oregonian. “They would have to show an important need to justify these limits, and they just can’t.”

A Forest Service official told the Oregonian that the restrictions are meant to preserve the character of wilderness areas.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) joined other members of Congress in urging the Forest Service to rethink its policy.

“Foremost, I am concerned about the important First Amendment rights of journalists,” Kilmer wrote in a letter you can read below. “They should be able to have access to these public areas in order to communicate with the public – whether about potential environmental challenges or extraordinary natural assets.”

He noted that he had invited members of the press onto Olympic National Forest last month to discuss the Wild Olympics bill, which would designate 200 square miles as wilderness. You can read about that event here.

“I am concerned that regulations and costs like those under consideration would create unnecessary barriers that would preclude local media members from participating, and, as a consequence, local residents from having access to information about these stunning lands and waters,” Kilmer said.

Those wishing to comment on the rules can do so here.

Cartoon: Frank Shiers, for the Kitsap Sun.

Kilmer on wilderness press restrictions


Chalet mover says he was “muzzled” by Olympic National Park

September 25th, 2014 by tristan baurick

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Olympic National Park and the movers hired to save the Enchanted Valley Chalet have starkly different explanations for the bizarre press restrictions I encountered at the chalet site earlier this month.

As I wrote in the Trails & Tides blog post last week, the park invited press to the site but barred access to the work area and prevented the press from speaking with anyone associated with the move. You can read that post here. My full story about moving the chalet from the eroding bank of the Quinault River can be found here.

JEFF MONROE

Jeff Monroe

Park officials now say that the restrictions were at the behest of the movers.

“The contractor had requested that the park service handle the media and respond to media questions,” park spokeswoman Rainey McKenna wrote in an email to Steven Friederich of the Vidette newspaper in Grays Harbor County. “The lead contractor and his subcontractors (packer and cook) also expressed that they did no (sic) wish to be interviewed during the operation.”

Friederich had asked several pointed questions of McKenna after reading my post. He then forwarded the responses to me.

Jeff Monroe, The project’s lead contractor, called McKenna’s explanation “untrue.”

“We were muzzled,” he said. “They said, ‘quit talking to the press.’ So we had to do it.”

Monroe, whose business is based in Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula, has never been shy with the press.

His exploits as a house mover have been highlighted in several news stories, including a few in the Kitsap Sun. Often the story tip comes from Monroe himself. He granted interviews to me and several other reporters during the months before the chalet was moved.

Jeff Monroe moving a house in 2007. Kitsap Sun photo.

Monroe moving a house in 2007. Kitsap Sun photo.

At the chalet site, Monroe twice approached me to talk about the project but went silent when McKenna caught up with him. Five other members of his crew spoke with me when out of view of park staff.

“Rainey really kept us at bay,” Monroe said. “Now the job’s done and I can talk to who ever I want.”

Monroe said he had to agree not to speak with the press in order to get the moving contract approved.

“I basically had a gun to my head,” he said. “The chalet was going to fall in the river, and they wouldn’t let (the move) happen unless I agreed. I said ‘OK, I don’t have time for this political crap. I gotta save that chalet.’”

Olympic’s lead spokeswoman, Barb Maynes, remembers the negotiations differently.

“He told me he didn’t want to talk with the media, and we took that seriously,” she said.

Monroe also disputes an assertion in McKenna’s email that it was he who established the safety rules that kept the press far from the chalet.

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No entry fees on National Public Lands Day (Saturday)

September 23rd, 2014 by tristan baurick

Hikers

You won’t have to pay a fee to enjoy a hike in the Olympics this Saturday.

Most federally-managed public lands are waiving day-use fees in celebration of National Public Lands Day. That includes national parks, national forests, and lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

National Public Lands Day began in 1994 and has become the largest day of volunteer work in public lands. More than 175,000 volunteers are expected to help paint, plant, mulch and clean thousands of acres of public lands on Saturday.

Want to pitch in? One Hood Canal-area option is a Washington Trails Association work party to spruce up the Mt. Townsend Trail on the Olympic Peninsula. More on that here.

Photo: Hikers listen for birds on the Mildred Lakes Trail in Olympic National Forest. Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun


Adventures in press restrictions in the Olympic wilderness

September 17th, 2014 by tristan baurick

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When I set out to cover the effort to save Olympic National Park’s Enchanted Valley Chalet last week, I thought the toughest part would be the 13-mile hike. 

Worse, I found after six hours on the trail, was a bizarre blockade on press freedom – the likes of which I’d never experienced outside a military base or murder scene. 

The scene I found at the end of the hike was anything but. The moving crew, made up of preservationists, house movers, two cooks and a pack animal driver,  were happy to see I’d come all the way to their wilderness worksite. Miles from the nearest road and with limited tools and equipment at their disposal, the movers were accomplishing the herculean task of pushing a three-story log structure away from the river that had undercut its foundation by eight feet. 

The chalet after the first push.

The chalet after the first push.

It had the makings of a great story. Strangely enough, it was a story the park service wanted told through one person – Rainey McKenna, a spokeswoman sent from park HQ to handle the likes of me. 

Her first rule: no crossing a yellow caution tape stretched over a vast area several times larger than the chalet. The reason was safety, and yet she and the cook crew moved about freely. In fact, the cook crew was busy frying up dinner in the restricted area, about 40 feet from the chalet when she insisted full collapse could happen any time. Could I stand by the cooks, I asked. No, she answered. How’s about when all the work’s done? No. What if the project’s boss accompanies me? No. What if I put on a hard hat and safety vest and you accompany me? No. 

This did not bode well for the multimedia coverage I had planned. Packing light, I left my camera’s zoom lens at home and was relying on my smart phone for video (also no zoom).

More than one mover offered to take my phone and get some close-up footage. Nope, that would also not be allowed, McKenna said. 

I wandered over to a mover petting the pack animals outside the yellow tape. As I snapped photos, we chit-chatted about horses. McKenna interrupted, telling me the press wasn’t allowed to speak with anyone associated with the project. 

About to get busted for talking to a man about a horse.

About to get busted for talking to a man about a horse.

I was dumbfounded. I asked her to repeat herself. 

“You’re in a restricted area,” she explained. 

“But we’re just talking about horses, and we’re outside the tape,” I said. “Did the restricted area just grow?”

No, she said, indicating there was a much larger, unmarked restricted area that limited not just access but speech. 

The next morning was to be the official “media day” – the designated time in which newspapers and TV stations could witness the culmination of what had become a story of regional interest. Everyone from the Oregonian to KING 5 have given ink or airtime to the moving project.  

Our invitation mentioned only two restrictions on the press: No drones. No helicopters. I dutifully complied with both. I also sent two emails to the park’s public affairs office to discuss logistics for shooting video and photos. I never heard back on either. 

McKenna said the Seattle Times and a few Seattle TV stations had expressed serious interest in attending. Usually, I don’t like competition, but I looked forward to their presence. Blocking access to one reporter is certainly easier than blocking it from several. 

But I didn’t have to wait until morning to get the interviews I sought. The interviews came to me. The crew, I found, was more than willing to talk – so long as it was out of view of McKenna and the two other park staffers at the site. I spoke with them in hidden groves, shady spots along the river and on the trail, far from the worksite. 

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Volunteers needed for Kitsap parks board

August 11th, 2014 by tristan baurick

KolaKole

The Kitsap County Parks Advisory Board is looking for a few new members.

The 12-member board helps the county parks department craft policies, make decisions on land acquisitions and contributes on special projects. Members also serve as liaisons between the department and the public.

Two seats are up for grabs with the recent resignations of Ed Donahue, who helped represent South Kitsap, and Michael Arnold, one of the Central Kitsap reps.

At last check, only three applications have been received for the two positions.

New appointees would serve out the former members’ terms. Donahue’s term ends at the end of this year, and Arnold’s concludes at the end of 2015. Once a term is complete, a member could be re-appointed for a full three-year term.

The board’s membership is evenly divided between three geographic areas: North, Central and South Kitsap. Applicants must be residents of either the South or Central Kitsap districts and attend monthly meetings.

Parks Director Jim Dunwiddie said the new members will be involved in important work, including…

1. Categorizing the county’s dozens of parks and then helping to develop related policies for the various park types (such as forest parks, sports parks, etc.)

2. Developing new funding sources for parks, including possible use fees.

3. Developing plans and policies for new parks and soon-to-be-acquired parks, including the large Port Gamble Shoreline Block property that was purchased in April.

The application deadline is Aug. 15.

For more info and an application, head over here.

Photo: Kingston’s Kola Kole Park is one of the dozens of properties managed by the Kitsap County Parks Department. Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun


State Fish & Wildlife director stepping down

August 11th, 2014 by tristan baurick

AndersonThe state Fish & Wildlife director will resign at the end of the year.

Phil Anderson worked for the department for more than 20 years and led it for the last six.

He steered the department through some tough times. Recent budget cuts reduced Fish & Wildlife funding by about 45 percent.

Below is an announcement from the department.

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Poulsbo’s Rude Road property: A ‘surplus’ park no more?

August 11th, 2014 by tristan baurick

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Last year, a wooded property off Rude Rude in Poulsbo made the Kitsap County Parks Department’s list of parklands it no longer wanted. Now it looks like the department may hang on to it after all.

Hidden away on Little Rude Road, a narrow, winding driveway branching from Rude, the property – known simply as ‘Rude Road’ – had little potential as a public park. It had a lot of trees but little else going for it. No one at the department was quite sure how they came to own it, what it had ever been used for or where exactly it was. Parks officials initially told me it was 9 acres, but a bit of research last week revealed it to be more than two times that size.

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The department’s hope for its ‘surplus’ properties is for other government agencies or nonprofits to take them on. The department prefers not to sell them on the open market.

Conveniently, the state Department of Natural Resources owns 186 acres of timberland bordering Rude Road property. DNR’s been logging it for decades. The last cut was recent, leaving much of the property covered in stumps and Scotch broom.

Might DNR be interested in another 19 acres, fully-stocked with mature trees, the department asked.

No, actually, DNR said. Then DNR countered with a surprise offer: Take our 186 acres instead. And don’t give us any money.

“The county likes a really good deal, and this is one,” said Eric Baker, the county’s special projects manager.

Combined, the two properties could give the department a new park that tops 205 acres.

The deal’s not done, but it’s safe to say the Rude Road property is no longer on the surplus list.

Read more about the property and its future here. 

Photo: The Kitsap County Parks Department owns 19 acres of wooded land bisected by Little Rude Road. Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun


A reminder to steer clear of mountain goats

August 8th, 2014 by tristan baurick

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Olympic National Park is reminding visitors to stay away from the park’s mountain goats.

The park sent out the following notice:

Visitors to Olympic National Park are reminded they are required to keep their distance from all park wildlife and observe animals only from a vantage point of at least 50 yards.

“Wild animals – even those that seem ‘tame’ – can pose potential hazards to people, whether through the spread of disease or through direct physical contact,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum.  “Visitors should always maintain a distance of at least 50 yards from any park wildlife.”

Although rare, attacks on humans have occurred in National Parks, inflicting serious injuries and death. A visitor was fatally gored by a mountain goat while hiking in Olympic National Park in 2010.

Park regulations state that all visitors must maintain a distance of at least 50 yards, or half the length of a football field between themselves and any park wildlife.  If any animal approaches closer than 50 yards, visitors are required to move away to maintain the minimum distance.

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Wildfire near Lake Crescent halted

August 6th, 2014 by tristan baurick

The small wildfire near Lake Crescent is 100 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service announced this morning.

Known as the Pyramid Fire, the blaze north of Lake Crescent burned about 1.5 acres before it was halted by forest service and state Department of Natural Resources fire crews.

Crews are now in the “mop up” stage, extinguishing burning material around the control line cut around the fire site. They expect to finish the process by late Wednesday or early Thursday.

The fire is believed to have been human-caused due to a lack of lightning – the main source of ignition for natural-caused fires. The exact cause has not been determined.

The forest service urged all visitors to the Olympic national forest and national park to be “extremely careful with fire and other potential sources of ignition.” About 95 percent of wildfires in Olympic National Forest are human-caused, according to the forest service.