Sno-Park use soars - causing congestion, questions

OLYMPIA– The Washington State Parks Winter Recreation Program and regional park staff are reporting record visits at Sno-Parks across the state.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to limit indoor entertainment and gatherings, people are flocking to the outdoors, despite dropping temperatures. This has caused parking lots in high snow areas to fill up early, and cars have become stuck. The uptick in new winter visitors has also caused confusion over right-of-way on mixed-use trails.
State Parks urges winter recreationists to plan trips with the following potential issues in mind:
Crowds and parking: Many Sno-Parks close parking lots when they hit capacity. Visitors should plan to arrive early and have a Plan B in case their top choice is full.
Closures and openings: Mountain passes and roads to Sno-Parks may shut down due to weather related issues. Conversely, if snow depths are low, the trails may not be groomed for winter activities. Sno-Park goers should consider visiting on a different day.
Permit refunds: Sno-Park permits are generally non-refundable. For this reason, Winter Recreation Program Manager Pamela McConkey encourages visitors to check roads and weather before purchasing a day-use permit for a specific date.
“The full season pass allows flexibility to chase good weather or cancel plans in bad weather,” said McConkey. “If someone thinks they’ll be visiting a Sno-Park more than once, they should consider the seasonal pass.”
Wheeled vehicles: Cars and trucks are only allowed in Sno-Park parking lots. They are not permitted on trails, including forest roads within the Sno-Park. Anyone driving illegally within the Sno-Park will be cited.
Trail etiquette: The Winter Recreation Program contracts with groomers across the state who create special trails for skiers and snowmobilers. Sno-Park permits pay for this service, as well as for plowing and sanitation.
McConkey advises skiers and snowmobilers to stay on the trails that were groomed for them. She asks everyone to follow right-of-way etiquette:
Snowshoers — walk on the sides of the trail and stay off ski tracks.
Skate-skiers — keep off groomed ski tracks.
Dogsled and skijoring teams— stay off any groomed track.
Skiers and snowshoers — yield to snowmobilers and dog teams.
Snowmobilers — slow down when coming up on skiers, snowshoers and dog teams.
McConkey recommends visitors buy permits online or from a vendor after checking weather, avalanche forecasts and park alerts.
“Everyone using a Sno-Park should have cold weather gear, traction for their feet and cars and an emergency kit in the car,” she said. “Basically, know before you go and make decisions accordingly.”
She also presses winter park users to practice responsible recreation principles, including social distancing, small groups and use of gloves, hand sanitizer, personal toilet paper and face coverings, especially in high traffic areas and emergency shelters.
“COVID is still here,” said McConkey. “We’re not out of the woods with it yet.”


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