The North Cascades Highway is expected to remain closed at least until Monday (Aug. 19) as crews toil to clear landslides, forcing drivers to take a longer route in and out of the Methow Valley. And the highway closure is hitting tourism-dependent businesses hard as some visitors cancel trips.
The Washington State Department of Transportation had hoped to reopen the highway this weekend, but crews are dealing with some boulders as big as passenger cars that have blocked the scenic mountain road, plus mounds of dirt and trees.
The highway closed last weekend after heavy rain and hail storms touched off eight mud slides that buried the road up to 25 feet deep in debris.
With more rain in the forecast this weekend for the area, it’s possible that more landslides could hit the highway, said the Washington State Department of Transportation, keeping it closed even longer. Crews are working through the weekend and updates will be posted at the highway website.
The road closure is costing Methow Valley businesses money. It struck at the height of the summer tourist season, when visitors come to hike, bike and relax in the scenic rural valley (although there still is access to some popular trailheads on the highway).
“It’s been slow here all week,” Kelsey Bourne, manager of the Duck Brand restaurant in Winthrop, told The Spokesman-Review newspaper. Sales are down about 70 percent this week, she said. The popular restaurant is on the main street in Winthrop, the little Western-themed town that’s a popular destination.
The 30-room Winthrop Inn had 35 cancellations in three days, office manager Sonia Perrow told the newspaper.
The slides hit the mountain highway just west of Rainy Pass on Aug. 10 forcing the closure of 10 miles of road.
Drivers still can get to the Methow, but by a longer route (the same route that is used in winter as the North Cascades Highway is not kept open for winter travel because of heavy snow). Get to Wenatchee, then take State Route 97 north along the Columbia River to Pateros, then SR 153 north to Twisp and SR 20 west to Winthrop. It takes roughly one hour longer than driving from Seattle to the Methow via the North Cascades Highway.
And there still is some recreational access from both sides of the North Cascades Highway, since portions of it remain open. The DOT said “From the east, all recreational access is available as far the Pacific Crest trailheads and picnic area at Rainy Pass. From the west, access is available up to East, Canyon and Panther Creeks, East Bank and Happy Creek.” Long-distance bicyclists also have been enjoying riding the steeply-climbing highway from the Methow Valley up to Washington Pass – with hardly any cars on the road.