GLACIER – The summer hiking season is kicking off near Mount Baker. Crews opened the gate to the seasonal section of State Route 542 at 12 p.m. on Thursday, June 21, 2018
Three weeks of hard work plus a few days of blue skies and soft snow helped Washington State Department of Transportation maintenance crews clear the 2.7-mile seasonally closed section of State Route 542, known as the road to Artist Point, faster than usual.
Washington State Department of Transportation maintenance crews began clearing the section from the gate near the Mount Baker Ski Area to the Artist Point parking lot on Wednesday, May 30. Using two bulldozers, a rotary snow blower and a snowmobile with GPS to help keep them on the road, crews worked 10-hour days Monday through Friday to clear this stretch as quickly as possible.
WSDOT crews took snow measurements on Friday, May 25, and found 21 feet of snow in the middle of the Artist Point parking lot. Thanks to sunny May temperatures, that measurement was seven feet lower than measurements crews took at the same spot one month earlier.
On May 25, crews also measured:
- 16 feet at the seasonal gate.
- 35 feet at the Lake Ann parking lot.
- 16.2 feet at the top of the Artist Point restroom.
On April 25 those numbers were:
- 22 foot at the seasonal gate.
- 40 feet at the Lake Ann parking lot.
- 21.2 feet at the top of the Artist Point restroom.
This seasonal stretch of highway closes each winter due to the steep terrain, narrow road and sharp curves. The Mount Baker Ski Area also uses a portion of the area each season.
Visitors and history
When the highway is open, an average of 660 vehicles a day move past the gate to Artist Point where visitors can hike, camp or take in the view. Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest says more than 38,000 people visited their Glacier Public Service Center in 2017 to prepare for outdoor adventures by getting required permits and checking weather conditions. The summer visitors help boost the economy in the small towns along Mount Baker Highway.
The final 2.7-mile section of the overall 57.24-mile highway was funded by state legislators and opened in 1931 to provide additional recreational access within the state. It costs about $35,000 to clear this stretch each year and it is usually open between July and October. Crews will close the gate again this winter when conditions on the steep and winding highway become unsafe.