As highway opens, tours announced for North Cascades
As the North Cascades Highway has a late reopening for the season, North Cascades National Park announces a new slate of tours and programs.
The North Cascades Highway was set to reopen Wednesday, the second latest spring opening since the highway opened in 1972.
State highway workers punched through snowpack that piled as high as 65 feet across state Highway 20, and overcame obstacles such as a 100-foot-wide slide of mud, rock, trees and snow discovered just last week.
Typically, mountain snows close the highway in November and it reopens in April when plows can get through. The highway's high point is 5,477-foot Washington Pass.
Heavy spring snows and numerous avalanches in the past month contributed to the late May opening.
The highway is a major scenic corridor through North Cascades National Park and a popular route for Puget Sound vacationers headed to Winthrop.
Coinciding with the highway opening, the National Park Service announced a slate of park programs for 2011, some in tandem with North Cascades Institute, which operates the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake, and Seattle City Light, which manages hydroelectric projects in the area:
• All three entities will share management of the Skagit Information Center, which opens Thursday in Newhalem, with information on things to do along the Highway 20 corridor. It will feature historic artifacts from the Skagit Museum and a new bookstore operated by North Cascades Institute.
• Popular boat tours of Diablo Lake return, led by a park ranger and North Cascades Institute instructor aboard the Alice Ross III, with a lunch prepared at the Environmental Learning Center. Tours are Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in July and August, with senior group bookings available Thursdays. Cost is $15-$29.
Park rangers and North Cascades Institute naturalists will also lead two new tours:
• A free guided walking tour in the historic company town of Newhalem, starting at the Skagit Information Center twice a day on Wednesdays through Mondays in July and August and weekends in September.
• "Hydro Highway" tours by van and foot to learn about the North Cascades and the area's dams and hydroelectric projects. This field day, including a picnic lunch plus a choice of hikes up to two miles, is offered Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in July and August. Cost is $12.50 to $25.
For more information on all of the tours, see www.skagittours.com.
More information on the national park and related recreation areas: www.nps.gov/noca.
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