Hunters and campers will be allowed to pitch their tents and park their RVs on Weyerhaeuser Co. land in Southwest Washington this year — with a $300 per family permit. Though the cost has gone up from $160 last year, permits will now allow year-round access.
People who want to hike, pedal a mountain bike or ride a horse on Weyerhaeuser property will be able to buy a $50 non-motorized permit — in some cases for land that formerly was free to enter.
Weyerhaeuser has posted information about significant changes to its largely unpopular fee access system for the region. Permits for the company’s 380,000-acre Longview-St. Helens area east of Interstate 5 go on sale June 10, though permits for land to the west already are available.
The new higher fees and rules are the latest step in Weyerhaeuser’s changing policies on public recreational use of its lands.
In response to garbage dumping, theft and vandalism, the company in 2001 started locking gates for much of the year. In 2014, the company started a fee access program in Southwest Washington; last year, a permit cost $160 and was required for entry from August through January, with no drive-in access the rest of the year.
Starting Aug. 1 of this year, a $300 permit will be available for year-round motorized access into the Longview-St. Helens area between Kelso and Mount St. Helens. As in the past, a permit covers the holder, his or her spouse, children under 18 and grandchildren. So if four non-related buddies wanted to hunt together, they need to spend a total of $1,200 for four permits.
The new permits allow camping for up to 10 days in one place. That’s not long enough for some camps that traditionally stayed in place for through modern rifle deer and elk seasons. But in recent years, Weyerhaeuser allowed camping only on leased areas.
As before, the company doesn’t allow ATVs or snowmobiles on its land.
The new fees drew mixed reactions from local outdoors enthusiasts.
“There will be less hunters,” predicted Russ Barnes, president of the Cowlitz Game and Anglers club.
Many Game and Anglers members didn’t hunt on Weyerhaeuser land last year because of the fees, Barnes said.
“I just can’t imagine that kind of price. I doubt there would be very many of our club members who would do that.”
Cowlitz County Commissioner Joe Gardner, who represents the north part of the county and lives in Toutle, called the fee system “a sad situation. I am glad that they are at least willing to make some changes.”
Gardner said people will like being able to camp and drive on Weyco roads year-round with permits. “Just getting out and driving around the woods was a popular thing to do,” he said.
Weyerhaeuser spokesman Anthony Chavez said in an email that the company changed to year-round permits so it could control access to its lands all the time. He pointed out that those who buy a motorized access permit will be able to drive there at any time, not just during hunting season.
“This new change allows for hunters, in particular, to better prepare for the hunting season as they can now scout the property better prior to the hunting season,” he said.
The increased price reflects the added benefits of this year’s permits, such as camping and cutting up to two cords of firewood, Chavez said.
Walk-in permits cost $50
Chavez said Weyerhaeuser had received many requests for a walk-in permit option, so it added one this year. The $50 permit allows non-motorized access and, like the motorized permit, is valid for a family.
The non-motorized permits will be required year-round and will be required for some areas that used to have free access, such as the Mosquito Creek area west of Longview where mountain bikers have created a maze of trails.
Brian Mahon, an avid mountain biker who helped build the Mosquito Creek trail system, said he didn’t object to the $50 permit because it would limit crowding. “We’ve always seen working on their property as a privilege,” Mahon said.
Darcy Mitchem of Toutle, who’s been active in efforts to maintain public access to Weyco land, objected to having to buy a permit to go for a walk on Weyerhaeuser land. “It’s totally unreasonable to charge for a family to go for a walk in the woods,” Mitchem said. “You can’t walk on half of Cowlitz County that people have walked on for generations”
Mitchem said people walking on Weyerhaeuser property don’t vandalize or dump garbage and that restricting woods access hurts the economy of rural areas.
Because permits are required year-round, snowshoers will need one to hike up Elk Rock or elsewhere along Spirit Lake Memorial Highway in winter.
However, Weyerhaeuser will continue to allow free walk-in access down its 3100 road to get to the state’s Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area in the Toutle River Valley.
Chavez said the company also will continue to allow free driving along its 1900, 4100 and 8050 roads, which provide access to public lands.
The company has created two new permit areas in addition to 380,000-acre Longview-St. Helens area east of Interstate 5.
Another permit is required to enter the 24,000-acre Columbia River West area, which includes several parcels west of Longview extending to the Naselle area. Those permits, which went on sale Friday, cost $200 for motorized use and $50 for walk-ins.
A third permit, which also went on sale Friday, is required for the 48,500-acre Columbia River East/Yacolt area. Those permits cost $250 for motorized access or $50 for walk-ins.
The company is also offering parcels of land for lease. Bidding on a 1,266-acre parcel north of Toutle starts at $1,582. Only lease-holders can enter these parcels.