New and significant resource damage to the Enchantment Lakes basin recently spurred the creation of a new group, Friends of Enchantments, to help protect the fragile, iconic landscape in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Cascades.

The Friends of Enchantments formed after several long-time backpackers in the area were stunned in the fall of 2015 with the amount of trail damage from the previous year. The damage, accompanying a spike in day use, includes widened trails, steep cuts across switchback corners, and new side trails off and along the main through-trail, sometimes three paths side-by-side and at least one sandy swath dozens of feet wide.

“The Enchantment Lakes basin urgently needs protection for the same reasons Congress passed the Alpine Lakes Area Management Act 40 years ago and overnight permits were required nearly 30 years ago: fragility and popularity,” says Greg Shannon, who has visited the Enchantments since 1979 and is among those who started the group.

The act noted that the Enchantments is a unique area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and directed the management of the area to take into account “its especially fragile beauty, its ease of accessibility, its unusual attractiveness, and its resultant heavy recreational usage.” Despite the existing protections for the area that include permits being required for overnight trips, a ban on fires, cairn marked main trails, vault toilets being set up in some places, and dogs being prohibited, the group says use and the impacts has continued to increase, especially in recent years with more hikers and trail runners doing the entire 18-mile traverse in a single day. Last fall, Shannon says one backpacker from Spokane noted he’d counted 240 hikers on his way in from the Snow Lakes trailhead before he quit counting that October Sunday. This was after the backpacker waited several hours for a place to park at the overflowing trailhead. Day users going into the Enchantments are required to fill out a permit at the trailheads. A chart provided to the Friends of Enchantments from the United States Forest Service shows triple the number of self-issued permits since 2013.

Educational efforts, such as signage, trailhead naturalists, and backcountry volunteers are among the activities being discussed in a partnership between the Friends of Enchantments and the Forest Service to deal with increased impacts. But the Friends of Enchantments also emphasize the number of users must continue to be addressed. People interested in supporting the Friends’ efforts to protect this fragile landscape, including how to join as a member during this 40th anniversary of the Alpine Lakes Area Management Act and to volunteer for activities such as trailhead naturalists, should contact enchantmentfriends@gmail.com or connect with the group on Facebook. //