Enhancing public access in central Washington’s shrub-steppe

Enhancing public access in central Washington’s shrub-steppe

Conservation Northwest / Nov 15, 2019 / Connecting Habitat, Sagelands

With partners and volunteers, this year we installed a new informational kiosk, graded gravel parking area and improved road signage in the Quilomene Wildlife Area near Ellensburg.

By Jay Kehne, Sagelands Program Lead

Along the western edge of the Columbia River just east of Ellensburg, the Quilomene Wildlife Area offers boundless views of ridges dotted with pines and slopes speckled with bitterbrush and sage. It’s a popular recreation spot, but a year ago, it would’ve been easy to drive right past it unnoticed. Now, thanks to our work and hardworking partners and volunteers, this chunk of valuable habitat would be hard to miss.

The newly-completed kiosk at the Green Gate area of the Quilomene Wildlife Area provides information on local wildlife and plants.

A brand new informational kiosk and repaved parking lot mark the entry to the Green Gate access site to the Quilomene Unit, part of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) L.T. Murray Wildlife Area. The new kiosk identifies some of the many species of plants and animals that live there, from hedgehog cactus and bunchgrass to sage thrashers and Columbia spotted frogs.

An important location for our Sagelands Heritage Program (SHP), the Quilomene is critical winter range for elk and mule deer, and potential habitat for Washington’s endangered sage grouse. This rugged piece of state public lands connects the higher-elevation forests around Blewett Pass with the shrub-steppe of the Columbia River Breaks. It’s also contiguous with the adjacent Colockum and Whiskey Dick wildlife areas, and Puget Sound Energy’s Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility, together making up a large block of wildlands.

A large group of people including WDFW staff, Morgan & Son Earthmoving, Knudson Lumber, Fossil Industries Inc, Okanogan Conservation District staff, WDFW Master Hunter volunteers, Pheasants Forever, Conservation Northwest staff, contractors and volunteers, and many other local volunteers made this improvement possible. Thank you!

The Columbia River Breaks viewed from the Quilomene Wildlife Area, important winter habitat for elk, mule deer and other species. Photo: Chase Gunnell

Over the course of a year, these folks built the kiosk and designed its panels, restored illegal use-created roads by implementing green-dot signage, and repaved the parking area with nearly ten loads of gravel. Volunteers also removed several miles of unnecessary fencing to improve habitat for wildlife.

Now, horseback riders, wildlife watchers, upland bird hunters and hikers alike can continue to enjoy this landscape with enhanced public access and improved habitat. And if you have yet to explore the Quilomene Wildlife Area, I encourage you to check out this beautiful landscape!

There is now a parking lot at the Quilomene Wildlife Area! Were thankful for all of our partners and volunteers who made this project happen. Photo: Jay Kehne

Only two hours from Seattle, the Quilomene is a perfect place to experience the grandeur of central Washington’s sprawling sagelands, and observe local wildlife. The views from ridgetops east over the Columbia Basin are particularly impressive. And except for during autumn hunting seasons (deer, elk and upland bird hunting is popular here October through December, and hunters have contributed significantly to volunteer stewardship efforts in the area), you’ll often have the place to yourself.

Here’s a Google Maps link to the newly improved Green Gate parking area just off Old Vantage Highway. Public access is also available up Parke Creek Road, though the road is rough, muddy and not recommended for low-clearance vehicles. Land ownership maps or apps are helpful as some of the area is a checkboard of public and private ownership.

Please be aware that the Quilomene and most other nearby wildlife areas are closed to motorized access February 1st through April 30th to reduce stress on wintering deer and elk.

Sagelands Contractor Rose Piccinini installed green gate signage to identify legal trails for motorized vehicle use and protect valuable wildlife habitat.