Group buys land to prevent break in Pacific Crest Trail

SEATTLE — A group dedicated to preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail has purchased private land in western Washington state to prevent a break in the path.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association bought more than 400 acres (162 hectares) in the Stevens Pass area this week from a private landowner for $1.6 million, The Seattle Times reported.

The association says the landowner had considered putting up a fence and cutting off public access to the trail.

"Given the topography, we found it very difficult to loop around that piece of private property," said Megan Wargo, the group's director of land protection. "There's only a short window you can be out there building trail. It would have meant several years of access to the PCT as a through-hike would have been closed."

The 2,600-mile (4,200-kilometer) trail from Mexico to Canada generally follows the crests of several mountain ranges, including the Cascades in Washington state and Oregon.

Wargo said the U.S. Forest Service manages the trail and has easements where it crosses private land. However, no one got an easement for the private land on the section of trail at the Stevens Pass Trialhead, she said.

"In most likelihood, it was just an oversight," Wargo said. "Somebody thought there was an easement there, but the easement was not recorded."

In 2015, the property owner was looking to sell and fence off the trail, so the association borrowed money to buy the land. It says the next step is to sell the land to the Forest Service at market value so it can repay the loan.