Changes coming to Vernita Bridge Water Access Area to improve safety and prevent habitat damage

News release

Rich Finger, Lands Operations Manager, 509-237-2917 

SPOKANE- In order to protect natural habitat and resources, improve human safety, provide a more sustainable user experience, and align site use rules with other properties managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, (WDFW) is implementing changes at the Vernita Bridge Water Access Area on State Route 243 near Mattawa. Owned by the Department of Energy (DOE), WDFW manages the site is under a DOE permit. 
Vernita is a popular option for accessing the Columbia River, particularly during the fall Chinook recreational fishery. While the site is designated day-use only, dozens of people camp at the site during the fishing season; many for weeks at a time. The level of use has not only become unsustainable but is causing damage to the natural landscape. 
“WDFW is committed to providing public access in this area for anglers and new management rules are necessary to protect the site,” said Mike Livingston, WDFW South Central Region 3 director. “In the interest of environmental preservation and public benefit, conservation, and safety goals, we are making changes to how people use the Vernita area.” 

The long-term objective is to find an alternative camping site, but in the meantime WDFW developed an interim management plan. Limited camping will continue at Vernita for the 2024 and 2025 fall salmon seasons, but it will look different than in the past: 

  • Camping and day use users will have designated areas.  
  • Camping will be limited to 14 days per user in a 30 day period. 
  • When fall salmon seasons are not underway, camping is prohibited and vehicle access limited to a smaller day use area. 

The area will be patrolled by WDFW Enforcement officers for compliance with the new requirements.  

All overnight use of the Vernita Water Access Area will be phased out in 2026, with WDFW working to find an alternative camping site. Opportunities for public input on both the future of Vernita and an alternate camping site will be available as this process moves forward. For more information on future plans for the Vernita sites, alternative camping sites for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, and reasons behind making these changes, read our new blog Vernita Bridge: Changes on the horizon.  
WDFW manages more than a million acres of land and hundreds of water access areas throughout the state. By actively managing lands, restoring habitats, and preserving wild places, the Department serves as stewards for Washington’s natural places, protecting the state’s land and water for its human and wildlife populations.   

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