The Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) will begin its seasonal clearing of the North Cascades Highway on Monday, March 27.

The 44-mile stretch of State Route 20 closes annually during the winter months from the Ross Dam Trailhead to Early Winters due to heavy snow and persistent avalanche risks.

DOT spokesperson Lauren Loebsack says those who have been venturing beyond the closure points for winter recreation are being asked to assist with the effort .

"What we really need right now is for the folks that are snowmobile enthusiasts who park their snowmobiles at Early Winters to take those home and get them out of the way for our crews so that we can get that work underway as scheduled on Monday."

Once the clearing operations begin, Loebsack says the window for reopening the roadway can vary.

"Typically it takes anywhere from six to eight weeks. Now that it's safe and things have melted off enough for us to get some equipment in there, it is really just a matter of the conditions moving forward. So do we continue to have warm days that help with the thaw or will we have another snow storm come through. These are all factors that determine when the road can reopen."

The DOT is urging recreationists who travel beyond the closure points to only do so Friday through Sunday, once the work begins, for safety purposes.

Barring any unforeseen issues or major weather events, the North Cascades Highway should reopen by sometime in May of this year.

The earliest opening in its 51-year history was March 10 in 2005, and its latest was June 14 in 1974. During the drought of the winter of 1976-77, the highway did not close for the season.

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