County looks at forest rec regulations

The Hood River County Commission learned on Monday that a new culture has taken root beneath the canopy of its public forests.

More than 30 mountain bikers and motorcycle riders briefed the elected body on the numerous recreational activities taking place simultaneously in the woods. In one voice, they agreed the varied uses, from hiking to “extreme” stunts, needed to be regulated — but not without more of an understanding about their individual merits.

“I think there needs to be a collaboration to ensure that trail use is responsible,” said Richard Lee, a mountain biker.

Under discussion was the proposed Forest Trail Recreation Ordinance that is intended to set the framework for future rules. Forester Ken Galloway, who manages 31,000 acres of county timber, wants to increase tourism opportunities but, at the same time, safeguard natural resources. The county also wants to prevent liability from any injuries that are incurred from the construction of elaborate ramp systems built by “extreme” bikers.

The draft plan is being revised to incorporate language suggested by several state agencies. The county also wants it to state that first priority will be given to the protection of timber that yields $4 million in revenue each year. The updated ordinance will be posted on the county Web site, www.co.hood-river.or.us, in about two weeks. It is scheduled to be given a final review at a hearing on Oct. 20.

Several audience members informed the commission on Sept. 15 that “beauty was in the eye of the beholder.” They said most of the ramps — some more than 20 feet high — are not as dangerous as they might appear to a novice in the sport. They said “free riders” typically wear heavy padding and are frequently assisted by other individuals on the ground. In addition, they said less daring riders also routinely use the lower ramps during their cross country biking adventures.

Shane Wilson, owner of Discover Bicycles, suggested that the structures be built in a manner that lowered the possibility of injury and didn’t damage trees by being permanently fastened to branches and trunks.

“All of these uses are viable and can be managed in a safe way,” said Wilson.

One mountain biker recommended that the county develop a stunt park modeled after structures in Canada. Although county officials declined an introductory riding lesson, Galloway plans to form a seven to nine member advisory committee to address issues related to trail use. He wants that group to include a spectrum of interests from the outdoor recreation community.

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