Support gathers for Hood plan

Residents Committee would like more Wilderness, but says this is a good starting point

December 7, 2005

Two Hood River County officials praised U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., on Saturday for their “multi-tiered” plan to protect resources on Mount Hood while expanding recreational opportunities.

“I think these concepts protect the mountain from being loved to death but still allow it to be loved and enjoyed,” said District 1 County Commissioner Carol York during the summit at the Hood River Inn.

About 200 people gathered in the Gorge Room for the summit convened by Walden and Blumenauer.

Hood River County Commission Chair Rodger Schock said the bi-partisan effort was notable because it incorporated concerns expressed by hundreds of stakeholders. And that boded well, he said, for the future success of any draft legislation.

“The result, when this bill does come out, is going to be good. It’s going to be more than just a first step,” said Schock.

He said federal officials could end a 40-year dispute within the county over development on the north face of the mountain. Walden and Blumenauer have shown cautious support for the settlement agreement between Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort and the Hood River Valley Residents Committee (HRVRC).

Under that agreement — reached during mediation — Meadows will forego further enlargement of its Cooper Spur Mountain Resort holdings. In exchange, HRVRC will not oppose Meadows’ plan to build condominiums on land near Government Camp that Clackamas County has already zoned for that purpose.

However, that deal requires an exchange of property with the U.S. Forest Service that has to undergo a public hearing process. For that reason, Walden said it was too early to fully support the idea.

However, he and Blumenauer favored the siting of new development in places that already had the necessary infrastructure.

“It’s time for this dispute to end. It’s time for us to all walk hand-in-hand in a common effort,” said Schock.

Mike McCarthy, a HRVRC board member, stated a personal preference for more than the proposed 75,000 acres of new Wilderness.

However, he also credited Walden and Blumenauer for being willing to navigate a political “minefield” in a largely conservative Congress to get even that amount of added protection.

He endorsed the agreement between his organization and Meadows as a way to provide permanent protection for the Crystal Springs watershed – which drew applause from the crowd.

“I know this is the first step in the process and I’m going to trust that the Congressmen will be back to do some more work in the future,” he said. “I think this plan is do-able and I support it.”

His remark that the Wilderness expansion would at least be a “starting point” was echoed by other conservationists.

Representatives from varied organizations and private citizens said they wanted more land restricted to mechanized or wheeled equipment, including chain saws, baby strollers and bicycles.

Many individuals favored U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s plan in 2004 for an increase of 177,000 acres or the Oregon Natural Resources Council recommendation for 261,000 acres.

“Wilderness is not a stepchild or afterthought in ‘managing’ Mount Hood,” said Parkdale resident Margo Earley.

She expressed the hope that, during a summertime trek along the 41-mile Timberline Trail, Walden and Blumenauer had learned “how wilderness feeds countless human souls, year after year.”

The two officials said input from three forums on Mount Hood issues that had taken place between 2003-05 had begun to gel during the long hike. Walden quipped that he and his Democratic peer were probably the “only bi-partisan Congressional backpacking duo in the country.”

Along the trail in early August, they met with a number of experts, including hydrologists, geologists, and biologists to learn more about the intricacies of forest health.

The two political figures also spoke with tribal leaders and members of both recreation and conservation groups.

“There’s a lot of stuff you see in Washington, D.C., that’s for show, but mid-way around this hike it became clear this wasn’t for show. It was a really terrific idea and a terrific experience,” said Blumenauer, a Portland resident who represents Oregon’s Third Congressional District.

“To a large extent, what we have come up with is a blueprint that will be able to move forward with legs – largely because of you (constituents),” Blumenauer continued.

Walden, who resides in Hood River and oversees the Second Congressional District, said there were many challenges to crafting a workable plan.

He said it was difficult to find a compromise between all of the interests that did not create a conflict between uses.

He said Mount Hood is visited by about four million people each year. And its craggy slopes are the second most climbed in the world.

“Our discussions over the past two years have been about what we can do in a positive way to keep Mount Hood the icon that it is,” said Walden. “We asked how we could be better stewards as far as managers and planners to make sure the mountain is not only protected but enhanced.”

To accommodate mountain biking, horseback riding and other recreation, he and Blumenauer want to stop the decommissioning of some forest roads. They believe that half of the 3,400 miles of primitive roadways slated for decommissioning should be reduced to single-track passage and maintained by volunteer groups.

The Oregon Mt. Bike Alliance and the Columbia Area Mt. Biking Advocates have offered to map trails or otherwise help in the planning process.

Walden said Wilderness areas were enlarged in a way that did not impede on lands managed for timber harvest. He said the shelved plan for a gondola to connect developed ski areas would be re-examined as one way to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 26 and 35.

He said a Transportation Authority of local, state and federal officials would be appointed to explore that and other options, including more shuttles from foothill communities.

Blumenauer and Walden want to create advisory committees to work with the Forest Service on an in-depth review of recreational interests and watershed protection.

Both officials said county governments around the mountain had made it clear that they wanted to be involved in future planning – and that right was being respected.

“We’re looking forward to strengthening this relationship to be sure we can be successful with this legislation,” said Blumenauer.

He and Walden plan to spend the next couple of months nailing down details related to new legislation. They anticipate the introduction of their final proposal by late winter or early spring.

“We’re rolling up our sleeves over the next couple of months to draft legislation that we think will make a difference,” Walden said.

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