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Recreation Review Forest Service users help agency look forward for next five years

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

February 10, 2007

People from Tygh Valley to Portland came to Hood River Wednesday night to help shape recreation on the Mt. Hood National Forest for the next five years.

The U.S. Forest Service invited the public to be involved at the beginning level of updating the master plan for recreation sites and facilities. The process is known officially as Recreation Site Facility Master Planning, or RSFMP. A second meeting will be held Tuesday night in Sandy.

Forest Supervisor Gary Larsen said that Mt. Hood is one of the first national forests to involve the public from the beginning. The other is El Dorado National Forest in California, which also began its planning process this week.

“In reality, we’re faced with flat or declining budgets since 1985, although that is not part of the RSFMP program,” Larsen said.

The agency maintains 169 recreation sites on the Mt. Hood National Forest. The area covers more than 60 miles from the Gorge to Olallie Scenic Area, a total of 1,067,043 acres.

The RSFMP program is how the Forest Service analyzes and ranks recreation sites. The meeting was the second step in a five-step process.

“Tonight’s meeting is not about those (169) sites but for you to share all the places you go and use in the forest and why you do it,” said Malcolm Hamilton, project coordinator.

The audience divided into four smaller groups to draw colored squiggles on clear plastic overlaying forest maps. Odell resident Jerry Thomas circled Lost, Timothy and Clear lakes. He serves as president of the Gorge Good Timers Snowmobile Club.

“The Lost Lake area is really important to me because I snowmobile up there a lot,” he said. “I also think there need to be some improvements at the boat ramp facility (at Timothy and Clear lakes) because it’s less than adequate for the handicapped.”

Participants also wrote on posters around the room answering seven different questions ranging from how important having water was at campsites, paying for recreation, and what they would value most about the forest 25 years from now.

The process is a tool the agency has used since 2002 to evaluate and prioritize sites for action. While the letter the Forest Service sent out stated that the process is not a way to get rid of recreation sites, it also stated that some sites could be permanently closed after “an appropriate level of public involvement.”

One section read:

“The Forest Service may change the level of services provided at a site, such as removing a toilet or a water system at a campground, but the public will still be able to camp in the same location with a more rustic experience.”

Alex P. Brown is executive director of the Portland-based watchdog group BARK. The group’s immediate goal is to preserve the Mt. Hood National Forest. Brown said BARK is opposed to any closures.

“The process according to the (agency’s) guidebook is very clear,” Brown said.

He referred to a line from Page 5 of the book stating that “If a site cannot be operated to at least meet the regionally required standards, it must be closed.”

BARK advocates that people contact their Congressmen and tell them the RSFMP is a flawed process that should be withdrawn as it directly conflicts with the Mt. Hood Wilderness bills introduced.

Larsen said at the beginning of the meeting that the process was not being done with a preconceived outcome in mind.

Comments on the RSFMP should be sent in by Feb. 20, which is when the Forest Service will meet to draft the “recreation niche” for Mt. Hood National Forest.

People can do so online at: http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/mthood/projects/rsfmp.shtml, or by mail to: Mt. Hood National Forest, RSFMP, 16400 Champion Way, Sandy, OR 97055 or call Malcolm Hamilton, (503) 668-1792.

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