Wednesday, February 26, 2014/lk
After three years of planning and analysis, a new parking lot slated for construction at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort looks like it might be a go.
Last month, the United States Forest Service issued a draft record of decision authorizing the construction of the 7.2-acre, 878-car “Twilight” parking lot proposed by Meadows. The lot is to be located east of Elk Meadows trailhead and west of the Oregon Department of Transportation maintenance yard off of Highway 35 near the entrance to the Hood River Meadows lot. A new bus and snow equipment parking and maintenance building is proposed for co-location with the lot.
In addition to the Twilight lot, the draft decision also authorized the construction of a new 9,750-square-foot vehicle maintenance shop that would be located near the Sunrise parking lot and used by the resort to replace the current shop near the main lodge. Also co-located with the Twilight lot is a proposed 2,100-square-foot Nordic guest services building that would include bathrooms, lockers, food and beverage services, guest seating, Nordic equipment rental, as well as a covered bus stop. New turn lanes on Highway 35 near the Hood River Meadows access road — officially known as Forest Service Road 3545 — would also need to be constructed.
Meadows, which operates in the Mt. Hood National Forest via a permit from the forest service, first proposed the expansion in April 2009, citing the need to update its maintenance facilities as well as provide more parking to accommodate the rising number of skiers and snowboarders visiting the resort.
According to the draft decision, when Meadows first opened during the 1967-68 ski season, the resort logged 55,564 skier visits. Forty years later, the number of visitations peaked at over 500,000 for the 2007-08 season.
Most of the time, parking isn’t an issue at Meadows, but on weekends and other days, parking lots at Meadows can near or reach capacity. During the first big snow of the season back in early January, all 2,648 parking spaces in Meadows’ three lots filled within 90 minutes of opening, forcing the resort to run shuttles from the Mt. Hood Country Store and Welches Middle School where skiers had parked their cars and waited anxiously to be taken up to the mountain. According to the draft decision, anecdotal evidence shows 250 cars are turned away on peak days, while other visitors “have continued to attempt to find additional parking in other less desirable and potentially dangerous locations, such as alongside Highway 35 or Forest Service Road 3545.”
Others were not so convinced. USFS received 16 comments from individuals and organizations, some of whom challenged the necessity of clearing forestland to build another parking lot when current lots at Meadows often still have open spaces. Others were concerned about the impacts to Nordic skiing trails, as the proposal would require the removal of approximately half a mile of trail, including portions of the Lower Hanel Loop Trail, Little Loop Trail, and Beargrass Loop inside the Meadows permit area.
According to the draft decision, though, attendance at Meadows has risen 3.4 percent annually, on average, over the past 10 years. Assuming the trend continues with Portland’s rising population, USFS estimates that Meadows will “see peak-use days reach maximum capacity of the proposed parking area in an estimated 10 to 15 years.”
Dave Tragethon, executive director of sales and communications at Meadows, also reported that the proposal would relocate the Nordic trails immediately to the northwest of their current location and actually result in a net gain of a tenth of mile of trail. He released a statement on behalf of Meadows that was supportive of the USFS draft decision.
“Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort concurs with the preferred alternative selected by District Ranger Janeen Tervo,” the statement read. “We agree that the Selected Alternative (Alternative 6) considers all comments received during the scoping period, field trip, and notice and comment period, and balances the comments received from stakeholders along with the environmental consequences. The decision concludes there is a need to provide additional parking within the Mt. Hood Meadows permit area and this alternative best addresses that need while responding to the public comments received during the scoping period and throughout the planning process.”
USFS analyzed six alternatives in earnest before deciding on the selected alternative, which it felt did the best job of balancing environmental concerns, Nordic skier concerns, and fulfilling the parking and maintenance needs of Meadows.
Those who have qualms with the draft decision and who have supplied comment to USFS during the comment period may file an objection with USFS by March 3. USFS will issue a final decision at an unknown date after considering any filed objections, after which the decision may be immediately implemented.