The Forest Service likes mountain biking in Oregon: After several contentious years, RLK & Company has officially received a green light from the USFS to develop a mountain bike park at Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge and ski resort less than two hours from Portland. The approval sets the wheels in motion for a Gravity Logic-designed park to begin operating by summer 2014, pending an inevitable appeal by opposition groups. The finding, which takes effect November 28, 2012, comes after more than two years of intensive environmental analysis and heated public debate over what activities constitute “appropriate recreational use” at one of the nation’s most iconic ski areas — the only one to offer year round lift-serviced glacier skiing and snowboarding.
The Mount Hood Forest District received nearly 200 comments in response to the initial bike park proposal in 2010 and nearly 1,000 comments in response to the preliminary assessment in 2011. Turns out, while there are hundreds of enthusiastic Oregon mountain bikers willing to sacrifice body parts for a lift-serviced bike park similar to those at Whistler, Stevens Pass, and Winter Park, there is also a small contingent of people who are vehemently opposed to the idea on environmental and cultural grounds.
“What was immediately apparent upon reading the public comments was the polarity regarding the numerous thoughts and feelings about Timberline Lodge, its immediate environment, and what people felt were ‘appropriate uses,’” says Christopher Worth, supervisor for the Mt. Hood Forest District.
In his official finding, Worth cites a favorable Environmental Analysis, the recently passed Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act — which is designed to stimulate summer use of America’s ski resorts — and FDR’s 1937 dedication speech of the lodge to support the inclusion of mountain bikers on Timberline’s scenic volcanic slopes.
In addition to a sustainable trail design that avoids streams and uses multiple water control features, the bike park at Timberline is actually expected to improve erosion conditions because it will be built in conjunction with two previously planned restoration projects. It will also reduce impact and user conflicts on popular hiking trails by giving mountain bikers a dedicated, purpose-built place to ride.
“I found that any adverse environmental effects of the mountain bike proposal would be fully offset through project design measures, including avoidance and minimization, and that the restoration projects would improve conditions in two watersheds beyond their current state,” Worth said.
With the environmental impact issues settled, Worth faced the harder question of whether or not downhill mountain biking is in cultural conflict with the historic legacy of the resort, a concern frequently raised by opponents. Worth commissioned a report to determine public opinion on the issue.
“Roosevelt viewed Timberline Lodge as a monument to American skill and workers, but he did not intend for the lodge or its setting to be a museum,” Worth says. “Upon reviewing the report, Roosevelt’s speech, and the uniquely wonderful history of Portlanders’ love of Mt. Hood, I feel that implementation of a mountain bike park is complementary with the other types of four-season use presently occurring within the permit area.”
Opposition groups have 45 days to file an appeal, though the process is limited only to those who were engaged in the comment period. And, while appeals are expected, given the strong USFS endorsement, it’s likely only a matter of time before Portland’s gravity-starved mountain bikers can stop driving to Canada to get their fix.
USFS Project details: http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=32278