In Oregon, It's All about Access - or Lack of It - to Recreation Areas

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

Forest covers much of our state, and it makes a fine playground to boot.

Reason enough for an update on news from our national forests, from access issues to new and/or increased user fees.

Let's begin with access because, well, because we're all weary of bad financial news, aren't we?

Access to Gold Lake, a popular fly-fishing-only lake near Willamette Pass, will end for the year on Monday. The Middle Fork Ranger District plans to lock the gate for the winter, meaning motor vehicles and boats won't be able to cover the two miles or so to the lake from Highway 58.

Word of the impending road closure angered anglers who would like to fish Gold Lake during the final dozen days of the trout season, which ends Oct. 31.

"It's just ridiculous to close that road so early," said Jim Boyd, a member of the McKenzie Flyfishers club in Eugene.

The closure covers "the best two weeks of fishing," said Boyd, a retired Register-Guard reporter. "The brookies (brook trout) are preparing to spawn and they're pugnacious and ready to take a fly."

A forest official says the decision to lock the gate stems from the Gold Lake campground also being the site of a winter snow shelter.

"We have to get it stocked with firewood" for the winter, said Ryan Brown, recreation planner on the Middle Fork Ranger District. "The issue is: we often stock it with wood and it gets stolen. ... It happens about every year, if we leave the gate open."? Forest managers do not want to wait until November, because snow could impede the cutting and stacking of the firewood. The several inches of snow that fell in the high Cascades recently shows that concern is justified.

Forest staff decided to standardize a closing date just after the third weekend in October, Brown said. That was "a compromise" between those who favor shutting it even earlier and those who wanted to leave it open to Nov. 1, she said.

Jeff Ziller, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's district fish biologist, said his agency "would prefer to see Gold Lake remain open through the end of trout season." But Ziller said he understands the snow dilemma and, in the end, "it's their land, not ours."

Other local access news inivolves the upper McKenzie River, where Paradise boat launch is closed through Oct. 24 while a new concrete launch is being installed. River users are being diverted to the Frissell and McKenzie Bridge launch sites.

Meanwhile, another access issue making its way through Forest Service channels is much broader in scope, involving national forests across the country. The Travel Management Rule of 2005 requires forests to switch from the current system in which motor vehicles can be driven anywhere they are not specifically prohibited to one in which people can drive only where it's specifically allowed.

By the end of 2009, for example, the Willamette Forest has to have maps available showing roads and trails open to street-legal and/or off-highway vehicles. Motorized travel on any route not on the map will be illegal.

That means "no more cross-country travel," Brown said.

Under a "draft strategy" that will undergo an environmental impact review this winter, it also means the Willamette Forest will close nearly 1,000 miles of unmaintained, little-used "roads" now legally open to the public. …