Timberline Lodge and Timberline Ski Area are operated by R.L.K. and Company on the Mt. Hood National Forest in accordance with a Special Use Permit issued by the Forest Service.
In May 2009, the Supervisor of the Mt. Hood National Forest approved a new Master Development Plan (MDP) for the Timberline Ski Area that replaced the previous plan dating back to 1975. This was done without a process for the public to learn and comment on the plan. Included in the MDP are plans for two future major development projects: a new day lodge and a new parking lot with space for 800 vehicles.
Later in December of 2009, Timberline Ski Area submitted to the Forest Service an amendment to the recently approved MDP to recognize mountain biking as an allowed summer recreation activity. This was soon followed in January 2010 by a specific proposal to the Forest Service from Timberline to offer lift-assisted downhill mountain bike trails and a skills park for use during the summer. The proposal involves:
- developing an extensive trail network for downhill mountain bike riding within the area served by the Jeff Flood Express Chairlift,
- adding bike carriers to the Jeff Flood Express Chairlift for use by bike riders during summer months,
- developing a skills park with obstacles in the Bruno’s area directly below the Wy’East Day Lodge.
The proposed network of 17 miles of downhill bike trails would include single track trails with an average construction corridor of 2 feet and other excavated trails with construction corridors up to 8 feet in width. The trail system would criss cross an area containing stands of large conifers on steep slopes, alpine meadows with lupine and other wildflowers, wetlands, and riparian reserves surrounding the headwaters of Still Creek and the West Fork Salmon River.
The Forest Service released a preliminary assessment of the Timberline proposal in March 2011. Friends of Mount Hood and other conservation and recreation groups submitted comments on the inadequancy of the preliminary assessment in evaluating the environmental damage that would result from implementing the proposal.
On November 27, 2012, the Supervisor of the Mt. Hood National Forest released the Final Environmental Assessment (EA) documents that were prepared by the Forest Service to analyze the impact to the environment resulting from the Timberline proposal to construct and operate lift-assisted downhill mountain bike trails at the ski area. While acknowledging that the Timberline proposal may have some adverse impacts on the environment, then Supervisor Chris Worth concluded that the EA supported a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) for the project. This “finding” allows Timberline to begin working on the project unless it is overturned through an administrative appeal with the Forest Service or a challenge in the federal court system.
Friends of Mount Hood along with other groups filed with the Regional Forester of Forest Service Region 6 an appeal of the finding made by Supervisor Worth. However, on Febuary 25, 2013, the Regional Forester announced that he affirmed the decision of Supervisor Worth and denied the relief requested by the appellants.
On May 16, 2013, Friends of Mount Hood and three other conservation groups filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in the United States District Court. The plaintiffs believe that the Environmental Assessment, the Finding of No Significant Impact, and the Decision Notice documents prepared by the Forest Service to analyze the environmental impact of implementing the Timberline Mountain Bike Trails and Skills Park Proposal are in error and not in accordance with the legal requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and other federal regulations.
Coalition Files Lawsuit, press release 5/16/13
On June 26, 2013, the District Court entered an order enjoining construction of the downhill bike trails and skills park until the Court reaches a decision on the merits of the lawsuit. The Forest Service and RLK will be allowed to undertake restoration of areas that are degraded from previous ski-lift construction and road building.
Attorneys Ralph Bloemers and Chris Winter with Crag Law Center are representing Bark, Friends of Mount Hood, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and The Sierra Club in opposing the Timberline Mountain Bike Trails and Skills Park Proposal. A summary of the controversy written by Ralph Bloemers is here.
The following list has links to documents that provide further information on the Timberline proposal:
- Press Statement on Court Injunction – Forest Service and RLK Fail to Defend Their Decision, an article on the June 25, 2013, Court Order enjoining construction of the downhill bike trails and skills park until the Court reaches a decision on the merits of the lawsuit.
- Stipulated Order on Plaintiffs’ motion of Preliminary Injunction. This order issued by Judge Ann Aiken on June 25, 2013, prevents RLK fom working on the construction of the downhill bike trails and skills park until the Court rules on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims.
- Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction, submitted to the District Court by the Plaintiffs on June 4, 2013.
- Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, filed with the U.S. District Court on May 16, 2013, by Bark, Friends of Mount Hood, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and The Sierra Club.
- Declaration of Jonathan J. Rhodes, a report submitted to the District Court by an hydrologist.
- Declaration of Robert W. Wisseman, a report submitted to the District Court by an aquatic ecologist.
- Declaration of Stephen G. Wise, a report submitted to the Distric Court by the Executive Director of the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council.
- Declaration of Dennis Chaney, a report submitted to the District Court by the Chair of Friends of Mount Hood.
- Exhibit C, a photo exhibit attached to the Declaration of Dennis Chaney.
- Declaration of Lori Ann Burd, a report submitted to the District Court by a supporter of BARK.
- Declaration of Rhett Lawrence, a report sumitted to the District Court by the Conservation Director of the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club.
- The Timberline Mountain Bike Trails and Skills Park Final Environmental Assessment is found on the Mt. Hood National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/projects/mthood/landmanagement/projects, and then scroll down to the section Analysis Completed.
- Appeal of the Final Environmental Assessment, Finding of No Significant Impact and Decision Notice for the Timberline Ski Area Mountain Bike Trails and Skills Park, submitted in January 2013 to the Forest Service by Friends of Mount Hood and other groups.
- Comments on the Timberline Ski Area Mountain Bike Trails and Skills Park Preliminary Assessment, submitted in April 2011 to the Forest Service by Friends of Mount Hood and other groups.
Additional comments about the mountain bike proposal can be found in the Friends of Mount Hood’s NEWSLETTERS going back to 2011, and, also, in several Op Ed pieces that are collected in the NEWS section.
The proposed network of downhill mountain bike trails would be located in the area served by the Jeff Flood Express Lift (the project area). Ever since this lift was built in 2007, there has been a continuing problem with erosion occuring along the lift and new ski runs. This has resulted in an increase in sedimentation in Still Creek and the West Fork Salmon River that has a negative impact on the water quality of these streams that are within the Sandy River Watershed.
The Forest Service recognizes that a network of downhill mountain bike trails on the same steep slopes as the ski runs will also contribute to sediment deposits in Steel Creek and the West Fork Salmon River, but then proposes to mitigate for this problem by requiring Timberline to do restoration work at specified sites within the project area where erosion of the soil is currently a problem. There is no guarantee that this restoration work would be effective. The environmental damage to the area already caused by the Jeff Flood Express Lift and ski runs should not be followed by another destructive project, the network of mountain bike trails, in the same area.
Sediment increases in Still Creek and the West Fork Salmon River also has a negative impact on the water quality and aquatic habitat of these streams downstream from the project area. Of particular interest is the mention in the EA for the Timberline proposal that the current distribution of winter-run steelhead in Still Creek extends upriver to the Still Creek Campground, which is approximately 1.5 miles downstream of the project area. The National Marine Fisheries Service currently lists winter-run steelhead as a threatened species in the Lower Columbia River Basin.
The Forest Service must also consider other cumulative impacts to the mountain resulting from the mountain bike project. For example, if the bike park is built it is expected that Timberline will then request permission to construct another large day lodge and a new parking lot with space for 800 vehicles. A bike park will increase the number of people on the mountain at one time and further stress existing traffic problems in the area and on US Highway 26. Timberline Ski Area already has a summer recreation program (skiing and snowboarding on the Palmer Snowfield) that contributes to parking problems during the summer.
A lift-assisted downhill mountain bike program would not be compatible with the expectations of the numerous visitors that come during the summer months to experience alpine scenery and beautiful vistas on the highest mountain peak in Oregon and to view Timberline Lodge, which is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. Although the bike park may not be visible from the Lodge, the bike park will result in noise and traffic that will impact the experience of visitors to Timberline Lodge and also hikers on the Timberline trail and climbers on the mountain.
If the proposal is approved, summer visitors to Timberline would essentially be prevented from hiking in the project area due to the danger from mountain bikers speeding on the downhill trails throughout the region. Deer, elk, and other wildlife would also be disturbed by fast moving bikes. It is expected that elk would no longer browse in this area during the summer.
There is no necessity for the Forest Service to approve the Timberline proposal merely to provide mountain bike enthusiasts an opportunity to ride on lift-assisted bike trails since there already exists a 40 mile network of mountain bike trails with lift-assisted access at Ski Bowl, a ski area on Mt. Hood located near the village of Government Camp.
Friends of Mount Hood is determined to continue working to inform the public of the environmental damage that likely will result from constructing the downhill mountain bike trails proposed by Timberline Ski Area.