Op-ed: Missing on Mount Hood: A vision for the future

The following article appeared November 16, 2010 on the Commentary page of The Oregonian. It was written by Dennis Chaney, Chairman, Friends of Mount Hood.

Missing on Mount Hood: A vision for the future.

You may remember the competition not long ago over what image would appear on Oregon’s coin in the U.S. Mint’s 50-state series. Crater Lake was chosen, but fans of Mount Hood can now celebrate, too. A new coin series — America the Beautiful Quarters — will, as the mint says, “celebrate the breathtaking landscapes and natural heritage of America the Beautiful, by commemorating our country’s most treasured places on our currency.” The Mount Hood coin is expected to be released tomorrow.

So now both treasured places will be safely preserved on the nation’s currency. But how are they doing in real life?

Well, Crater Lake is flourishing under the management of the National Park Service. Can you imagine the park service permitting a recreational activity that would sully the world famous clarity of the lake? Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Mount Hood, where the U.S. Forest Service has the difficult task of dealing with constant pressure for more commercial activity while fulfilling its mission statement: “Caring for the land and serving people.”

The most recent case in point is the proposed bike park at Timberline Lodge. The Forest Service is currently analyzing the data to determine how much damage such a park would cause to the mountain. It’s undeniable that the initial ground disturbance followed by daily hammering — whether by bike, horse or foot — would have a detrimental effect. The area planned for the bike park constitutes the front yard of Timberline Lodge, and it deserves to be nurtured, not “shredded.”

Now here’s something that may surprise you. A bunch of banzai bikers in short pants is not singlehandedly going to bring about the ruination of Mount Hood. No, the greatest danger to the mountain is the lack of a vision to take us into the next century.

The force that will ruin the mountain is development-creep. It’s the cumulative effect of bad decision after bad decision that creates incremental and irreversible development, so that slowly more and more of the forest that cloaks Oregon’s highest peak disappears. While the bike park is a bad idea, there’s another idea in the pipeline that’s just as bad. Timberline’s operator, RLK and Company, would love to build a third lodge near the proposed bike park. The new lodge would have parking lots for the expected new summertime visitors and also for RLK employees. And RLK would like to add overnight housing some day.

Back in the 1970s, the Forest Service and the surrounding counties engaged in planning sessions to direct the future of the Mount Hood National Forest. Clackamas County voted for growth to be concentrated in Government Camp. Hood River County chose the status quo in order to protect farmland and watersheds. It was this attitude of Hood River residents that led to the exchange of privately held northside land with public land already zoned for development at Government Camp. It’s only sensible to concentrate future growth in Government Camp, a developed village with water and sewer infrastructure.

That’s why RLK’s desire to develop a bike park, another lodge complex and more parking lots on public forestland is such a bad idea. It represents old-fashioned suburban sprawl at its worst. The land in question is the last of the high-elevation forest between Government Camp and the mountain’s timberline, and it’s given more than its fair share for our recreational enjoyment. Isn’t it time to say enough is enough?

The release of the new Mount Hood quarter is the perfect moment to call a timeout and thoughtfully plan a future for the south side of Mount Hood. We’ve learned too much from past mistakes. Today it’s a bike park. Tomorrow it’s another lodge and more parking lots. What will it be the day after tomorrow?

We’ve arrived at the proverbial fork in the trail. Is Mount Hood going to go down the path of devastating incremental development that will destroy the very thing we profess to love? We need to stop, scout ahead and take the right path.

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