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The Bulletin
November 12, 2003
By Rachel Odell

Deschutes National Forest officials will not impose a speed limit on snowmobilers at the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park, despite having decided internally that the area warrants speed restrictions.

Marv Lang, recreation specialist for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District, told a group of trail users Tuesday night that the agency lacks enough law enforcement officers to enforce a limit. The equivalent of agency police. They district has only two law enforcement officers (LEOs), who are the equivalent of agency police. They carry guns and have the authority to enforce rules and regulations.

"We are backing off from our original intent (to impose a speed limit)," Lang said. "With only two LEOs on the district and with everything else going on during the winter months we cannot afford to be out there every day or every week or every weekend day."

District Ranger Walt Schloer decided earlier this fall to impose speed limits, but that was before consulting with the chief law enforcement ranger for the Deschutes, according to Lang.

Along with lack of personnel, officials do not have the gear - specifically mobile contraptions to record the speed of snowmobilers - to enforce the limit. Those contraptions cost about $1,500, Lang said.

"Simply, if we're going to do it (implement a speed limit), we need to be able to enforce it," he said.

Instead of a speed limit, Forest Service officials will install new orange reflective signs cautioning snowmobilers to slow down, he said.

A wide, open flat area surrounded by forests and buttes, Dutchman Flat sits across the highway from Mount Bachelor. Located in the Deschutes National Forest about 20 miles southwest of Bend on Century Drive, Dutchman Flat is a popular launch point for both snowmobilers and skiers.

That can lead to conflicts between skiers and snowmobilers. Although there has never been a documented collision between the different winter recreationists, angry interactions have prompted people from both camps to complain to the agency.

Dale Neubauer, a skier advocate at Tuesday's meeting, chastised the agency for "backing down on the proposal." He said speeding snowmobilers threaten the safety of those not riding machines. "Without a speed limit, a snowmobiler can go faster at Dutchman Flat than is legal to drive on our nation's highways and be only 25 feet from a grandpa and his grandchild snowshoeing," Neubauer said.

But John Speiger, director of the local chapter of the Oregon State Snowmobile Association, said there is not enough evidence to warrant a speed limit at Dutchman Flat.

Even though the area is crowded, skiers have a nonmotorized trail to use, which should cut down on conflict, he said. He said that snowmobilers do not need a speed limit because they are governed by the basic rule that says they cannot recklessly endanger someone.

"As an organization, the Oregon State Snowmobile Association will put a tremendous amount of pressure out there on our members not to speed," he said. "We have never had an accident up there. I'm not saying it couldn't happen, and God help me if it does happen. But the bottom line is anyone can create a user conflict."
--Rachel Odell



The Bulletin
November 13, 2003

Forget about wildfire. The hottest spot in the Deschutes National Forest is the Dutchman Flat SnoPark in the' dead of winter. The site is beloved by countless winter sports enthusiasts. There aren't nearly enough parking spaces for everybody. And the site's two most prominent user groups, Nordic skiers and snowmobilers, have been getting on each other's nerves for years. With all this friction, it's a good thing snow doesn't burn.

We hope, given the state of things at Dutchman Flat, that snowmobilers will consider the spirit in which the next sentence is offered, which is constructive rather than, deliberately inflammatory. The Forest Service ought to impose a speed limit on snowmobiles, even if it can't enforce it.

The limit isn't our idea. It's the idea of Forest Service officials, one of whom, District Ranger Walt Schloer, decided earlier this fall to go ahead and post Dutchman Flat. Problem is, the Forest Service has neither the manpower nor the technical gadgetry needed to enforce the limits. As a result, officials have decided to scrap the limits and instead install some reflective signs urging snowmobilers to slow down.

The Forest Service's decision isn't unreasonable. But it does make you wonder. If a recommended speed isn't worth posting unless it can be enforced reasonably well, then the Oregon Department of Transportation ought to start yanking signs tomorrow. Motorists can roar along many rural highways (and some not so rural ones) with near impunity. Oregon isn't exactly awash with state highway patrolmen these days. Because the signs remain, though, it stands to reason that they have some value.

Dutchman Flat is a crowded area, and skiers, snowshoers and others would surely be safer if snowmobilers slowed down in some places. That's why the speed limits were decided upon in the first place. And that's why the Forest Service, lacking enforcement capacity, has opted to post slowdown signs. We suppose the slowdown signs are better than nothing, but we really doubt they're better than explicit speed limit signs, even without radar guns tucked behind the trees. It's not as if every visitor to Dutchman Flat will automatically know that the speed limit isn't being enforced. Meanwhile, the message the Forest Service wants to send -slow down - would be conveyed clearly by either type of sign.

And you never know, the Forest Service might eventually have the wherewithal to enforce a speed limit. Post the limits now, and the signs will already be in place.

The Bulletin
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Read more . . .
SNOWMOBILES - a history of this discussion:
Snowmobile parking at Kapka Butte and Dutchman Flat revisited in 2009
Proposed Tumalo Recreation Zone in the Deschutes National Forest in 2009
Snowmobiler falls 1,500' into Mt. St. Helens and survives
Map of snowmobile restrictions at Dutchman Flat  
Snowmobile restrictions published for Dutchman Flat  
Snowmobile Safety Summit on Dutchman Flat area  
Report snowmobile renegades - an Editorial
Snowmobiles should not mix with skiers and snowshoers
Snowmobile accident draws $11 million dollar damage award
Snowmobilers keep the Atta Boy Race on track
Snowmobilers must give a little on parking at Dutchman Flat  
Recent snowmobile accidents near Bend
Set snowmobile limits at Dutchman Flat  
Unregulated OHV use is being reviewed across the western states
Snowmobile access to summit of Mt. St. Helens questioned by The Mountaineers
Snowmobile speed limits on Dutchman Flat in Oregon  
Snowmobiles offer thrills
Snowmobiles in Yellowstone
Snowmobiles as a tool for traditional mountaineering