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OUTDOORS: Working Toward Consensus
Dutchman Flat Summit is amicable, productive
The Source Weekly
by Bob Woodward
April 8, 2004
It was a conversation that gave a hint of what was to be the tone at the U.S. Forest Service's Dutchman Flat Summit, held last Thursday and Friday at the Bend Community Center. Unaware that this reporter was seated in a stall in the men's room, a vocal snowmobile advocate and a friend stood at urinals discussing what would happen at the meeting.
--I promised my wife, --said the snowmobile advocate, --that I won't get into it with (insert vocal skier advocate's name). I promised her and I'm sticking to it.
When the summit discussions turned to the over-crowded parking lot and user conflicts at Dutchman Flat, rancor was absent. The 60 people in attendance (equally split between snowmobilers and skiers/snowshoers/dog mushers) kept their feelings in check and focused on what they could do collectively to minimize user conflicts in Dutchman Flat and at the parking lot.
To everyone in the summit audience, it was obvious that something has to be done. Do something together or possibly face restrictions for all user groups.
In breakout focus groups, participants were asked on the first day to state their worst fears for the Dutchman Flat area should things continue as they are. Universal group concerns were:
1) That the USFS eventually would have to shut down the entire area because of continued overcrowding and conflicts.
2) That there will be an increase in incidents of --snow rage.
3) That there will be more accidents and increased safety issues.
4) That the Dutchman lot will be full by 6 am every day.
5) That the issues will be have to be revisited five years from now.
Asked to envision the best possible long-term outcomes, summit participants agreed that more parking is needed, that an equitable and shared experience should be had by all groups, and that the experience for all user groups should be safe.
So how to accomplish these? And how to implement them, in the words of USFS recreation forester Marv Lang, --next year, cheaply and reasonably?
Among the more popular short-term solutions were:
1) Put a length limit of 40 feet or less on vehicles that can park in the Dutchman Flat lot.
2) Institute an even/odd days/weekends use format.
3) Eliminate motor home parking at the Dutchman Flat lot.
4) Enforce speed limits across Dutchman Flat.
5) More media education on the issue with a more positive spin.
6) Plow the --Yî in the road beyond the parking lot to allow for more big rig parking.
7) Determine the carrying capacity of the greater Dutchman's Flat area and environs, and restrict access accordingly.
8) Limit snowmobiles to a special corridor across Dutchman Flat with no snow play allowed.
9) Allow parking along the north side of Century Drive from the Sunrise Lodge exit to the Dutchman Flat lot.
The overwhelming favorite long-term solution to be implemented within the next five years was the construction of a large snowmobile-only lot near the junction of the Sunriver Road and Century Drive. With the construction of this lot, the current Dutchman Flat lot would become exclusively a skier's/snowshoer's/musher's lot. Hope was also expressed that there would be an annual, one-day summit gathering to make sure conflicts are kept at a minimum and work progresses towards solutions to any conflicts.
When the summit was over, Joani Dufourd of the Blue Ribbon Coalition snowmobile group said, --The summit accomplished more than I had expected it would. The group moved the Forest Service away from focusing on safety as the key issue to the real key issues - the lot overcrowding and user conflicts.
Representing the Tumalo Langlauf Club, Bob Sandberg noted that he was --pleasantly surprised at how the snowmobilers are more than willing to give a lot to skiers. I think the proposed new sno-park idea is a terrific step to reducing the user conflict and lot crowding problems.
For his part, the USFS's Lang was pleased because --it's always good to get the right people together. The process yielded some positive feedback and there was a lot of consensus in the room.
After a day and a half of participation at the summit, I was impressed with how people on every side of the issue came together to arrive at a workable solution to the problems at Dutchman. It also struck me how many participants were longtime Bend residents. Be they skiers or snowmobilers, those who have been here awhile don't frequent Dutchman as much as they used to. They've been going elsewhere, or, as I like to say, have been chased down-mountain by the crowds and potential for conflicts.
People newer to the area and visitors tend to have unrealistically high expectations about winter recreation at Dutchman. It's as if they feel they are ensured a high-quality, low-stress ski or snowmobile experience because of what a tourism brochure promises or because they've completely bought into the Bend --lifestyle hype.
Face it: a finite resource is being overwhelmed, and the perfect winter recreation experience in and around Dutchman Flat is a nostalgic notion, a dream lost. But thanks to those who took the time to attend the summit, perhaps we can get a hint of that perfect experience back in the future.
"Parking at Dutchman Flat can be a challenge, but the issue I am working to resolve is what happens after you leave the lot. An expanded lot, without mitigating regulations, solves one problem, but makes the other notably worse.
We have the real possibility of gaining a closure - with snowmobiles restricted to trails passing through the region. If you feel the current (and future) conditions justify a closure (separating the users), say so! The machines will continue to get more powerful, and the user numbers will increase…
I can't over-emphasize how important it is for Leslie to have on file enough public comment to "permit' her to take the action that needs to be taken. Letters must be mailed by April 12 or 13 – the 14 at the very latest. If you wait a week to comment, it will be too late. It is time to speak up - or submit to this growing mechanized onslaught."
Since Dutchman Flat is the only accessible entrance to the backcountry and the adjoining Tumalo Mountain is a free playground for snow campers, shoers, telemark skiers and snow hikers they should be made safe for beginners, kids and locals. Snowmobile folks from Bend and Washington and California can go a mile-a-minute to get to play areas north of the flats and they should keep to existing snowmobile trails on the Flat and on the east side of Tumalo Mountain.
This will solve the controversial law enforcement problem: If the snowmobiler is not on the existing designated snowmobile trail, he gets a ticket - even when the patrol officer is "employed" by the State Snowmobile Association ;-).
Continued increase in our population is inevitable; increased pressure for recreation opportunities must be managed properly. The proposed huge new snowmobile parking lot east of Tumalo Mountain will solve the parking conflicts (recently, Leslie Weldon actually witnessed a well known young woman skier being cursed by a snowmobile parker in the current co-mingled Dutchman parking lot!) but the lot will not solve the safety conflicts.
Now is your chance to solve the safety issue of man (and child) against machine. Write or email of call Leslie Weldon today!
WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY:
Leslie Weldon is the Supervisor of the Deschutes National Forest. Her office
is on Highway 20 across from Pilot Butte:
USFS DNF, 383-5300, 1645 Highway 20E, Bend, OR, 97701, Supervisor Leslie Weldon, 383-5562, firstname.lastname@example.org
Respectfully tell her that you believe snowmobilers must be kept to existing snowmobile trails in the Dutchman Flat and Tumalo Mountain study area.
Speed and inexperience are problems for snowmobilers. Read the USFS Trail Tip reproduced below
Snow/trail conditions have improved at most elevations 01.27.04
Snow/trail conditions have improved at most elevations with 2-16" of new snow over the past few days. Forecast for next few days calls for more precipitation.
Read more . . .