Sunday, October 24, 2021

An Army of its Own Lives: Close to Missing

Before I arrived in the Mount Hood National Forest, I thought the area I would be visiting would be breathtaking and filled with a powerful sense of nature. Then, I learned more about a nearly 100-year-old road that traverses towering bluffs that won’t exist in the future.

In January 2004, Congress approved a resolution authorizing Congress to conduct a land-use study to study possible road extension between the communities of Damascus and Cascade Locks, Oregon. The study identified a site of particular importance because it is adjacent to the initial road that was completed in the late 1890s.

I requested an appointment at the project’s information desk at the Damascus Ranger District Office. As my husband and I entered the office, a worker informed us that the study had begun and that the original road still existed.

I became very concerned, not only because of the implications it has for the area, but also because the study as it is currently formulated doesn’t allow a road for a possible new community. My concerns became even more serious when I learned that the area studied encompasses some 700 acres of land.

Some may argue that such a review wouldn’t effect the region because it is believed that enough land would have been lost as a result of the study to ensure that it would not result in a reduced level of recreational opportunity in the area. However, within the context of the Sierra Nevada, climate change is predicted to drastically change the resource management plans and resources available. The study therefore must be revisited to ensure that the community will be adequately protected.

At the present time, the proposed study has been initiated. While we understand that there are many factors that will be incorporated into the overall analysis, we are asking that communities of the upper Roaring Fork area also be included in the action. We understand that some of the top ranked recreation sites within the lower Roaring Fork region cannot accommodate a road in the longer term. The most direct alternative chosen would be to establish a corridor and corridor system and build trail systems and access points within it. This would limit the project to the continuation of the existing road.

We have reservations as to whether such a process is doable and that such plans need the EPA approval to build them. That EPA review process would require study of air quality, environmental and economic impacts, including the impacts of debris removal, and of traffic volumes on the natural resources of the project. We fear that such an analysis may take a long time to complete. The lack of a recent alternative creates the potential for the project to not be done during the lifetime of those affected by the project.

We do not believe that it is the intent of the proposed study to eliminate the potential for a community for the northern tier of the district. The intent is to ensure that such a community is able to be established and developed to ensure that all residents in the region have access to the same public resources. We are asking that an open dialogue be established between representatives of the community and the BLM over the course of the project to ensure that all voices are heard.

As we continue to make efforts to have the door opened to a community of Damascus, Cascade Locks, or Camp Jordan, we are also committed to securing the land in question so that a community can be established without interruption to the source of life for our local wildlife and watershed.

Erika Stineman-Dickinson is communications manager for the National Parks Conservation Association’s state chapter. In November of 2004, the post office of Washington, D.C., closed. Stineman-Dickinson responded here.

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