News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

The Road Ahead – Parking restrictions planned for North Fork

Marion County is planning to prohibit parking virtually the entire 15-mile length of North Fork Road once the current limited access to roads into the region ends in September.

The county plans to open North Fork Road, Gates Hill Road and Pioneer Road to all users by Sept. 15, said Lani Radtke, county engineer, at a public session on parking on June 20 at the Elkorn Fire Station. The three roads currently have gates, whose entry codes are only given to local residents or those with authorization to travel in the region.

County officials are planning to add red stripes at the shoulder of the road where parking is restricted, said Carl Lund, traffic engineer for the county. Signs will be posted every half mile noting the parking prohibition, which is awaiting final approval from the Board of Commissioners. 

The goal of the plan is to prevent the parking free-for-alls that have developed in summers past in which emergency vehicles had trouble navigating all of the parked vehicles. The vehicle totals in the corridor sometimes reached as high as 2,000 per day, Lund said.

About 20 residents were on hand for the session, which did not have a formal program. 

Maps of the parking plan were set out on tables and Marion County officials, including Commissioner Kevin Cameron, were on hand to discuss the proposal and answer questions. 

Some residents said that they would have preferred a formal presentation.

The gates have been in place since shortly after the Labor Day 2020 wildfires that scorched 400,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,500 structures and virtually leveled Detroit and Gates, with Mill City, Idanha and Lyons suffering moderate to extensive damage. 

Five people were killed, and the Elkhorn area suffered considerable damage. 

The road closure has allowed crews from various agencies to harvest and remove dead and hazardous trees and residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed to embark upon the arduous process of rebuilding.

One of the key questions residents asked was why open the road when virtually all recreational sites in the corridor remain closed?

“It’s a public county road and it has been three years,” Radtke said. “We are doing the best we can. Restricting parking helps address safety concerns. Only allowing parking on one side we hope will remove some of those pinch points.”

Residents, who have been particularly vocal on livability issues (trespassing, noise, alcohol and firearms use) in the North Fork area, remained unconvinced.

“The public is going to show up on our property,” said one.

“That road is just not ready for a bunch of people,” said another. “It makes me want to cry.” 

The three county parks in the corridor, North Fork, Bear Creek and Salmon Falls, remain closed. Bear Creek and Salmon Falls are likely to open first for limited day use, said Tom Kissinger, the county’s chief parks planner, in a telephone interview. But it might be early next year before they are ready. 

North Fork is more complicated because half of its acreage is federal Bureau of Reclamation land and the BLM has not yet cleared the hazard trees from its portion of the park.

No word was available regarding when the Board of Commissioners might consider the parking plan, but county officials seemed certain it would go forward.

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