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

National forest planning effort stops by Gates

Approximately 30 residents participated Thursday, May 30 in a Willamette National Forest planning season on recreation. 

The session, held at the Gates Fire Hall, was one of four that U.S. Forest Service officials organized as the work on a 10-year plan for the post-wildfire recreational future of the forests continues.

Participants in the session were stationed at four tables, each with a Forest Service facilitator. Public officials who participated included Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron, Detroit Councilor Tim Luke and Lt. Matt Wilkinson of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Two dot exercises consumed the bulk of the 90 minutes of the season as table participants noted places on the maps in which they thought action might be necessary for recreation sites and, in the second exercise, they focused on what should be done in areas that burned in the wildfires.

The map exercise was mirrored at the other three sessions in the Sweet Home, McKenzie River and Middle Fork districts, so that the data set will represent public response in the entire breadth of the Willamette National Forest. 

“We really want your help with regard to where we invest,” said Omero Torres, a 24-year Forest Service veteran who has spent the past 6.5 years with the Willamette National Forest.

Michelle King, the ranger in the Detroit District, called the key goal of the process to be “trying to find the balance.”

Detroit District Ranger Michelle King delivers introductory remarks at a public session on Willamette National Forest planning on May 30 at the Gates Fire Hall.      James Day
Detroit District Ranger Michelle King delivers introductory remarks at a public session on Willamette National Forest planning on May 30 at the Gates Fire Hall. James Day

And with a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $10 million, Willamette National Forest Service officials at least hinted that a possible outcome of the planning process might be the “decommissioning” of some recreation sites in favor of upgrades and adding amenities at others. Hazard trees (repeated 3 times on the slides), funding, staff capacity and contractor availability were cited as the key challenges Forest Service recreational officials face.

Officials noted that popular Detroit District attractions such as 3 Pools and Opal Creek remain closed. King said that the Forest Service favored Whitewater, French Creek and Road 46 for its first 40-mile phase of road repairs because the damage was so much worse elsewhere, such as Opal Creek. A second road repair phase of 150 miles still must be scheduled. A key requirement of the work is to remove hazards for 100 feet on each side of the road.

“I know it is slow and frustrating,” King said, in answering a participant’s question about the road work. 

“It is a really long timeline. But the work also is going to dramatically improve the roads throughout the forest,” she said.

Matt Peterson, a Forest Service recreation staffer, told The Canyon Weekly that the work to reopen the Little North Santiam Trail off North Fork Road likely will not begin until 2025. 

The popular trail was badly burned in the Labor Day 2020 fires and needs three new bridges. 

A joint effort by the Forest Service and the National Forests Foundation led to a $100,000 state recreational trails grant that will pay for the work. 

The foundation will work on the bridges and other infrastructure, while the Forest Service will provide the tread work.

Although there were no overt political overtones at the session, three participants wore Opal Creek Ancient Forest T-shirts, one wore a Jawbone Flats cap and another wore a “Save Breitenbush” T-shirt.


What: Willamette
National Forest 

Size: 1.7 million acres

Recreation sites: 425, with 156 highly developed

Trails: 1,700 miles

Roads: 5,500 miles

Visitors: 1.8 million
in 2022

Wildfire impact: 21 major fires since 2017, 450,000 acres burned, 321 miles of trails burned, 120
recreation sites affected

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