Tightening up: Rec area rules

October, 2017 Posted in Community, Nature

By Mary Owen

Visitors to Little North Fork and other popular Santiam Canyon recreation areas now face new restrictions for camping, campfire, parking and alcohol use.

“These restrictions are an attempt to improve the experience of visitors to the Willamette National Forest,” said Josh Weathers, recreation manager for the Detroit and Sweet Home ranger districts. “There are several busy places where alcohol-related incidents, impacts to water quality from campsites, trash and human waste, and unsafe parking along roadsides limiting access for emergency vehicle response are all contributing to an unsafe and unpleasant experience for many users.”

Ranger Grady McMahan cited Three Pools Day Use Area as one that attracts irresponsible drinkers. Others targeted by the new regulations include Elk Lake and portions of the French Creek, Blowout and Breitenbush roads.

Weathers credits media and social media attention with the increase in use of the popular recreation spots, including Opal Creek.

“It’s not unusual to see over 220 cars at the Opal Creek Trail Head on a hot and busy day,” he said. “The line of cars would stretch over a half a mile long and sometimes on both sides of the road.”

To eliminate part of the problem, the Detroit Ranger District put up “no parking” signs on the north side of the road to allow for passage by emergency vehicles.

“There’s a little more partying going on, more trash, more human waste washing into the creek,” Weathers said. “At Three Pools, the river is no longer clear. It runs muddy through the summer season. It’s also the only part of the canyon that allows alcohol, so we are proposing to prohibit alcohol in the day-use area to improve the resources of this unique area. There are a host of issues we are trying to resolve.”

One of the proposed changes people need to be aware of is that once a parking lot is full, no one else can enter the park – “no walk-ins,” Weathers said.

“People can be ticketed, and rangers will be out every day during summer,” he cautioned.

Other restrictions include no camping outside of designated spots. Currently French Creek prohibits camping within a half-mile, Breitenbush the first mile, and Pull-Out Creek the first 5 miles. Weathers said the proposed changes extend the no-camping limits to 2, 5 and 8 miles respectively.

Additionally, Elk Lake will be posted “no camping within 500 feet within the lake shore” once restrictions are in place. Plans to prohibit campfires along the road and trail to Opal Pool are also in the works to help alleviate the wildfire and public safety risk.

“With the Eclipse coming up, we expect even more camping along the roadsides,” Weather said. “We will have additional support patrolling the area.”

To help understand rules and regulations, fold-out camping guides are stocked outside and inside the Detroit Ranger Station. For good points on outdoor ethics, such as burying human waste and toilet paper or building a safe campfire, Weathers suggest visiting the Leave No Trace website.

“Most people are thinking favorably about these changes,” he said of the proposed restrictions. “It’s an ancient forest, and we want to protect those resources while allowing people to enjoy them. We’re trying to take the smallest steps we can to see what will work.”

To view the proposed changes, visit www.fs.usda.gov/news/willamette/news-events. For information, call Weathers at 503-854-3226.

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