Off-Highway Vehicles

Fresh jeep tracks carve into the soft cinder summit of Red Hill, one of the areas the Forest Service would like to turn into a dirt bike playground.

Fresh jeep tracks carve into the soft cinder summit of Red Hill, one of the areas the Forest Service would like to turn into a dirt bike playground.

To get a handle on the off-highway vehicles (OHV) that are tearing up our public lands, the Mount Hood National Forest (MHNF) has embarked on a plan to concentrate them in just a few areas, presumably to reduce “conflicts” with other forest visitors.

The OHVs consist of 4-wheel ATVs, dirt bikes and 4×4 jeeps and trucks, and make up just one percent of the visitors to the forest. Their destructive, noisy, polluting quality make these vehicles a menace in the forest, whether on roads or off.

Unfortunately, the easy and most obvious solution (simply ban the vehicles!) is not politically available to the Forest Service under their convoluted “multiple use” mission. Instead, the MHNF will attempt to sacrifice a few places, as if any part of the forest should be sacrificed to an activity so senseless and destructive.

The unique geology on the summit of Red Hill, shown above and below, provides a good example of why OHVs should not be tolerated in our forests. The delicate cinder cone provides a unique view of Mount Hood, but also has the misfortune of being within reach of a logging spur. OHVs have pushed through the remaining forest to the summit of Red Hill, thoughtlessly digging ruts into the surface for the sake of a few minutes of joy-riding.

Another view of Red Hill's summit showing the criss-crossing ruts left by thoughtless OHVers.

Another view of Red Hill's summit showing the criss-crossing ruts left by thoughtless OHVers.

Similar damage can be found in sensitive areas throughout the Mount Hood National Forest, wherever logging spurs provide easy access for the OHVers. The Forest Service proposals would not only designate several areas for permanent abuse by OHVS, but also propose building new trail networks for OHV play areas.

Red Hill is one of many areas that has the misfortune of falling inside one of the Forest Service “study” areas for the OHV proposal — in this case, the area is called Bear Creek. But looking at the MHNF map of the proposal, you would be hard pressed to know what is really at stake (see excerpt, below).

Cryptic map of the Bear Creek area used by the Forest Service to propose OHV playgrounds

Cryptic map of the Bear Creek area used by the Forest Service to propose OHV playgrounds

The dashed purple lines on this map show the maze of proposed dirt bike trails, but where is this? Sadly, the missing features on this map that might otherwise orient hikers familiar with the area are Red Hill, Perry Lake and the Old Vista Ridge Trail. The trail, itself, is proposed to be converted to an OHV path, and the tangle of motorcycle routes spread across the north slope of the ridge.

Look at another map of the same Bear Creek study area (below) and you begin to see the features that are at risk.

A topographic map reveals the true features and terrain at risk from the Bear Creek OHV proposal, including Red Hill, the Old Vista Ridge Trail, Owl Point and Perry Lake.

A topographic map reveals the true features and terrain at risk from the Bear Creek OHV proposal, including Red Hill, the Old Vista Ridge Trail, Owl Point and Perry Lake.

In recent years, volunteers have largely restored the Old Vista Ridge Trail, once again bringing hikers to the spectacular beargrass meadows and huckleberry fields that sprawl along the ridges around Red Hill and Owl Point, and the many stunning view of Mount Hood, towering to the south. This is a first step in bringing needed advocates to the area, and who might take a stand against the OHV idea.

Another new development since the Forest Service hatched this plan was the passage of the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness bill. Several areas adjacent to the OHV proposals were set aside, including here at Red Hill, where the Mount Hood Wilderness was expanded to follow the Old Vista Ridge Trail, touching the OHV proposal for Bear Creek.

While it is frustrating that we must fight to save places like Red Hill and Owl Point from something as senseless as the proposed OHV plan, it is equally important to make your thoughts known. The places on the study list were selected by the Forest Service, in part, because they lack the advocates that more popular quiet recreation spots enjoy.

The view from Owl Point, along the Old Vista Ridge Trail -- proposed as a motorcycle track in the OHV plan.

The view from Owl Point, along the Old Vista Ridge Trail -- proposed as a motorcycle track in the OHV plan.

So, if you are a friend of any of the study areas, weigh in with your thoughts while the MHNF comment period is open, though October 28. The best place to learn about the OHV proposal is over here, on the Bark website. Bark has posted all of the relevant documents, and provide background on what has become a fairly confusing, complex process.

Bark has been following the issue closely for nearly three years, and helped ensure that Alternative 4 in the plan. This option has the least impact of the “build” alternatives, and excludes the Red Hill and Old Vista Ridge areas. Instead, OHVs would be focused in two areas located south of Mount Hood known as McCubbins Gulch and LaDee Flat. Alternative 4 is the pragmatic alternative that the Mount Hood National Park Campaign will endorse as a lesser of evils.

You may also contact the Forest Service directly with your comments:

Jennie O’Connor Card
Mt. Hood National Forest
6780 Highway 35
Parkdale, Oregon 97041
(541) 352-6002 ext. 634

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