Cool news in the summer heat!

Hood River Confluence at Punchbowl Park (photo by Peter Marbach)

Hood River Confluence at Punchbowl Park (photo by Peter Marbach)

In my last post, I alluded to some pending good news on the WyEast beat, and in this article I’ll share a trio of pleasantly cool developments for our otherwise scorching summer:

Punchbowl Park Project

Starting off with the big news, the folks behind the Punchbowl Park project learned in late June that they had been awarded a State of Oregon grant of $470,000. These funds will make it possible for Hood River County to acquire the 103-acre Punchbowl Park site in partnership with the Western Rivers Conservancy.

Kayakers at the Hood River Confluence at Punchbowl Park (photo by Peter Marbach)

Kayakers at the Hood River Confluence at Punchbowl Park (photo by Peter Marbach)

This is a huge step forward for this citizen-led movement, a major grass-roots effort guided by Heather Staten of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee (HRVRC). Now that the future of the site is secure, Heather and her organization will be working with the county to begin building a recreational trail network through the new park for the public to enjoy.

Map of proposed trail network at Punchbowl Park

Map of proposed trail network at Punchbowl Park

[click here for a larger map]

Much more work lies ahead for Punchbowl Park, and I’ll continue to post updates here on new developments and opportunities to get involved in the trail building over the coming years. Kudos to Heather and those who pitched in for the tireless work that made this happen. Bringing this area into public ownership is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one that will pay off for many generations to come!

You can already explore Punchbowl Park in its undeveloped state now by following the maze of user trails that already exist there. You will likely notice signs of recent logging — part of an operation to remove diseased trees from the forest in hopes of limiting their spread. The long-term plan for the new park is to let nature take over, and allow the forest to recover to a more natural state after a century of timber harvesting.

Restore Warren Falls

Warren Creek canyon (and falls) from across the Columbia

Warren Creek canyon (and falls) from across the Columbia

For a second bit of cool news, we move west to Warren Falls. In mid-July, I sent a “Hail Mary” plea to local legislators in the Hood River area asking for their (divine?) intervention to somehow prod the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) into decommissioning the Warren Creek diversion tunnel and restoring Warren Falls. I’ve posted several articles on this proposal (as well as this Oregon Field Guide story) in hopes of doing this needed restoration work when the state will have heavy equipment in the area as part of the next phase of the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH) State Trail, which will soon cross Warren Creek.

My plea for help was answered promptly and with enthusiasm by State Senator Chuck Thomsen of Hood River. Senator Thomsen agreed to me at the Starvation Creek Wayside early one morning last week for an inspection of the Warren Falls site and a briefing on my proposal to restore the falls. After our tour, he offered to write a letter to both ODOT and the Governor’s office asking them to put Warren Falls on their to-do list. Boom!

The author with Senator Chuck Thomsen at Warren Creek

The author with Senator Chuck Thomsen at Warren Creek

More to come, but simply contacting a legislator has already triggered a call from an ODOT surrogate, essentially asking me to cease and desist in my efforts. I assured them that I had no desire to delay the larger state trail project, but still believe the agency should (and can) do right by undoing their illegal diversion of Warren Creek — and restoring Warren Falls in the process.

I’m convinced that if ODOT channeled the spirit of Samuel Lancaster when he designed the historic highway a century ago, they would easily discover both the will and funding needed to make this happen. And if they do, Sam Lancaster will surely approve — wherever he might be!

If you’re interested in more detail, here’s a (large) PDF of my Hail Mary! letter to Senator Thomsen.

Palmer Glacier gets a Reprieve

Like tractors on a corn field, snowcats plow (and salt) the Palmer Glacier for summer skiers

Like tractors on a corn field, snowcats plow (and salt) the Palmer Glacier for summer skiers

Five years ago, I posted this article challenging the Timberline Ski Resort on their practice of “conditioning” the Palmer Glacier with the equivalent of 500 tons (picture 500 pickup loads) of salt on the glacier each summer.

To defend the practice, the resort points to water quality testing downstream showing only “reasonably elevated levels” of salt in the tributaries that feed into the Salmon River, as if there is something reasonable about purposely pouring salt into one of our premier rivers. The Salmon River is not only treasured for its epic waterfalls and rugged gorge, it’s also a wild and scenic river and among the few salmon and steelhead streams in the Oregon Cascades with no downstream dams to block fish migration. There’s a lot at stake, here.

The source of the Salmon River at the terminus of the Palmer Glacier

The source of the Salmon River at the terminus of the Palmer Glacier

The Forest Service, meanwhile, is also of the “well, let’s see what happens” mindset, and officially permits the Timberline resort to keep dumping tons of salt on Mount Hood most fragile glacier. And yes, it’s still a glacier in name, though you may have noticed that the official media term coming from both the Timberline Resort and the Forest Service is the dismissive “Palmer Snowfield”. I can only guess the thinking behind this, but it’s hard to imagine it not being an attempt to downplay the impacts of salting the glacier.

Yup, still the Palmer Glacier…

Yup, still the Palmer Glacier…

Meanwhile, the Palmer Glacier continues to shrink, along with the rest of our Cascade glaciers in this period of global climate change. The Timberline Resort actually posted a letter to President Obama on their website proclaiming their “strong support for policies to address climate change”, all the while purposely accelerating the melting of their bread-and-butter glacier. Given the contradiction, it’s fairly easy to differentiate the empty rhetoric from the short-term profit motives.

How salty is this runoff from the Palmer Glacier? Enough for the Timberline Resort to be on the defensive, apparently.

How salty is this runoff from the Palmer Glacier? Enough for the Timberline Resort to be on the defensive, apparently.

Ski areas don’t just bring invisible pollution to the Salmon River -- here, a broken boundary pole and ski trash litter the Salmon River headwaters.

Ski areas don’t just bring invisible pollution to the Salmon River — here, a broken boundary pole and ski trash litter the Salmon River headwaters.

The greatest tragedy is that we own the land and the glacier, not the resort. They’re simply leasing the space. So, after the glacier is gone, we’ll own the polluted alpine slopes left behind by the salting practice — as the effects of salt pollution are long-term in nature, and of little concern for ski resort balance sheets or Forest Service concession permits.

So, where’s the cool news in this story? Just that the Timberline resort is closing down the Palmer ski season this weekend — a full month before their advertised “June through Labor Day” summer season concludes.

The Palmer Glacier won't miss those snowcats, skiers or tons of salt this August!

The Palmer Glacier won’t miss those snowcats, skiers or tons of salt this August!

This bit of good news for the Palmer Glacier and Salmon River is real: it translates into hundreds of tons of salt that won’t be spread on the glacier over the month of August this year, and that in turn equals less salt in the river and fragile alpine slopes in a dangerously low water year. It might even mean less melting of the glacier than might happen otherwise.

So, it’s cool news of a sort… and might just help keep the Palmer Glacier around just a bit longer.

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8 Comments on “Cool news in the summer heat!”

  1. Eli Says:

    Wait, wait, what? I had absolutely no idea that such a “glacier salting” practice was going on. Absolutely unbelievable that this is happening and allowed to happen in 2015.

    We must not allow corporations and businesses to take advantage of our environment for free like this!

    How can we raise awareness of this practice? How can we stop it? I feel like reasonable people would be outraged if this were brought to light in some major way.

    We are in the middle of what amounts to a glacier crisis, and we are putting salt on them right in our own back yard? Is this really the world I live in?

    Yeah, that right there makes me weep for our future, or rather our lack thereof. We are not going to learn before it’s far too late, I’m afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chase Says:

    That’s a quick response from Senator Thomsen. Hopefully ODOT’s project manager will contact you for a run-through of what needs to be done to un-do the falls diversion so it is as close to the original form as possible.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. I’ve often wondered about the environmental effects of salting that glacier. However, the other side of the story is the immense economic benefits not just to the operators of Timberline. Literally hundreds of jobs along highway 26 below Timberline are generated by the thousands of skiers and support teams that visit there every summer from all over the USA. The ski coaches, boot fitters, restaurants, grocery stores, lodging facilities all rely on that traffic. I’m not saying I defend the practice,, but I do think a full consideration of the issue requires looking at the entire picture.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. crehfeld Says:

    I agree with Steve. Timberline closing the summer ski season early is not such cool news for the people that depend on the summer skiing for their income. A lot of talk about protecting fish habitat, how about protecting peoples jobs. Sorry but I can’t live on fish alone.

    Like

  5. Mountain Wanderer Says:

    Thanks for the post about salting Palmer Glacier. I have some salt-crusted rocks from Salmon River where Timberline Trail crosses it. Sad to see that on the only river in lower 48 that is full length designated in Wild & Scenic system.

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  6. Pinkham Pete Says:

    We just came off the worst ski season in a long time and this summer is blazing. Can’t help but think that climate change is the cause. It’s true that summer skiing provides jobs; there are even more during the winter season IF we get enough snow.

    RLK the company that operates Timberline ski area has done little or nothing to combat climate change. Yeah, they say they buy green energy. But what about their overflowing parking lot?? Meadows runs buses but RLK doesn’t want to bother. Besides helping to reduce carbon dioxide buses to the mountain can help reduce congestion and improve safety on the highways!

    If RLK is serious about providing ski-related jobs and recreation for the long run then they’d better do more about climate change than lip service. That ain’t going to be enough. I’m doing what I can to reduce my emissions because I want my grandkids to be able to ski.

    Salmon, one of the icons of the PNW, are taking it in the shorts this summer due to low water and elevated water temps. Salt on the Palmer Glacier and runoff into the Salmon River makes the problem worse. It’s time for the public to tell the Forest Service to stop the salting program.

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  7. Eli Says:

    Why does the summer ski season have to be closed? If you can’t ski in the summer without dumping salt all over the place, then well yes, perhaps summer skiing shouldn’t be a thing. But there has to be another way that isn’t so damaging to the environment and the glacier itself.

    What if we could generate 1,000 jobs by melting the glacier even faster? Ten thousand jobs by melting it in a decade? Would that be worth it? That’s complete insanity. Once that glacier is gone or polluted, there is no going back. Then what?

    Listen people. We need to stop worrying about who is going to win the Superbowl and think about the future. And I don’t mean what you’re going to have for dinner tomorrow. I’m talking about the real future. 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 years from now… and beyond.

    Of course, unfortunately many people are forced to think and worry about what they will have for dinner tomorrow. Until we can get out from under that umbrella on a world wide scale, we are not going to succeed regarding these issues on a world wide scale.

    I do find it disturbing that, even here with our luxuries, the first thing people think about is jobs-money. As if that matters, when compared to our environment – our home? It might have worked for the last 75,000 years – Resources depleted? No problem. Just move to a new area. That’s not an option anymore. When you can watch videos of the emissions from China wafting over the sea to the United States, you truly realize how small our planet actually is.

    Do people really not realize the environmental crisis we are in? Things haven’t been “this way” on the planet Earth since far, far before we existed, namely CO2 and ocean acidity. It is not going to get any better. Our actions of a mere 200 years have incredible momentum – even if we stopped our destructive actions cold turkey today, we would see the effects for possibly another millennium. That should be highly alarming to even a casual observer.

    At the very least, we need to strike some sort of balance. Accelerating the collapse of a collapsing glacier while causing salination of a river is not balance.

    The glaciers on Mt. Hood have shrunk an average of 34% from 1907 to 2004. I couldn’t find any data on how much money summer skiing specifically brings, but the whole season generates 150 million per year. Think about that for a moment, and then tell me if you think the less than $150 million per year summer skiing brings is worth it. How many more hundreds of years do they have left? One? Two? Again, then what?

    Chump change in today’s world. Even if it takes 300 years for the glacier to disappear, do you think they will then be praising the past practice of salting it? Do you think any of the economic benefit gleaned from the loss of the glacier will go towards fixing the real problem, which is not jobs, but… the loss of a glacier?

    And what of the fact that we’re just accelerating ourselves towards a time when the glacier can produce no jobs at all? Isn’t that kinda like, “Duh”? Shouldn’t we be trying to conserve the glacier, knowing that it’s time is limited, even if we were the best stewards to it we could possibly be? Instead we are recklessly using it for recreation.

    I’m happy they’re not going to be salting the glacier this summer, but it’s far more disturbing that they’ve been doing it for the last 30 years. Incredible, incredible ignorance right there.

    Jobs can be made other ways. Glaciers, rivers? Not so much.

    I just wish I could live to see the planet in 250 years. Or perhaps even in 100 years. It’s not going to be pretty. No old growth, no glaciers, no rainforests, no biodiversity, 1000ppm CO2, and a declining population of hot, unhappy humans who are too embroiled in dealing with the Earth’s compounding natural disasters to focus on getting off this rock.

    It’s not about “saving the planet”; the Earth will continue to turn far after we’re gone. This is about saving ourselves, and our future as a species. Personally, I believe the answer to the Fermi Paradox is that upcoming civilizations always overheat their home planets before they go anywhere. Assuming that’s even a possible answer, we are going to go through one of the most epic universe scale Fails ever. Though not unexpected.

    Back to the glacier…

    If it’s true there are salt encrusted rocks at the base of the glacier, let’s start collecting them. I’m willing to pay for having them analyzed in whatever fashion is necessary. We need to bring this to light. Let’s take soil samples high up, water samples after a rain, whatever it takes. This is where citizen scientists can truly make a difference. So like Tom, let’s get out there and make a difference.

    Does the salting of the glacier affect the grylloblattids(insects) native to the glaciers and snow fields of Mt. Hood? If so, that might raise some concerns.

    If this destructive behavior starts again in the future, I would be willing to entertain the idea of financing radio spots to condemn this practice. People need to be made aware! I had no idea….

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  8. I finished the round the mountain Timberline Trail yesterday. The trail and views are magnificent, still shocking to see snow conditions on the mountain.

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