Each of these writings is a comment on the proposed Kapka Butte Sno-park, a parking facility that would include 70 spots for trailers and 40 additional slots for other vehicles near the Forest Road 45 cutoff (to Sunriver) from the Cascade Lakes Highway. The intent of the proposed park, which is being built by the U.S. Forest Service, is to create more space for higher-elevation recreation in addition to the Dutchman Flat Sno-park - something that has been in discussion for almost 15 years. Both motorized and non-motorized users, many of whom wrote letters, say that there is a need for more parking in the heavily used recreation, but that the Kapka Butte project, as it currently exists, is not the answer.
Marv Lang, a recreation forester with the Forest Service says that although the public comments period closed in early February, a draft for the $500,000-plus project isn't likely to hit the streets until September or October. In short, Lang says the driving notion behind the project is one that's common in the arena of public recreation: provide something for everyone. And in this case, "everyone" ranges from snowmobilers to backcountry skiers to snowshoers and many others.
"The one thing that most everybody agrees on is that we need a new snow park and one at a higher elevation than what we have at Wanoga and Swampy or Meissner with better snow conditions," Lang says.
A higher elevation snow park, Lang says, allows for recreation during both the early and late sections of the winter and often means more and better snow throughout the season. Currently, Dutchman is the hotspot for higher elevation recreation, especially snowmobiling, and the heavy use has led to a parking shortage. This leads to parking in chain-up areas on the side of the highway, a practice that in addition to being illegal, is also potentially dangerous, according to local skiers and snowmobilers.
"The goal has always been to do something away from Dutchman to pull that congestion away from there. The truth is that people can do a lot of different things out of Kapka," Lang says.
The groups speaking out most vocally are most easily split into two factions: snowmobilers and those who participate in non-motorized winter sports (backcountry skiers, snowshoers, cross country skiers, etc). But the party lines have been drawn even more specifically within these camps with clubs rallying support for their respective cause. The Bend Backcountry Alliance and the Moon Country Sno-Mobilers don't have much in common, other than that both groups advocated on their websites for people to write the Forest Service arguing that the plan for the construction of Kapka Butte, as it currently exists, should not go forward.
On the surface, the opposition from both of these groups seems counterintuitive. After all, both user groups suffer from the overcrowding at Dutchman. But their respective protests are rooted in a concern over who gets to use what areas with both groups under the impression that Kapka would hurt their interests. In other words, the discussion isn't restricted to the parking lot.
The following was posted on the website for Moon Country Sno-Mobilers, a club with a membership of about 100 families, in the "Legal Action" section: Bottom Line is the Kapka plan is flawed and will only lead to the Back Country Skiers pushing harder for the closure of Dutchman Snow Park. The best passable outcome would be to enlarge Dutchman Snow Park and then ALL USERS would benefit.
Over on the Bend Backcountry Alliance blog, there was a similar call to arms: ...we believe that any proposal for increased motorized access in the Century Drive corridor must be balanced by equitable accommodations for non-motorized users. Therefore, we strongly oppose the construction of the Kapka Butte Sno-Park.
Both sites went on to provide talking points for letter writers to include in their comments to the Forest Service. And apparently, if the mountainous stack of comments is any evidence, this method was ultimately successful in encouraging people to submit their concerns to the Forest Service. Erik Johnson of the Bend Backcountry Alliance estimates that the efforts of his group generated some 200 comments.
Johnson says that Kapka and its 110 total proposed parking spots would lead to a significant influx in snowmobiles to the area.
"Accommodations for 70 [trailers] is a lot of snowmobiles and there's nothing to say that those other 40 slots wouldn't also be occupied by snowmobilers. In a nutshell, our view is that you can't add more motorized users without balancing it out with non-motorized opportunities," Johnson says.
Dale Neubauer of Wild Wilderness, a Bend-based organization with a membership of around 1,000, is an admitted fan of the combustion engine ("I eat, drink and breathe horsepower," says the owner of two Harleys) but is a backcountry skier who fears that Kapka, while listed at 70 trailer spaces, could ultimately fit up to 125 trailers. Such an increase in motorized activity in the area makes the idea of "mixed use" less realistic. Neubauer also says that Kapka is presented as a parking solution, and doesn't look as much at what happens once people leave the parking lot.
"[The Forest Service] needs to shift away from the belief that multiple use equates to shared use. Whether it's canoes and jet skies or cross country skiers and snowmobiles, the vast majority of non-motorized users need space and distance from these machines," Neubauer says.
Snowmobilers, or at least those who follow along the lines of Moon Country Sno-Mobilers, feel that an expansion of the existing Dutchman Flat Sno Park is the most effective solution. Ben Hansen is the founder of H2oregon.com, a site that hosts web forums focused mainly on snowmobiling. The site featured the talking points presented by Moon Country and also announced a raffle for a discount certificate to a snowmobiling apparel store for those who had written letters to the Forest Service.
"I would like to see an expanded Dutchman whether you build or don't build anything else," Hansen says.
Hansen, like others who post on his web forums, feels that parking in Kapka would make it more difficult to access the terrain snowmobilers frequent because it would require riders to trek down the road where they could cross under the highway before heading up to Dutchman.
Lang, however, says that a snowmobiler could make it back to Dutchman in 15 minutes, or 10 "on a good day."
One of the underlying issues is an overall increase in winter users along Cascade Lakes Highway. With snowmobiles becoming increasingly popular (not to mention lighter and more powerfull) in the past decade, the sport has grown nationally as well as in Central Oregon. In the process the sport has become another cog in the wheels of the local economy. There's also been an increase in non-motorized winter sports. Lang says that snowshoeing in our area has nearly quadrupled in the past five to 10 years.
With snowmobiles and non-motorized users converging on the same areas - as should be expected, considering our region's reputation as a bastion for winter sports - there is bound to be some conflict.
"It's cordial, but it's clear that there's two primary sides to the issue. The motorized vs. non-motorized groups," Lang says.
Larry Riser, president of the Moon Country Sno-Mobilers, says he hasn't seen much conflict out on the trails between the two factions.
"In my 20 some years, I've never had a confrontation with a skier," says the 73-year-old Riser, who cross-country skied in his younger years.
But Hansen says, while he might not see conflict out in the snow, that might not be the case for his non-motorized counterparts.
"It just happens to depend on your definition of 'conflict.' Some people might think that if you hear or see a snowmobile, that's a conflict," Hansen says.
While there remains half a year for the Forest Service to come to a conclusion of what to do at Kapka, Lang remains optimistic about the future of the snow park. But he also seems to zero in on the crux of the problem surrounding Kapka - or at least the one that these two prolific letter-writing factions seem to be focusing on.
"We want to look at a bigger picture to see where is it really appropriate to share and where is it appropriate to segregate? It's a larger issue about allocations," Lang says.