Downhill bike park could hurt environment near Timberline

The Sandy Post
By Dennis Chaney

A recent public town hall meeting was held to discuss the proposed downhill mountain bike park at Timberline Lodge, but something was missing: The lodge operator, RLK and Co., declined to attend.

This park would be for downhill — or gravity — riding only. Most mountain residents have some familiarity with these parks because there is already one at Skibowl, but you may not be aware that a ski lift is not required for this activity.

The ski lift base that would be used in this proposal sits in the watershed for two critical habitat streams. If you go up West Leg Road after the snow melts, you will see why the U.S. Forest Serivce is requiring major restoration work to the base as part of the bike park proposal.

The Forest Service found extensive damage throughout the ski area caused by past construction, and this will be included in the restoration project.

The park designers said this is their first experience with volcanic ash soil, also known as “moon dust.” Some parks import soil or use additives, but this can’t be done here because the entire trail system needs supplements. Riders deal with moon dust by wearing goggles and sometimes breathing filters. Under the most favorable conditions, the park will be open for about 90 days, but that’s not accounting for inclement weather and poor trail conditions.

One of the requirements of the Forest Service study is to establish “purpose and need for action.” It is important to note that in our region there already are two commercial lift assist parks and two more pending.

There are three non-lift downhill parks and one under construction on local public land, and there are numerous other places that offer downhill riding, but are not purpose-built parks.

Finally, there are hundreds of miles of trails on national forest land open to bikes. Most of these riding opportunities are about the same distance to Portland as Timberline Lodge.

A different experience
Not discussed in the proposal is that lift assist bike parks are used as venues for pro-am races and similar events. Without doubt, Timberline will be on the race circuit, and this is a major omission because these events will have a significant impact on the historic Timberline experience.

Whistler Bike Park has six bike events a season, and it’s realistic to expect Timberline to promote up to two events a month during the summer.

Timberline Lodge is a National Historic Landmark of world renown and hosts nearly 2 million visitors a year. It is without question that a bike park will drastically change the summer ambiance.

Those with a love for Timberline because of its history, and its special connection to the mountain and nature, find this particular activity to be incompatible with the Timberline experience.

The impacted forest is part of this connection with nature and is the home of numerous wildlife species. One example: It already has been declared by biologists that the summer elk herd will be driven away. This forest should be loved and nurtured, not abused and torn up on a daily basis.

Put on the brakes
Photos and videos of Whistler Bike Park can easily be found on the Internet. There is no denying that this is a high-impact sport. The majority of the 15 miles of trails will be side cuts gouged into the mountain and then subjected to daily “ripping and shredding.”

What irony that the Forest Service is prepared to require an extensive restoration project to repair past environmental damage in conjunction with the unleashing of a downhill bike park, arguably the most damaging recreational activity we can bring to an alpine environment.

RLK has made it clear that it wants Timberline to be the “Whistler of Oregon.” The Friends of Mount Hood, the Mazamas, other recreational groups and scores of citizens want to protect Timberline and the mountain from the needless destruction to the land and wildlife that will be caused by this proposal.

We encourage you to tell the Forest Service that you also want to protect Timberline.

Dennis Chaney lives in Portland and is a board member of the Friends of Mount Hood.