Timberline Mountainbike Trails and Skills Park

New Comment Period for Timberline Bike Park 

What is the Timberline Bike Park proposal?
RLK, the company that operates the historic Timberline Lodge and ski area, has proposed to build a 17-mile mountain bike trail network and separate bike skills park. This lift-assisted, downhill only mountain bike trail system would be within the southern portion of the company’s Timberline Ski Area permit boundary.

Does Bark support mountain biking on Mt. Hood National Forest?
Bark absolutely supports mountain biking as a way for people to get out and enjoy the forest. Over the past many years, Bark has worked to create more bike access in Mt. Hood National Forest by advocating, and securing funding, for road-to-trail conversions. Recently, we’ve partnered with mountain bike enthusiasts to protect the popular Dog River trail from logging impacts, and are advocating for new recreation areas that will provide more trails for mountain bikes.

What are Bark’s primary concerns about the Timberline Bike Park project?
Lift-assisted extreme mountain biking in the fragile alpine habitat around Timberline Lodge could erode sensitive volcanic soil, harm water quality & fish habitat, and dramatically change the historic character of this important alpine area. In addition, this type of recreation is driven by the profit motive of a private company. This runs counter to Bark’s work to make recreation on public lands both ecologically sustainable and economically accessible.

Specific ecological concerns regarding the project include:

  •  impacts to sensitive and highly erosive alpine soils
  •  introduction of invasive species and resulting management with herbicides,
  • increased run-off of sediment from the trails into the headwaters of Still Creek which provides critical habitat for threatened salmon & steelhead, and
  • disrupting habitat for many species of wildlife in the area.

What is this new comment period all about?
On October 13, 2016, Mt. Hood National Forest began a two-week comment period soliciting public input on its tentative decision to not supplement its NEPA analysis to include new information about the impact of the Timberline Bike Park on threatened salmonids and the sensitive Western Bumblebee.

Is supplemental NEPA analysis necessary for the Timberline Bike Park EA?
In its Environmental Analysis for the Timberline Bike Park, the Forest Service never once mentions the Western Bumblebee, and did not analyze the impact of the project on this sensitive species. After the NEPA analysis was completed, biologists from the Xerces Society surveyed for this sensitive species and found several in the project area. They told the Forest Service of their presence and suggested project design criteria to help protect the bees. Since 2013, the Forest Service has done several more surveys for Western Bumblebees in other parts of Mt. Hood National Forest.

None of the information about the Western Bumblebee’s presence in the area, or the adverse impact of the project on the bee, has been analyzed through the rigorous public review required by NEPA. The Forest Land & Resource Management Plan requires Mt. Hood National Forest to protect and/or improve habitat for threatened, endangered and sensitive plants and animals. In addition, this spring the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service made a positive finding on a petition to list the Western Bumblebee as threatened or endangered and is currently undergoing a status review of the species. The Forest Service has not acknowledged this finding, or reviewed the impacts of the project in light of the trend towards federal listing.

Much of the above applies to the impact of the project on threatened Lower Columbia Steelhead. After the Forest Service published the EA, and concluded the project was "Not Likely to Adversely Affect" the species, NMFS prepared two subsequent Biological Opinions concluding that the project will in fact "Likely to Adversely Affect" the species. The determination of impact on threatened fish in the original EA was based on information that has significantly changed.

What is up with the litigation?
On May 15, 2013, Bark, Friends of Mount Hood, Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club filed suit against the Forest Service, asserting that the Forest Service’s approval of the Bike Park violated the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act.

Plaintiffs later added the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFA) as a defendant in this case, arguing that their conclusion that the project was Not Likely to Adversely Affect threatened salmonids was legally insupportable. In response, NMFS withdrew its original analysis and, in a new analysis, found that the project was Likely to Adversely Affect threatened salmonids.

On June 4, 2013, the plaintiffs asked the court to halt construction of the project while the lawsuit was being decided. The U.S. Forest Service and RLK did not object to this request, so the court entered an order preventing construction of the downhill bike routes and skills park until the court decides the legal issues.

On March 30, 2016, Judge Aiken issued a partial opinion on the litigation, which ruled against the plaintiffs on several claims, and delayed her decision on others. There were several claims that Judge Aiken did not resolve. She is waiting for the Forest Service and NMFS to undergo new consultation concerning the impacts of the project on sensitive and threatened species before deciding if:

  • the Forest Service has to prepare a supplemental NEPA analysis regarding the Western Bumblebee;
  • the Forest Service has to prepare a supplemental NEPA analysis regarding NMFS’s change in position, after the release of the new Biological Opinion

In conclusion

Bark supports mountain bike access in Mt. Hood National Forest and we have worked for many years to create more bike access to Mt. Hood through road-to-trail conversions. Mt. Hood National Forest is home to a network of 3,000 miles of roads built by a legacy of logging in the area that represents an unmanageable economic burden to the Forest Service and generates tons of sediment of run-off that imperils threatened salmon habitat every year. The Forest Service itself identified that 49% of the road system in Mt. Hood National Forest should be decommissioned to relieve the ecological and economic burden it poses. Despite our best efforts and successfully lobbying congress to allocate Legacy Roads and Trails funding to convert unneeded and unmanaged roads into hiking and biking trails, the Forest Service did not take this strategic opportunity to create mountain bike access in a manner that addresses the ecological and economic harm caused by roads in Mt. Hood National Forest.

While our ecological concerns are significant, our frustrations with this project are heightened by the history of the Forest Service refusing to create bike access through road-to-trail conversions in the programmatic road decommissioning process which would simultaneously address the ecological harm of a crumbling road network throughout Mt. Hood National Forest, relieve the agency of the economic burden of an unmanageable road system, and create ecologically responsible mountain bike access throughout the forest. Bark sees the potential for quiet recreation access, including mountain bikes, to Mt. Hood National Forest to be a driver for resolving the ongoing ecologic and economic problems caused by an unmanageable network of roads.

See our Flickr page for groundtruthing photos of this proposal!

 

Project Status: 
Recreation
General Information
District: 
Zigzag Ranger District