CRR is getting fired up over wilderness area


   The Crooked River Ranch has found another unifying issue -- fighting the Whychus-Deschutes Wilderness Area plan.
   The groundwork to create a wilderness area designation to the beautiful Whychus Creek area has been ongoing for about 30 years, but didn't get fully tuned up until the Oregon Natural Desert Association put its efforts behind the move a couple years back.
   The ONDA has put together an official proposal for the over 15,000-acre wilderness area; they hope to gain a congressional sponsor and eventual federal approval.
   One thing the wilderness designation didn't have was vocal opposition -- until somewhat recently.
   In August, Crooked River Ranch Fire Chief Tim McLaren came out against the designation, contending it would make the Ranch more susceptible to catastrophic wildfire. McLaren was the first public official to come out against the plan, and his August statement seemed to start a backburn against the designation.
   Then, on Sept. 22, the Alder Springs fire ignited, burning through a large chunk of what would be the wilderness area, and to within a couple miles of the Ranch's west border. The timing of the blaze couldn't have been worse for the wilderness backers.
   Last week, the Ranch's Club and Maintenance Board of Directors voted to not support the designation. Their vote -- primarily predicated on best protecting the Ranch against wildfire -- came after 65 percent of the respondents to a mail-out questionnaire of Ranch residents were against the wilderness designation.
   Jefferson County's commission hasn't made an official stand, but Commissioner John Hatfield has indicated he is against it and wants to work with the Ranch residents to fight it. He noted that the three Deschutes County commissioners are against the plan.
   One key element of a wilderness area is that fire suppression isn't normally applied. A key point of wilderness areas is that they are roadless, with management policy geared to leave them to their natural state. Scraping fire lines with big equipment and even dropping retardant isn't a standard option. Fire danger is the main tangible argument those against the designation can make, even if a more political, anti-wilderness area bent is at the root of the antagonism.
   Backers of the wilderness note that law allows for fire suppression activities if people and/or property is threatened. But that fact hasn't cooled the use of catastrophic wildfire as a reason to fight the designation.
   As the ONDA works to find a congressional sponsor to present the designation, an enemy to the Whychus-Deschutes Wilderness Area seems to be growing fast, just a few junipers to the east.
   Wilderness areas, huge drug busts, will Jacoby win the MVP, certainly major issues of the day. However, they all pale in comparison to the biggest issue facing us: Where will we go to the bathroom?
   Facing money problems of its own, the Oregon Department of Transportation has announced plans to close the Government Camp rest area bathrooms on Halloween, permanently. ODOT notes that upkeep and maintenance at the rest area bathrooms cost $7,500 per month.
   My take: worth every penny.
   The Government Camp bathrooms are the only public restrooms between Madras and Portland. A fixture of the trip to the city as much as reaching the tree line north of Warm Springs and cheap gas in Sandy, the Government Camp facility is a major comfort and safety feature for travelers on U.S. Highway 26. Closing the Government Camp restrooms will lead to more roadside stopping, creating highway hazards, and in general, situations that we don't need to witness or experience firsthand.
   State legislators -- inspired by concerned constituents who know the value of that rest stop -- are holding a summit on the issue at an apropos place: the Resort at the Mountain, in Welches. It's on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in the Douglas Fir Room. Our state representative, John Huffman, will be there.
   Here's hoping a solution is reached that keeps Government Camp's facilities open past Halloween and into the future.