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BLM plans for Wildwood site spark citizen unrest

Proposal would allow overnight camping at park -

SANDY POST - A sign marks where one proposed tent site would be built. Wildwood Recreation Site looks wild, but most of the trees here were planted by loggers who wanted straight timber, not native species. A Bureau of Land Management proposal to create overnight camping options at Wildwood Recreation Site has sparked fierce opposition from a cadre of locals in Welches, who say they like the park how it is and don’t want it to change.

The far from finalized BLM plan would develop roughly three acres inside the 556-acre nature reserve by adding RV hookups, campsites for tents, yurts and small cabins.

The citizen opposition group, Friends of Wildwood Hood, met with BLM officials for the first time on Thursday, Aug. 11, during an open house meeting at the park that drew about 150 community members.

“Wildwood is a beautiful, tranquil, pristine environment,” said Mary Seifert, a 20-year-resident on the mountain who was passing out anti-development fliers before the meeting. “To have human access 24 hours, seven days a week will seriously impact it for the worst.”

Seifert argues that an overnight camping option would attract transients and push out locals, who have grown accustomed to using the land as a de facto community park.

But the BLM argues that, as a federal agency, they have a mandate to improve the park for all taxpayers, not just those who live nearby. Locals can easily sleep in their own beds, but tourists and even those in the Portland metro area may not want to make the long drive back after a day exploring nature.

“It’s selfish,” said Field Manager John Huston. “It’s a federal park, which are for the enjoyment of all.”

They also don’t find the homelessness argument convincing.

SANDY PHOTO - Bureau of Land Management Recreation Planner Dan Davis addresses community members during an open house at Wildwood Recreation Site on Thursday, Aug. 11. “We’ve noticed that an increase of (people) that are there to do the right thing … It forces out the bad folks who are doing the bad things,” said Recreation Planner Dan Davis. “We’re pretty confident that we’re not going to have a transient problem here.”

The BLM also has a financial interest at stake. Wildwood generates about $45,000 in annual revenue, primarily drawn from the $5 day-use fee. Upkeep and maintenance cost the agency $440,000. The new camping options wouldn’t raise the day-use charge, but would create new fees for those who want to stay overnight and use park facilities.

The bureau reports these improvements will boost attendance rates from the current 50,000 yearly visitors to around 100,000, which is the historic average. The park was built to accommodate 375,000 annual guests, according to the Mountain Times newspaper.

Sean Spulniak, a construction worker who was born in a house that borders the park, said the expansion would bring more vandalism to the area, mostly by kids making dumb choices.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “Mountain people have a similar mentality (and now) you don’t know who’s going to be staying, who’s going to be camping up here.”

Not everyone sees it that way.

Caregiver Erin O’Grady said she attended the meeting to see for herself what the fuss was about. Now she’s supportive of the BLM’s plans.

“It seems like there’s a need for it,” she said. “I can see why they would be interested in trying something different.”SANDY PHOTO - The proposed changes would build log cabins, yurts, spots for camping in tents and create a RV hookup area.

A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Wildwood Recreation Site costs $900,000 a year to operate with annual revenue of $300,000. Those numbers are incorrect.