As a result of efforts by the Molalla River Watch and Molalla River Alliance organizations, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) re-opened the Three Bears and Cedar Grove campgrounds, located in the Molalla River Recreation Corridor.
Earlier this spring, the BLM had announced that the campgrounds would be closed this summer, except for large group reservations.
But after reconsidering, the BLM announced this week that the two campgrounds will be open to first-come first-serve camping Fridays through Sundays, beginning June 16. The campgrounds will close each Monday at 11 a.m.
"I'd rather see the campgrounds open every day, but this is better than nothing," said Bill Taylor, chairman of the Molalla River Watch Watershed Council. "The BLM is hoping that MRA and MRW members will volunteer to open the gate at noon on Fridays and to report vandalism and illegal camping."
Availability of the campgrounds is still limited this summer while crews complete work to address damage from past use, including the removal of fence rails, illegal dumping, and the unauthorized cutting of trees for firewood. The campgrounds will, however, be available for group camping events throughout the week by requesting a Special Recreation Permit.
First-come first-serve camping will not be available during times when permits have been issued. To date, Cedar Grove Campground is not available Labor Day weekend from September 1-4, and Three Bears Campground is not available September 22-24.
"Members of the community expressed great interest in working with us to provide camping along the Molalla River this summer," said Jose Linares, Northwest Oregon District Manager. "We appreciate their interests, along with the support of volunteers from the Molalla River Watch and Molalla River Alliance, who have offered to monitor the area. We look forward to partnering with these organizations to enhance stewardship efforts among all that enjoy the area." The BLM is committed to keeping public landscapes healthy and productive.
The Molalla River Alliance (MRA) and Molalla River Watch (MRW) jointly wrote a letter to the Northwest Oregon BLM district, urging that the campgrounds remain open. The concern is that camping will continue, regardless, and the restored former dispersed campsites that had been closed would now be used anyway, resulting in even more damage to the environment.
MRA and MRW members have been concerned about the campground closures mainly because people expecting to go up and camp in the new campgrounds will find the gates closed. Then, without the campgrounds and the toilet facilities, firepits, tent sites and paths to the river that the campgrounds provide, the worry is that people will just pitch a tent anywhere they like, trample the new replanted areas, cut down trees and use the woods for makeshift toilet facilities.
The two organizations offered to provide volunteers to monitor the Three Bears and Cedar Grove campgrounds on weekends, so that the two campgrounds would be available to campers.
Taylor,, has spent years working with MRA and MRW volunteers to help build the two campgrounds and replant areas that had been used by campers in random spots alongside the river.
Taylor wrote another letter to Linares in response to the campground closures, regarding illegal camping he'd noticed over the weekend of June 4 in the Molalla River Corridor.
In his letter, Taylor documented some of the damage to the dispersed campsites he'd noticed.
"I observed illegal camping at the following 'Day Use Only' sites, Molalla Forest Road pull-outs and campgrounds," he wrote. Taylor listed numerous examples of the damage being done by indiscriminate campers.
One example Taylor gave was the Horse Creek Restoration Site.
"As I drove down the road to this restoration site, my heart really sank," Taylor wrote. "Looking down, I saw a large tent camp, a burning fire and a large pile of firewood. No vehicle or campers were observed at the site but there was a Toyota pickup parked at the junction of Horse Creek Road and the Molalla Forest Road. I spent three days volunteering to help restore the former campsite, working with the Wilderness International Youth Conservation Corps. We prepared the site, and planted and mulched over 600 plants. The restoration project was funded by EPA funds administered through a DEQ grant awarded to Molalla River Watch.
"These illegal camps were observed on Sunday, June 4th, a cool and showery weekend. This problem is only going to increase as the summer progresses, the temperature rises, and campgrounds are not available. Please open the campgrounds on a first-come first-serve basis to greatly reduce illegal camping and riparian damage." Last week, Linares responded to the organizations, stating that: "Many of the points you bring up in your letter are quite valid and well thought out. As a result, we have been in contact with you to explore scenarios in which we can open the campgrounds on a limited basis. We are particularly interested in the option of opening the campgrounds on weekends, using our staff working out of Wildwood Recreation Site as well as the volunteer help your groups have offered."