Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Future of Mt. Hood Recreation

The three ski areas on Mt. Hood have been envisioning what their future might look like.  With the Mt Hood Stewardship Legacy Act being debated in Congress, Reps Blumenauer and Walden asked ALL interested parties with a stake in what happens on the mountain to submit a wish list of things that they think would improve access and the mountain’s resources. 

Most of what the ski area’s asked for didn’t make it into the bill.  Not surprising, given what they were asking for.

      Mount Hood resort operators hope skiers someday can park their cars at huge parking lots before reaching Government Camp and then ride a shuttle bus or aerial cable car connecting the three major ski areas.

      Truck drivers hauling goods from Portland to the east side of the Cascades might take a new road through Clackamas County forests connecting Oregon 224 to U.S. 26, avoiding today's skier-caused traffic jams at Government Camp.

      Among other things, the agreement supports widening highways, building sewage treatment systems, using stream water for snowmaking, developing land for housing and parking lots, and implementing a collective marketing strategy that includes the U.S. Forest Service.

So I read that and my eyes perk up.  A cable car?
The Legacy Act under discussion creates about 70k acres of wilderness in the Mt. Hood national forest, as well as settles a lawsuit regarding land in a watershed that the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area has rights to develop.  The agreement swaps the land with some land in Government Camp that’s OK to develop.

But the bill also calls for a study…

      The bill also calls for a study of a gondola running between Government Camp and Timberline Lodge. The idea, also part of the wish list, would run a cable car in roughly the same line as an aerial tram that existed in the 1950s but was closed after a couple of seasons when the road leading to Timberline Lodge from U.S. 26 was improved.

What they are saying in the article is that this gondola system would also connect Timberline with Mt. Hood Meadows, running over the White River canyon.  What would that mean?  One ticket for both ski areas?  It wouldn’t be out of the question, lots of ski areas around the world, and in the US, have grown together to form larger areas.  Some just share tickets, even though they aren’t actually connected.  What I want to see is a season pass or 10 time pass that’s good at all three ski areas.  Even if they aren’t linked.

Back to the White River canyon.

      Meadows, for example, would have to amend its 1997 master plan that prohibits developed recreation in the White River drainage.

      The ski areas could be setting themselves up for a huge fight. White River is considered an important wetland and wildlife corridor, and it's one of the most accessible and popular high-alpine environments for backcountry skiers, snowshoers and summer hikers.

And I’m one of those hikers.  Although I don’t think it would kill people to have a gondola line there.  Really this is about the aesthetics more than anything.  As long as there aren’t any towers in the canyon, which I think is doable, you aren’t going to mess with wildlife or hikers.  And really – a wetland?  Have these people been in that canyon in the summer?  Nothing but sand and boulders, interrupted only by the channel of the White River.

They also talk in the article about a traffic relief corridor running from Highway 224 to the east side of the Cascades.

      The highest priorities for the ski areas are the expansion of U.S. 26, creating a bypass from Oregon 224, and building mass transportation hubs that could put skiers in buses and take traffic off the highways.

I’m not sure where they would build it.  They are correct, that building another highway to Bend would definitely reduce traffic on the 26.  But it’s going to increase traffic on a portion of the forest that’s never seen more than a handful of cars on any given day.

The ski areas haven’t changed all that much since I started skiing there over 15 years ago.  The officials involved are right that the future could get a lot more dismal, traffic wise, if they don’t start planning now.

No comments: