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Provides six alternatives for the controversial mountain bike trail proposal; document available for view

Lemon Gulch trail system stakeholders now have several new multiple options to consider following Ochoco National Forest's release of an Environmental Assessment.

The initial trail complex proposal call for a system of trials on the west side of the Lookout Mountain Ranger District, about 20 miles northeast of Prineville. The Environmental Assessment analyzes and compares five action alternatives ranging from 19-52 miles of trail and includes a "no action" alternative.

Forest officials stated that the preferred alternative (alternative 6) involves the construction of 27.5 non-motorized miles of trail. They point out that it provides a much smaller footprint than the original proposal, based on key issues raised in earlier phases of the project, as well as individual and group meetings with permittees, community members and elected officials. They added that alternative 6 also reduces trail density in some areas specifically to address wildlife and grazing concerns, while still maintaining a complete mix of trail opportunity.

"After over a year of meeting with our Tribal partners from the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, Crook County community leaders, grazing permittees, stakeholders and interested parties, we are happy to be releasing the draft environmental assessment for public comment," said Lookout Mountain District Ranger Slater Turner.

Turner went on to say that the project was originally released to the public in a scoping document in March 2021 after being submitted as part of a larger Forest-wide proposal by Ochoco Trails, a grassroots group of non-motorized trail users interested in expanding trail access on the forest.

"The Forest Service took feedback from the public and worked to address the issues raised by incorporating resource protection measures and developing several alternatives," he added. "This Draft Environmental Assessment is the culmination of those conversations and feedback."

The first public rumblings about the Lemon Gulch proposal emerged during a local town hall held during the summer of 2021 by U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz. The proposal dominated much of the Q&A portion of the meeting, as people raised concerns about how the trail system would impact grazing permits and forest health and how many people the trail system would attract to the area.

The trail system proposal continued to be a lightning rod in the community, with opposition culminating in a town hall held this past April, filling Carey Foster Hall.

Don't Bend Prineville, the group that hosted the town hall, pointed to documents proposing a maximum of 52 miles of single-track trails that would be opened to hiking and mountain biking and feature parking and trailhead areas at the top, middle and bottom of the system. The organization and others in the audience said the mountain bike trail system, as proposed, would be too large and cause problems with traffic, cattle grazing and wildlife habitat in the area.

Proponents of the proposal did not speak at the town hall, but Ochoco Trails representative Darlene Henderson responded to opponents of the proposal in a guest opinion piece submitted a couple weeks later.

She stated that Ochoco Trails started its collaboration by examining the existing non-motorized trails on Ochoco National Forest. The group determined that the existing trail supply does not meet the current demand.

"Given its size, the Forest has relatively few trails," Henderson said. "In addition, many of the existing trails are located far from Prineville, and a number of the trails were created by pack trains to carry supplies to mine sites, so they don't offer an enjoyable trail experience. Consequently, most trail use in the Ochocos is concentrated on a few very popular trails."

After several years of collaboration, Ochoco Trails developed a plan for an expanded set of non-motorized trails to provide the types of experiences various trail-users desire. Henderson stressed that the submitted plan is a "wish list" of trail ideas to improve recreational opportunities for hikers, horseback riders and mountain bike riders while protecting wildlife and other natural resources.

She went on to state that participants in Ochoco Trails' development of a trail proposal "included representatives of Oregon Equestrian Trails, Back County Horsemen, the Crook County Chapter of Central Oregon Trail Alliance, the Oregon Hunters' Association, Oregon Wild, an individual rancher and grazing permittee, hikers and the Chamber of Commerce."

"In addition, the Forest Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offered natural resource-related feedback on our discussions," she said.

Members of the public are invited to view and comment on the new draft Environmental Assessment by visiting the project web page, www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=58831.

"We have taken great care in incorporating a wide variety of comments and look forward to hearing feedback on these alternatives," Turner said.


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