My View: Mount Hood's environment is big enough for all uses
It wasn't that long ago that it only took a little over an hour to drive from Portland to our favorite spots on Mount Hood.
With a recent increase in demand for recreation and access to the outdoors, the traffic, which often is bumper-to-bumper, usually results in a circus upon arrival at our favorite trailheads and ski slopes, with cars parked unsafely and illegally along the highway and off-ramps.
Access and crowding issues around Mount Hood were an increasing issue even before the pandemic and have since reached a tipping point. These issues are not just because of population growth either — rather, they are the result of political decisions that have been made (and not made) for decades.
The current management plan for Mount Hood, written in the 1980s, is as outdated as big hair and leg warmers. So Mount Hood has been stuck with this dinosaur plan based on an old way of thinking that prioritizes logging over wildlife, recreation, clean water and carbon storage.
The good news is that many of Mount Hood's mountain full of challenges are fixable, if only our congressional leaders will step up to craft new solutions.
Mount Hood needs Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, as well as Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Cliff Bentz and Kurt Schrader, to chart a better path forward. While the Forest Service is the direct land manager around Mount Hood, it's Congress that sets their budgets and provides the framework for their targets.
For too long Democrats and Republicans have prioritized making it easier to log our public lands rather than focus on what most Oregonians would rather see — a vision for clean water, carbon storage, recreation and wildlife. That's why we need Congress to act.
Safeguarding important fish and wildlife habitat and carbon-storing forests as Wilderness and Wild & Scenic River areas would be a great start. In addition, as all those vehicles parked along the highway can attest, we need the updated plan to address challenges related to transportation, overcrowding and litter.
Fixing the mountain's many access issues is not so simple as adding more parking lots. We need thoughtful conversations about Sno-Parks, trailheads, campgrounds, and how best to meet the needs of a growing population while increasing access for communities that traditionally haven't been able to get to the mountain as easily.
The updated plan also should address recreation, striking a healthy balance between meeting today's demands, not loving the mountain to death, and minimizing disturbance to wildlife. We might need some new trails, and we also might need to remove trails that pass through sensitive wildlife areas. Maybe we encourage one-way loop trails so we aren't bumping into as many people.
Finally, we need Congress to tackle global warming by finding ways to conserve more of the carbon-storing forests around Mount Hood — not only by limiting logging but by adding public transportation options to reduce the number of cars on the road.
The next time you take that drive to Mount Hood, remember that there is room for everyone — trail runners, hikers, skiers, mountain bikers, bird watchers and everyone in between. We just need Oregon's congressional leaders to develop a better plan for the mountain, with proper funding, so it can continue to be enjoyed by all Oregonians.
Lisa Billings is a Southwest Portland resident.
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