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Community members voice concerns for RV hookups, more tourist traffic at Mount Hood natural area

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - BLM is working to create a plan to drive more visitors to the Wildwood Recreation Site. For decades residents of the Mount Hood communities have called Wildwood Recreation Site their "park." Tucked away off of Highway 26 between Brightwood and Welches, the 580-acre space offers several day-use opportunities such as picnic areas, sports fields and trails, as well as educational signage throughout.

In 2016, the Bureau of Land Management announced its intention to explore renovations and additions to the park. The biggest — and most contentious — change is the proposed addition of overnight camping opportunities including an RV hookup site. Community members have voiced concerns that the changes might disrupt the wildlife of the area and/or change the natural characteristics of the space.

The Bureau argues that its intention is not to limit or harm the natural area but improve on it and grant access for more people through the addition of more overnight options.

"We're looking at over 1,000 RV sites already in existence on Mount Hood," said mountain resident Fran Mazzara. "Where's the need?"

COURTESY PHOTO - Proposed changes to the Wildwood Recreation Site include RV hookups. Mazzara noted that "the trails are already past capacity," so she sees no need to entice more people to come up to Wildwood or the mountain in general.

Mazzara has lived on Mount Hood since 1986 and said she already is sometimes crowded out of her favorite recreational areas, like Trillium Lake, because of visitors.

"What do they think they're attracting more people for?" she posed. "Outsiders drive by Wildwood and don't even know it's there. Just because people don't know it's there, there's no need to put in camping."

"There's so many other options to camp," added fellow concerned resident Monique Farinha. "I feel like if they're going to commercialize it, it will take away from the beauty of the park and what it's for. The thought of having hundreds of people up there will ruin Wildwood Park."

The Bureau just completed its comment period on the environmental assessment of the site and the plan proposed thus far, according to BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Daniel Davis, would add three acres of hardened surfaces to the park as well as new restrooms, RV hookups and some relocation and repurposing of existing aspects of the site.

The proposed project would allegedly only affect 15% of the park.

"We did an evaluation of all recreational sites (in our district)," Davis said. "Wildwood is one of our most expensive sites to keep maintained and brings in the smallest amount of fees. There wasn't as many sites available as were in demand."

Davis considers the proposed changes to Wildwood a "mid-level development," and a necessary one because of the "stagnant and decreasing funds for BLM" in recent years.

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Daniel Davis of BLM said part of the proposed plan would increase trail mileage at Wildwood. Though the plan calls for RV hookups, Davis clarified that they will be "full hookups without all of the amenities to keep the forested quality of the area."

"On the map it looks like a lot of development," he said, but he assured concerned residents that it's still only a small portion of the park.

He added that day use areas won't be reduced as much as people worry it will be. The main impact on day use, Davis noted, will be from the Bureau converting one of the picnic shelters into an overnight shelter.

Otherwise, he said, "We'll be increasing trail mileage and expanding all day-use activities."

"We're also not developing near the educational aspects of the park," Davis explained. "We're actually looking to expand and improve the educational aspects of the park."

In terms of environmental impact, Davis said the Bureau took that into account before the project ever started.

"We spoke to local biologists before the project started," Davis explained. Biologists outlined places in the park that shouldn't be touched and the project has been built around that.

"Our development started off considering the natural area," Davis added. "We went extensively out of our way before even talking about developing."

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