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Sierra Club signs onto lawsuit to stop Timberline MTB Park

Posted by on May 17th, 2013 at 12:36 pm

“We really do not have a problem with mountain biking at all. In fact, we would affirmatively support mountain bike access on Mt. Hood and we’d love to build allegiances with those folks, but we just don’t believe this is the proper place for this development.”
— Rhett Lawrence, Conservation Director, Sierra Club (Oregon Chapter)

Plans to build a mountain bike park on Mt. Hood have taken another turn. Yesterday, four non-profit organizations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to stop the project. The plaintiffs on the suit are Bark, Friends of Mt. Hood, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club.

In the 56-page lawsuit (PDF), that coalition says the area of Mt. Hood where RLK & Company wants to build the Timberline MTB Park is, “ecologically significant” and consists of ,”fragile alpine ecosystems” that feed directly into Still Creek and the west fork of the Salmon River. The plaintiffs also claim that the Forest Service did not adhere to adequate public processes as defined by federal environmental review laws.

The project would build 17 miles of new, lift-assisted mountain bike trails on a 500-600 acre parcel of land (*I originally posted the incorrect acreage). In November of 2012, the Forest Service approved RLK’s permit to build the park. In doing so, a USFS rep said he believes that mountain biking at Timberline, “represents yet another new opportunity for play in every season of the year.” An appeal of that decision made by an even larger coalition of environmental groups was denied back in March (it’s interesting to note that some groups on the original appeal have chosen not to join this new lawsuit).

In a statement (read full text below), Bark’s Lori Ann Burd said, “The fragile alpine soils at Timberline are the wrong place for a downhill lift-assisted mountain bike park.” Dennis Chaney with Friends of Mt. Hood referred to the project as an “adventure park” and said it would jeopardize Mt. Hood, “… by allowing high-speed downhill biking, races, and more development.”

The Sierra Club’s participation in the lawsuit, with their 580,000 members nationwide and 20,000 members in Oregon, is significant. They’re walking a very fine line given their history in working with mountain bike advocacy groups on national wilderness policy. In their “Park City Agreement” with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Sierra Club says they see mountain biking as, “a legitimate form of recreation and transportation on trails, including single track, when and where it is practiced in an environmentally sound and socially responsible manner.”

Image from Timberline Mountain Bike Park brochure.

In a statement about the lawsuit, Sierra Club Oregon Conservation Director Rhett Lawrence was careful to not say anything against mountain biking specifically. Their opposition has more to do with the USFS process and a general lack of trust that RLK/Timberline have been — and will be — good land stewards. In an email to BikePortland about the lawsuit, Lawrence explained that, “Though they may not believe it, we really do not have a problem with mountain biking at all. In fact, we would affirmatively support mountain bike access on Mt. Hood and we’d love to build allegiances with those folks, but we just don’t believe this is the proper place for this development.”

Portland resident Billie Cleek plans to end his Bark membership due to their continued opposition to this project. He contacted us after we shared news of this lawsuit via Twitter yesterday. Cleek is a frequent visitor to Mt. Hood for hiking, snowboarding, and mountain biking. He calls himself a “preservationist” and he wants to see more areas designated as wilderness (which prohibits mountain biking). But “Mt. Hood is not wilderness,” he says, “It’s a national forest.” As such, he thinks it should be used for recreation. “Seventeen miles of single track below one of the lifts at Timberline lodge is not much. Modern trail building techniques result in significantly less run-off than many people realize. The trail system at Sandy Ridge [a few miles down the mountain from Mt. Hood] is a great testament to our ability to build solid trail without significant run-off.”

“I have yet to see an explanation from Bark, Friends of Mount Hood, or Sierra Club that makes a strong case against the park; most arguments they are making seem to be based on faulty assumptions and/or fear. I’m more concerned about clear cuts, high grading, and ATV use throughout Mt. Hood National Forest than I am about a small mountain bike park in an already developed section of the mountain,” added Cleek.

For more coverage of this issue — including a guest article from Bark explaining their opposition in more detail — browse our Timberline MTB Park story archives.

UPDATE: 2:19 pm: The Executive Director of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association Kenji Sugahara has contacted Sierra Club leadership to express his “disappointment” with their decision. Read his email to Brian Pasko below:

Dear. Mr. Pasko,

On behalf of the 5,000+ members of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, I would like to let you know we are very disappointed
with the decision of Sierra Club to join in the lawsuit to stop Timberline Park.

As a progressive who has been a supporter of efforts by the Sierra Club to help the environment (coal trains etc), the lawsuit makes me question whether I should be supporting the Sierra Club. Most importantly the Sierra Club, by joining the lawsuit is damaging relationships that the Sierra Club should be looking to strengthen.

While I appreciate some of the concerns that were brought up by opponents, the work with IMBA ensures that trail building is done in
an environmentally conscious manner.

We request that you immediately withdraw from the lawsuit.

Sincerely,


Kenji Sugahara
Executive Director
Oregon Bicycle Racing Association
Phone: 503-278-5550
http://www.obra.org

UPDATE, 2:07 pm: In order to provide additional context to the positions of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, I have pasted the full text of their press release about it below:

Coalition Files Suit to Protect Fragile Alpine Meadows on Mt. Hood
Destructive Mountain Biking Expansion at Timberline Lodge Threatens Summer Recreation Opportunities, Fish and Wildlife in Sandy River’s Headwaters

May 16, 2013 — Today Crag Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of Friends of Mt. Hood, the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and Bark challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) decision to allow high-impact lift- assisted mountain biking that would harm fragile alpine habitat near Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. Over one million people visit Mt. Hood annually to climb, hike, ski, fish, bike, and play. Providing recreational opportunities and safeguarding our public land are at the core of the Forest Service’s mission, and the agency has an obligation to reject environmentally destructive development proposals.

“Mountain biking is growing in popularity and we support Forest Service efforts to provide environmentally-responsible, quality recreational opportunities for mountain bikers and other recreationists. However, the fragile alpine soils at Timberline are the wrong place for a downhill lift-assisted mountain bike park,” said Lori Ann Burd with Bark. “The Forest Service has failed to meet its responsibility to the public. Bark has worked with mountain bikers to encourage the Forest Service to convert unused logging roads into trails, but the Forest Service has failed to take action to seize these opportunities. Instead it has approved the construction of 17 miles of new trails in the sensitive headwaters of Still Creek and the West Fork of the Salmon River, leaving us no choice but to go to court to stop this development.”

The area around Timberline Lodge is cherished for summertime recreation such as wildflower viewing in the shadow of Mt. Hood. “Timberline Lodge in the summertime has always been a place to seek peace and quiet, and generations of families have treasured memories of hiking, picnicking, and sightseeing around Timberline,” said Dennis Chaney of Friends of Mt. Hood. “This project would jeopardize this beloved place by allowing high-speed downhill biking, races, and more development that will further degrade this fragile alpine environment. A National Historic Landmark and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail are not compatible with an adventure park.”

Marla Nelson of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC) noted: “NEDC opposes this project because it would harm trout, salmon, and the aquatic environment that supports them.” She stated that the project will also:

– Increase sediment in Still Creek and the West Fork of the Salmon River, undercutting the significant investment of time and money in restoring downstream trout and salmon habitat
– Convert vegetation into bare mineral soils and encourage the further spread of noxious weeds
– Disturb wildlife, including elk, which rely on these high alpine meadows during calving season

“Timberline’s master plan to build a new day lodge, a new parking lot, and this mountain bike park was accepted by the Forest Service without adequate consideration of the cumulative effects on this fragile alpine environment,” said Rhett Lawrence, Conservation Director with the Sierra Club. “Timberline has not been able to successfully restore the areas it has already damaged and any new construction would simply add to the area’s degradation. The Forest Service needs to engage the public in a meaningful discussion of how to provide for ecologically responsible recreation on our public land, instead of taking more risks with Mt. Hood.”

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Todd Hudson
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Todd Hudson

Wasn’t there some EIS work done, which determined that building this park wouldn’t adversely affect the environment?

It’s TWELVE acres.

This isn’t the first time that Sierra Club has opposed things based on emotional appeals rather than actual science. I’m very disappointed they are suing to stop this park.

9watts
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9watts

There seem to be conflicting interpretations of what this ‘park’ would entail, how destructive it would be if built. Not to mention what the alternative would entail that some of these organizations imply they’d prefer and/or support.

spencer
Guest
spencer

“I have yet to see an explanation from Bark, Friends of Mount Hood, or Sierra Club that makes a strong case against the park; most arguments they are making seem to be based on faulty assumptions and/or fear. I’m more concerned about clear cuts, high grading, and ATV use throughout Mt. Hood National Forest than I am about a small mountain bike park in an already developed section of the mountain,” added Cleek.

Couldnt have said it better myself. I’m a preservationist as well. The south slope of Hood below T line is already heavily developed and this would concentrate “moto style” riding to an already disturbed area, keeping said riders from going further into the wild areas.

I ski, hike, and mt bike in the Mt Hood national forest, and this is the right call to establish a concentrated use area. Lets stop the fear mongering and reduce some of the clear cutting and rampant road building that is being done for the logging industry.

Charley
Guest
Charley

When BARK and the Sierra Club spend their money and time trying to keep quiet, human powered recreation off of Mt Hood, they are diverting resources from the fight against the truly damaging resource extraction industries. Clear cutting, LNG pipelines, BPA powerlines and global warming are truly damaging. . .but mountain bike riders are a much easier target for lawsuits.

I’m all for judicious use of the National Forest lands under our care. This trail network would be just that. It is only animosity towards bikes and the people that ride them that have spurred these groups to oppose the trail system.

Can you think of *any* other time *any* of these groups have opposed building trails on National Forest lands? I can’t find any. It’s only the intended use that offends these groups. If it was ski trails (there are miles of them up there) or hiking trails (there are also miles of them up there), there wouldn’t be any outcry. Where’s the outrage over the miles of clear cut trails for cross country skiing at Teacup Lake Nordic? Where’s the outrage over miles of huge alpine clearcuts at Timberline or Mt Hood Meadows? If there’s outrage, I’ve never heard it.

Finally, I’m truly suspicious of the Sierra Club when they claim that they support mountain biking in other places in the Forest. The last big Wilderness bill closed dozens and dozens of miles of trails in the Forest to bike use. They lie when they claim that they “affirmatively support” mountain biking. Show me the money they’ve spent on support versus the money they’ve spent on locking us out of our lands. For crying out loud.

Laura
Guest
Laura

17 miles of lift assisted trails on 12 acres of land? you may want to check that acreage…

Psyfalcon
Guest
Psyfalcon

By definition, these are not alpine soils. South of the lodge you have big trees. Calling the area something that it is not for the emotional response is not the way to go.

takeaspin22
Guest
takeaspin22

I’m continuously amazed why environmental groups go out of their way to alienate non-hiking recreationalists. We all share the same philosophy of stewardship of the land. Why they want to go after their allies makes no sense to me.

I also have yet to hear an alternate proposal (besides “No Mountain Bike Park”) which would alleviate their concerns.

Babygorilla
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Babygorilla

These groups have consistently challenged any sort of expansion of the commercial ski areas on Mt. Hood. They had a huge fight a few years ago with Mt. Hood Meadows regarding the development plans for Cooper Spur.

Reading through the complaint, there is a backstory with the Timberline Lodge operator (they operate the ski area under a special permit from the forest service) and its future plans that likely factor into this lawsuit. The restoration efforts to offset the construction of most recent lift were wholly unsuccessful and Timberlines near term plans include construction of a new lodge building and an 800 space parking lot.

Burk
Guest
Burk

So, I don’t get how Sandy Ridge is o.k. & this isn’t. They both will be about the same size when completed, they both are in areas that drain into rivers, they both are bike specific.

DK
Guest
DK

“Sierra Club signs onto lawsuit to stop Timberline MTB Park”

…Of course they did. 🙁

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

They keep sending me solicitations in the mail. Definitely not going to join now.

Erinne
Guest
Erinne

Yet another reason to stop supporting Sierra Club. Between this, their anti-fluoride stance and their silence on the CRC, I’m done with them.

Erinne
Guest
Erinne

Does anyone have information on who is the best contact to express our displeasure at this (and other local matters)?

au naturel
Guest
au naturel

As a bicycling enthusiast (100,000 miles and counting) on and off road, I applaud the environmental groups pursuing this appeal. This forum doesn’t necessarily represent the interests of the entire bicycling community.

Zaphod
Guest

The Sierra club continues to miss the big picture. They have a cool name and logo. Their mission sounds good at first glance but they’re far too narrow minded for this big blue ball we share.

lil'stink
Guest
lil'stink

“We really don’t have a problem with mountain biking. We just don’t think anyone should be allowed to do it, anyhere, ever.” – Sierra Club

The selfish, exclusionist attitudes of the Sierra Club and others of their ilk have done an excellent job of alienating a group of people that have more in common with them than they seem to realize.

I keep my fingers crossed whenever I go to REI that a petition gatherer for BARK or the Sierra Club will be out front so I can reiterate to them why I will never support them.

danny
Guest
danny

So what makes Billy Cleek such an expert that his concerns about the lawsuit merit so much ink in this story? I’m generally a huge fan of Bike Portland, but I’m getting rather tired of the slanted reporting when it comes to mountain bike access. There are in fact be very legitimate arguments why more mountain bike access may be inconsistent with natural resource protection in places like Forest Park and near Timberline. It is too bad to see Bike Portland not-so-subtly slant its coverage of these issues toward mountain bike access.

And I’m a member of OBRA, but I’m not really a huge fan of this new development on Mt. Hood. So why can the OBRA Exec Director send a message opposing the lawsuit that purports to speak on behalf of all OBRA members?

Just because people love to ride bikes, including mountain bikes, doesn’t mean they believe that bikes need to have access to every place on the map.

Barney
Guest
Barney

A great big “Eff Ewe” to the Sierra Club, they are no friend to bikers, mountain or otherwise. I cancelled my membership years ago when they started to go off the rails!

Allison
Guest
Allison

I find environmentalist group in-fighting exhausting – we ride bikes *because* we’re environmentalists (at least partially).

If you’re not an environmental group based on science, you’re not help the real-life environment but some imaginary idea of the environment. That doesn’t help even one fuzzy bunny.

Part of what makes an environmentalist out of a regular person is being able to appreciate the natural beauty of the outdoors.

Also, the more we use already-developed areas of the mountain for recreation, the less we have reason to fight over the spaces that need to remain wilderness or be wilded.

Bobcycle
Guest
Bobcycle

The Democratic party does a heck of a lot that I don’t agree with, but I still vote Democratic. BARK does a lot of good to protect MT Hood and I am still going to support them. Sorry this issue is so divisive on so many fronts taking much of our collective energies off some much more pressing issues.

Bobcycle
Guest
Bobcycle

I guess I’ll take advantage of this good weather and just go out in the woods Mt Biking and try to clear my mind of all this turmoil. 🙂

NDL
Guest
NDL

Jonathan,

Your reporting is disappointing. The last paragraph of BARK’s press release is key to understanding what’s going on here–and you seem to ignore it.

The mountain bike park is one step in RLK’s larger plan to develop the undeveloped area between Timberline and Government Camp: building a new lift in 2007, expanding their permit area and adding biking trails now, building a second day lodge and a large parking lot in the near future, potential road expansions down the line. It should be obvious that, cumulatively, this development will have a huge impact; however, the Forest Service will only consider each step’s impact in isolation: the impact of the lift alone, the impact of the biking trails alone, the impact of the lodge alone, etc. Furthermore, it won’t engage in a meaningful, public conversation about the long-term fate of an area so many people care so much about.

The issue isn’t mountain biking. The issue is how the south side of Hood will be managed in the coming decades–to preserve public access and historical/ecological values, or for the exclusive economic benefit of a privately held corporation concerned with their bottom line?

I wish you could move past your apparently knee-jerk reactions (mountain bikes=good!) and provide some reporting that actually places this lawsuit in the context of a larger question: how, and for who’s benefit, our public lands should be managed?

Alex
Guest
Alex

My favorite part of the lawsuit: “The aesthetic, recreational, scientific, educational, and religious interests of Plaintiffs’ members have been and will be adversely affected and irreparably injured if defendants construct the downhill bike routes and skills park components of the Project.”

How does this affect the religious interests of these non-religious organizations? How does mountain biking take away from someone’s viewing of wildflowers? Should I really be that concerned if I offend someone’s sense of aesthetics? I think this statement accurately portrays the rest of the document. About 4/5 of the document can be ignored and is there to spread FUD.

The higher elevations, where there are actual meadows, doesn’t look like they will be touched. Here is a map of the proposed trails: http://www.timberlinelodge.com/wp-content/uploads/bike-trails-JUL12.jpg I also believe it goes directly against what the lawsuit claims: “A small portion of the new construction will occur in
disturbed areas that were developed with facilities for use in the winter months for skiing. ” It basically uses all of the same areas as those made for skiing – as you can see in the map.

Much of the lawsuit, if you haven’t read it, is complaining that the Forest Service hasn’t been meeting guidelines or following-through with previous proposals/promises. It really reads like a lawsuit more against RLK and the Forest Service in general than simply adding more MTB access and it does get emotional/steers away from environmental aspects quite frequently. A lot of what the lawsuit uses uncertainty as a validator, as well. The basic gist, that I got out of it, is to use delay tactics to stop moving forward based on less science and more aesthetic, recreational, educations and religious interests of the plaintiffs.

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

The allegations about the recreational, religious and aesthetic values are in every lawsuit by an environmental group on behalf of its members (or in such suits by individuals). It’s to meet the “standing” requirement to bring a citizen suit.

Part of the Forest Service’s legal requirement in these sorts of cases is to fully analyze the “cumulative effects” of a particular project so when the Forest Service bases its decision on promised remediation, and prior project remediation has been unsuccessful, it is relevant.

As far as this being a suit against RLK, sort of. They will intervene and defend in concert with the Forest Service.

humus
Guest
humus

You know folks the Forest Service did a study a few years back that says they need to get rid of 49% of the roads on Mt. Hood as they are damaging rivers and streams etc…
The Forest service just stopped implementing the removal of all these hundreds of miles of roads and i would suggest that mt. bike advocates may want to get involved and get them to restart this road removal and get them to turn a lot of these roads into free mt. bike trails.
With the advocacy of all the above commenters, the mt. bikers and other bike organizations as well as the enviro groups we could have tons more miles of bike trails that don’t damage the ecosystem.

Eddie
Guest
Eddie

in other news: “Big Bear Lake, CA – May 22, 2013) – Snow Summit will open this Saturday, May 25th with multiple activities including the Snow Summit Scenic Sky Chair, top-to-bottom hiking, biking trails … Gravity Logic, experts in bike park design and development, designed Snow Summit’s new advanced trail, “Miracle Mile.” The downhill trail features sweeping s-turns, 33 berms, six rollers, ten jumps and three wood features including a 30-foot bridge, diving board and berm. Snow Summit plans on opening at least three new trails in addition to existing trails with accessibility for all levels by the end of summer.”

sigh…

Andrew Eunson
Guest
Andrew Eunson

I went to Google Earth to get some perspective on this “wilderness” issue. Seems as though there is already a road to parking lots in the alpine area. And like every ski area I have been to, ski runs cut in the forest with gravel road access to lifts for maintenance. Seems to me by corralling the DH yahoos in a selected controlled area that it keeps the yahoos away from true wilderness. Not that DH riders are likely to push heavy bikes into wilderness areas any any number.