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Injunction stops construction of new trails for Timberline MTB park

Posted by on June 26th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

It could be 2015 until anyone’s riding.

A coalition of environmental groups are claiming victory in a legal battle to stop the development of the proposed Timberline Mountain Bike Park on Mt. Hood.

Yesterday, a District Court approved an injunction against the project (PDF) that was filed earlier this month by four non-profit groups. Those groups — Bark, Friends of Mount Hood, Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club — have an ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service and RLK and Company (the operators of Timberline Lodge and the proposed bike park); but they filed the injunction to stop progress on the construction of 17 miles of mountain bike trails being proposed by RLK.

The injunction, expected to be made official today, states that, “RLK and Company have agreed to not proceed with the construction of the downhill mountain bike trails, skills park or related facilities and improvements until this Court has an opportunity to decide this case on the merits.”

RLK had intended to be a “full operation” by next summer; but now they won’t be able to even break ground on them until 2014. Or at least they hope.

At issue are allegations by environmental groups that RLK and the Forest Service have not done enough to safeguard Mt. Hood ecosystems against significant environmental degradation brought on by past ski-lift and other related developments, much less mitigate the impacts of the latest proposal. The groups are also concerned about RLK’s 2009 Timberline Conceptual Master Plan which calls for a new 15,000 square foot lodge and a new, 800-car parking lot that would boost Timberline’s parking capacity to 1,720 spaces.

This new parking lot and day lodge proposed by RLK and Company are key to the concerns of environmental groups.

Environmental groups have worked to stop this project since the Forest Service approved the development permit back in November. An appeal of that decision was denied back in March, yet they continued to make their case. Then in May, a lawsuit was filed on the grounds that soil runoff from the project would harm nearby creeks and that the Forest Service skirted public process in a hasty attempt to move the project forward.

For their part, RLK initially dismissed the lawsuit and stood behind the Forest Service’s denial of their appeals and previous “finding of no significant impact.” A May 17th statement on the Timberline MTB Park website declared that their proposal had undergone a, “rigorous environmental analysis by the USFS” and that it has been, “studied extensively through a 3 year process that included substantial input from the public, as well as State and Federal agencies.”

But environmental groups disagree. They say moving forward with construction of bike trails will harm nearby creeks that are breeding grounds for steelhead salmon and could threaten one of their primary food sources — the caddisfly. Ralph Bloemers, an attorney at Crag Law Center is representing the groups. He says RLK, which also operates the Timberline ski area, shouldn’t be allowed to move forward with the bike park park because the company, “hasn’t followed through on its promises to steward the land.”

Additionally, Bloemers and his clients accuse the Forest Service of engaging in a “results-driven process riddled with erroneous and unsupported assumptions regarding the project’s likely impacts on the natural environment.”

Amy Harwood, a board member of Bark, shared in a guest editorial on BikePortland back in March that, “The Timberline bike park is a corporate scheme to have more weeks of the year attracting cars to larger and larger parking areas that have been poured over our remaining wild creeks and meadows.”

With the injunction now official, Bloemers feels he and his clients have successfully called the bluff of RLK and the Forest Service. “When push came to shove,” Bloemers wrote in a press statement released yesterday (PDF), “RLK and the Forest Service caved and refused to defend their decision… The order grants the conservation groups the exact relief they sought in the motion.”

On the other side of the argument is Steve Kruse, the General Manager of Mountain Operations for Timberline Lodge. He filed a declaration with the court on May 29th defending the project’s environment review process as a “very thorough and successful effort to address all concerns and assure an environmentally benign project.” Kruse stated the project would boost the local economy, provide jobs, and improve Timberline’s recreational offerings, all “while avoiding riparian area degradation, minimizing potential sediment runoff to water bodies, and otherwise mitigating potential adverse effects.”

Kruse said planning for the bike park began in 2009 and that Timberline has already invested $427,000 in feasibility studies. Given that investment, Kruse wrote that “timely implementation of the project is essential” and that he’s, “gravely concerned about the potential delaying effect of the present lawsuit upon timely and orderly project implementation.”

Reached by phone today, Kruse said the restoration work they’ll start this summer will include road decommissioning and prep work for the bike trails that are key components of the project. “We’ll focus on those things until we win the lawsuit on its merits,” he said confidently. Kruse rejected the idea that his side had “caved” to anything. He said the Forest Service (his co-defendant) simply wasn’t able to get its argument together to fight it within the judge’s prescribed timeline. Kruse hoped there would be no need for an injunction given that RLK and the Forest Service said they’d be willing to “demonstrate good faith” to not break ground on the trails until the lawsuit was settled.

As for the timeline for this project, nothing is set in stone. However, in a rather ominous statement for mountain bike advocates, Sierra Club of Oregon Conservation Director Rhett Lawrence said,

“We asked that the restoration move forward so the public could have an opportunity to field verify numerous scientifically controversial claims. Given our knowledge of the challenges of restoration on Mt. Hood, we expect it will be many years, if not a decade, before Timberline has actually achieved its restoration goals.”

While the restoration projects move forward, both sides will try and convince each other —and the public — that their science and environmental analysis can be trusted.

Ultimately, Crag Law Center’s Ralph Bloemers says he and his clients have nothing against downhill mountain biking. “We here at Crag love all things bike,” he wrote in a press release. Instead, he feels this case is about the future of Mt. Hood and, “whether the Forest Service can allow a developer to strategically piecemeal its development plans to avoid public involvement and a hard look at the true effects of development on the mountain.”

Read our past coverage for more on this story.

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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Bjorn
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Bjorn

How would BARK feel if people worked as hard to deny them their preferred usage of the forest as they work to deny mountain bike access in the National Forest. We could find out by bringing air horns and Vuvuzelas along on their bird watching trip July 14th.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

Bark and their ilk want to kick everyone out of the Cascades, except for hikers. At the same time, they claim they support mountain biking – even though they’ve never supported a single mountain bike project in the past.

Bark can go to hell.

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

I think it’s great that this issue is getting additional scrutiny and time in the courts before construction begins! And, maybe the focus on giant parking lots and cars could get the MTB park developers (and maybe even the ski resorts??) to offer bus service to their patrons. Wouldn’t it be nice if after a long day on the slopes or trails you could just relax in a bus back to the Portland area? Maybe in the future such bus service could even be included in the price of a lift ticket or heavily subsidized….

Alex
Guest
Alex

Hopefully these “environmental” groups will support more local mountain biking and push to open up Forest Park so we don’t have to drive to ride mountain bikes.

This is just one more stall tactic by these groups. I wish they would work with people that are just as concerned about the environment instead of using us as a scapegoat to accomplish their goals. It wins them no new friends.

fred
Guest
fred

The Sierra Club does have policies that seem to have been worked through with the IMBA:

http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/mtnbike.aspx

davemess
Guest
davemess

Yet again I am shocked at the level of mountain bike unfriendliness that the Portland area/OR is showing. It’s laughable to people from such ecological wastelands as Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and B.C. (all places that actually see some value in mountain biking).

BURR
Guest
BURR

I have mixed feelings about this. While I agree that there seems to be a distinct lack of quality MTB opportunities in the PDX area, and a lot of unnecessary NIMBY opposition to reasonable proposals, the questions about the associated development of the lodge and parking areas seem legitimate to me. Not so much, however, the issue of mitigation for the previous ski lift construction; that seems more like a way to keep this project hostage, sort of like the North Portland community opposing the Williams bike lanes because of past racial injustices.

Robholio
Guest
Robholio

It has far less to do with the environment than it does with old versus new. The hippy baby-boomers are losing their hold on local politics, and this is just one more way for them to get their jabs in before they die off. Just like Washington Park and Forest Park; people that scream about the local ecosystem, yet know zero about sustainability, drainage, trail construction, or the significant demographic they smugly choose to alienate. Time is on our side, not theirs.

Be professional, yet be persistent. You can’t stop evolution, folks.

Eddie
Guest
Eddie

I just posted a complaint at http://www.rei.com/helpContacts#email_tab about the BARK soliciting and harassment that goes on outside their Portland store.

trailrider
Guest
trailrider

Well, at least they’ve come clean about the real reason for their opposition to the park. Altough they may have issues with the bike park itself, the larger agenda is to hold up implementation of the master plan, which includes a new lodge and parking lot. Previous editorials by BARK and Brian Pasko from Sierra Club posted on this blog were not forthcoming about this. If these two groups are to engage with one another and work towards real change, they have to both be honest about their agendas, and the real, measurable impacts from their respective activities.

jamie minshall
Guest
jamie minshall

Looks like I’m just gonna have to keep driving past mt hood to spend my money in bend… Oh where there was no opposition to a bike park.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

If an 800 space parking lot were proposed for down town Portland this crowd would be screaming bloody murder. From an environmental standpoint this really a concern. More than 160,000 sf (3.6 ac.) of pavement. That is impervious surface in an area likely to get 4″ rainfall in a 24 hour event every year. That equates to 53,440 cubic feet of water or almost 400,000 gallons of water not infiltrating, but running off the pavement in flashy events that are known to erode channels. On top of that the rigs that many Portlander’s drive, older cars that leak oil will leave their pollution on that parking lot to be rinsed off into the mountain’s watershed.

The issue is real and of significant concern. The erosion loads streams with sediment and degrades salmon (a federally listed species) habitat. and the pollution dripping onto the pavement likewise degrades salmon habitat. For Mt. Bikers this seems to be no matter, so long as they get their adrenaline fix.

And don’t respond that this downhill ride park is about communing with nature, It is about going fast, riding the lift back up the hill and doing it again.

Red Hippie
Guest
Red Hippie

Ok folks, Breath!

Here is my experience with Ralph. If it wasn’t for him and BARK there would be two 18 hole golf course plus hundreds of homes and condos built in the Tilly Jane area by Mout Hood Meadows. Private land all around the forest service land mean no public access and pay to play. He helped to push a land swap to protect that side of the mountain. Every thime I ride the Tilly Jane trail or back country ski, I thank Ralph.

Now, when thinking about MTB at timber line, you have to remember that the ecology there is pretty different than that of a place like sandy ridge. The soils are lot more prone to erosion and given the amount of time under snow take a lot longer to recover. The trails can probably be built in a way to minimize this, but it is going to be a more invovled prospect. There is also the consideration of the increase in the number of people that will be attracted to the area. We are used to having a few thousand people up there running around when there is 4 feet of snow to protect the soils. Different story in the summer. We really need to take our time and do this right people or we are going to cause degradations that will take generations to repair.

Finally, part of the mast plan of these ammenaties is to attract people to the realestate being offered by the same management groups. That is where the money is in ski resorts. Lift tickets only cover the operating costs, the profit is in the condo at the bottom of the hill. I suspect this injuction isn’t just about keeping us off of our bikes. Rather, it is about the development of the whole area and how it is managed.

jae
Guest

The Mountain Express will provide reasonably-priced access to the mountain, and include accommodation for mountain bikes in summer and winter rec gear during the appropriate months. This is definitely a step in the right direction toward minimizing vehicular traffic on 26.

matt f
Guest
matt f

I’m an avid mtn biker but I have mixed feelings about this particular project. I mean I ride a hardtail with 100mm of front travel. I would probably never ride these new trails unless I rented a big bike. Sandy Ridge is fun but what I really love is long single track trials like Surveyors Ridge.

It would be nice if BARK and the Sierra Club put their money where their mouth is and teamed up with NWTA to help gain more mtn bike access to existing trails (or new cross country trails) that don’t require a new lodge and parking lot. Unfortunately history has shown so far that they are not interested in doing this either despite their what they say.

JonathanR
Guest
JonathanR

It’s worth pointing out that the injunction was stipulated. In other words, no judge heard the facts and decided in favor of the Plaintiffs; instead, the defendants just agreed to postpone their planned actions.

Red Hippie
Guest
Red Hippie

On the upper part of the Timberline ski area, there is fundamentally a different type of soil conditions than with the lower elevations or at whistler or in the Rockies. Mt Hood is a composite cone volcano which is essentially alternating layers of semi-consolidated cinders and lava flows. Think about riding the Plains of Abraham and the Smith creek drainage and how loose things can be. As long as you don’t have too steep of a gradient it packs down ok, but any serious gradients without major reinforcement or armoring will result in massive erosion. I would suspect that whistler’s soild types and geology are less susceptible to this, but they still have large areas of elevated boardwalks to ride over more sensitive areas and prevent erosion. I’m not advocating not building trails on Hood, but the trails should be a lot more cross country in character and developed (therefore costly) to protect the loose soils and prevent cutting off of the trails.

CR
Guest
CR

“That is where the money is in ski resorts. Lift tickets only cover the operating costs, the profit is in the condo at the bottom of the hill.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth and has proven the near demise of many-a “ski resort” company. Nonetheless, a very convincing end to your original comment.

007
Guest
007

Frankly, I am disgusted by the exhaust fumes on Mt Hood in the winter and by the smog that obscures the Mtn and the gorge. The environment which includes the whole ecosystem is more worthy than anyone’s weekend thrills. Wake up and smell the fumes. Im a 365 days a year bike commuter and Bark and Sierra Club supporter.

VTRC
Guest
VTRC

I’d feel a lot more positively about this if Bark and the Sierra Club were advocating opportunities to ride singletrack locally in Forest Park, or helping with the trail sharing movement. It feels like the kneejerk response to wanting to share trails like the PCT is “no, build your own trails”, and then the opportunities to do that get shot down over and over.

Rick
Guest
Rick

It seems like the issue is more about a threat to unique natural resources, the developers demonstrated track record of not following through with stewardship commitments and concealing its full plans, and the Forest Service’s failure (alleged) to follow the law and its own policies. Based on that, the criticism about lack of support for mtn biking don’t resonate with me in this case. I expect all recreation development to occur in accordance with the law – whether its new lifts, a commercial mtn bike park, or new hiking trails. Doesn’t look like mtn. biking is a victim here. If anyone is to blame, its the developer and the Forest Service, not the conservation groups taking a principled stand on a controversial issue.

Dennis Chaney
Guest
Dennis Chaney

First of all, Jonathan is doing a very good job of objective reporting, and he deserves a big thank you from everyone for the service he does for the community. In a nutshell, this controversy is about the misuse of a specific piece of public land. The lawsuit is not an attack on mountain biking in general or even the subcategory of gravity flow riding. The groups allied in the lawsuit are not anti-biking or anti-any specialized form of riding. Most of the individuals involved in these groups are the strongest bike proponents you will ever meet, and it is a fact that Bark and the Sierra Club have a long history of bike advocacy.

It is a fact that these groups have not opposed a single current bike park: Sandy Ridge, Ski Bowl, Post Canyon, Black Rock, Stub Stewart, Willamette Pass, and more. They did not oppose the Gravity Logic-designed park that is coming to Bachelor.
http://www.bendsource.com/bend/following-whistlers-footsteps/Content?oid=2227170
But what they do oppose is this attempt to place a gravity park in the watershed of the headwaters of the Sandy River basin, and next to a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic and Scenic Trail.

We all know the three cardinal rules of real estate, and they also apply to bike parks: location, location, and location. The truth is that these parks have real consequences on the land and this has to be of primary importance. It’s time for a reality check. Shouldn’t protecting this one piece of alpine heaven have precedence over the thrill of the ride or the sound of the cash register? There are other locations to be used that are not historic landmarks or in fragile watersheds.

Based on the postings to the recent story about the injunction and postponement for another year, it is clear that many have been doing their homework. There is more to the lawsuit than just the bike park. It is important to understand that the Forest Service has been rubber stamping this proposal through the administrative process. It is only now that the proposal is in the courts that there will be an objective hearing of the facts.

Unfortunately, there are always bomb throwers who try to sway people with “Us vs. Them” or NIMBY or some other divisive rhetoric instead of allowing people to know the facts. Don’t be suckered. Please educate yourself on the facts; everything can be found on the web. A place to start might be the website of the Friends of Mount Hood. Everything is assembled there, including all the scientific analyses.
http://www.friendsofmounthood.org/fmh.htm

Once you have learned the facts you may very well be surprised that there is much more common ground here than you imagined.

davemess
Guest
davemess

BikePortland must have really made it when the lawyers are coming out now!

Dennis Chaney
Guest
Dennis Chaney

Come on, Eddie, you know you didn’t hear that.
One of the issues raised in the lawsuit is that the FS refused to consider the viability of any other locations for a bike park in the Mt. Hood National Forest. In the initial scoping comments submitted by FOMH we specifically asked that they broaden the review.

The FOMH tries to analyse all proposals relevant to our mission statement that are submitted to the FS and to comment on behalf of the public. At this time we are not aware of any proposals made by Ski Bowl.

We have made an offer to the FS to have discussions about possible locations suitable for bike parks, but as of now we have not received a response. Any discussions in that regard would have to include the FS and the stake holders.

My closing comment you are referring to is related to the fact that the FS will not allow the public to participate in long range planning for the future uses of public land on Mount Hood. It is too bad that we are in court rather than having meaningful public discussions similar to what I raised about Ski Bowl.

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Phyllis
Guest
Phyllis

The migration routes of elk and the habitat of countless other nonhuman species that depend for their very existence on relatively undisturbed forest land will be severely impacted by racing bikers complete with loud vocalizations as they rush headlong through the forest and over the ugly structures built to enhance the thrill.
What a terrible price other life must pay for the adrenaline rush demanded by a few humans.
What a selfish species we can be.

Scott Mizée
Guest

Do we have any updates on this?