After finally opening last summer following years of major lawsuits and then facing impacts of a viral pandemic, Timberline Bike Park has had a rough first year.
But with snow clearing from upper sections and thanks to many hours of trail maintenance, the mountain is ready to welcome customers starting tomorrow, July 10th. It’s perfect timing for everyone itching to ride their new bike and bust out of their neighborhood quarantine rut
An announcement yesterday said four trails will be rideable during this phased opening: Gravy Train (long green, beginner/flow trail), Re-Align (blue intermediate machine built flow trail), The Rock (blue hand built intermediate trail), and Camino de Michoacán from Norm’s down (black advanced trail). Timberline says more trails will open within the next few weeks.
A plan to create a full-service, lift-assisted mountain bike park on the southwestern slope of Mt. Hood got a boost last week when United States District Court Judge Ann Aiken denied a motion by three nonprofit groups who aim to stop it.
Judge Aiken’s 21-page opinion (see it below) signed on March 31st denies a Motion for Reconsideration filed by four plaintiffs: Bark, Friends of Mount Hood, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and Sierra Club. The defendants on the case were the U.S. Forest Service, three regional forest staffers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The conservation groups have made several attempts to derail it through the courts and this is just the latest judgment to go against them.
As it stands, the project would build 17 miles of bike trails and a small skills park. When we first covered the park in 2010 we likened it to a major destination on the order of Whistler’s famous bike park. On a website (that has since been removed), Timberline said, “We see mountain biking as an integral part of our year-round recreation plan, and will treat this project as one of the primary pillars of our company’s future.”
Everything was going according to plan after the USFS issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” with their 2012 permit approval. Then in May 2013, several nonprofits filed a complaint seeking judicial review of that decision. The groups alleged that the USFS has failed in their duty to uphold the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and that more rigorous environmental analysis was required. In August 2013, a conservation group discovered the presence of Western bumblebees in the project area. USFS biologists analyzed that finding and determined the project, “may impact individual bees or habitat but will not likely contribute to a trend toward federal listing or loss of viability of the population or species.” Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs filed another lawsuit7 saying that the USFS failed to perform additional environmental analysis on bumblebee populations and on steelhead.
Sadowsky in June 2016. (Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)
Rob Sadowsky is the new executive director of Bark, a Portland-based nonprofit that works to protect and conserve the Mt. Hood National Forest.
It’s an interesting position for Sadowsky. While Bark supports some types mountain biking, they are co-plaintiffs (with Sierra Club) on a lawsuit to halt construction of the Timberline Mountain Bike Park (more on that below).
Bark was founded in 1993 and currently has eight staffers and an email list that goes out to around 30,000 people (they are not a membership-based organization).
As I mentioned above, Bark is fighting a plan by Timberline Lodge to create a lift-assisted mountain biking resort on Mt. Hood. In 2013 we published an op-ed in opposition to the project from Bark board member Amy Harwood. Final oral arguments on the lawsuit were just heard on Monday (it was Sadowsky’s first day on the job and he was in the courtroom) and a decision is expected within the next month or so.
Asked about his opinion on mountain biking on National Forest land in a FAQ just posted to Bark’s website, Sadowsky didn’t mention Timberline:
After over five years of court battles and exhaustive analysis of potential environmental impacts, the United States Forest Service is on the cusp of final approval of the Timberline Bike Park. The final piece of the process is to hear from the public whether or not to reopen the formal Environmental Analysis (EA) process — a move that would delay the project yet again.
If this feels like déjà vu that’s because the Forest Service already approved the permit four years ago. After determining that the proposal by Timberline Lodge for 17 miles of singletrack and a skills park on the western side of Mt. Hood was in compliance with federal environmental policy, the permit was granted and construction was poised to begin.
But a consortium of environmental groups weren’t convinced. Bark, one of the groups who oppose the Bike Park, says the trails will be built for “lift-assisted extreme mountain biking” that would take place in “fragile alpine habitat,” and “could erode sensitive volcanic soil, harm water quality and fish habitat, and dramatically chance the historic character,” of the area. They also contend the project will only benefit a private company and the lucky people wealthy enough to buy a ticket.
Images from a Timberline Mountain Bike Park brochure. A lawsuit has stalled that plan, but Mount Hood Meadows says biking is on the upswing regardless.
Fun in the snow remains huge on Mount Hood. But there’s growing consensus that the mountain’s future is likely to be elsewhere.
With average snowpack levels ebbing and mountain biking booming in popularity, Mount Hood Meadows is reorganizing its team to emphasize this new market, among others.
The company recently dropped “ski resort” from its official logo. On Monday, it followed that up with an announcement of that three new company vice presidents have been tasked with focusing on new facilities, programs and staff for year-round — that is, non-snow — recreation.
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.
Our story last week about a lawsuit against the Timberline Mountain Bike Park has sparked a lot of conversation. Several people commented and contacted me to express concerns that I failed to offer adequate context to the story. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups that have signed on as plaintiffs to the lawsuit, strongly maintain that their stance is not about bikes at all. Rather, they say their concerns are about the broader environmental impacts, the private developer that will construct the park, and a feeling that the U.S. Forest Service has not fulfilled its obligations within the public process around the project.
In our story last week, I included an email from Kenji Sugahara, the executive director of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, to Brian Pasko, the director of the Sierra Club’s Oregon chapter. In that email, Sugahara questioned the Sierra Club’s actions and requested their immediate withdrawal from the lawsuit. Today I want to share Pasko’s response to Sugahara because I it adds some important context to this debate (emphases mine):
“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).
Publisher’s note: We’ve covered the Timberline MTB Parkseveral times since the project became public in April 2010. Last week I was contacted by a member of Bark, a Mt. Hood Forest watchdog group working to stop the project. This guest article was written by Bark Board Member Amy Harwood (she also provided the photo below of Mt. Hood). —
This week lovers of Mt. Hood are stuck between a rock and a mountain of issues. On the one hand mountain bike enthusiasts are even closer to getting a world-class bike park on the slopes of one of America’s favorite peaks. On the other, the park is one of the best examples in recent history of how profit can rapidly trump concerns about the future of Mt. Hood’s wildlands.
Bark continues to stay engaged in efforts to stop the expansion, despite the risk of being swept onto an anti-bike blacklist. It’s worth stating why:
Image from Timberline Mountain Bike Park brochure.
When we last shared news about the Timberline Mountain Bike Park in November of 2012, the US Forest Service had approved a permit for the project and things were set to move forward. That permit was issued after an environmental analysis from the USFS lead to a “Finding of no significant impact” from the trails, roads and other development required to build a “world class” lift-assisted mountain bike riding area on Mt. Hood.
But after that permit was issued, two appeals were filed against the project. One came from a individual citizen and the other was a joint appeal from several outdoor and environmental groups including Friends of Mt. Hood, Bark, Mazamas, Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club.