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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12, 2017
Life in the
ZACH URNESS / STATESMAN JOURNAL
Three Pools Recreation Site is seen on a fairly slow day in summer. Under new proposed rules, alcohol would be banned at the site.
Eight things to know about
proposed recreation rules
Forest Service aims to address crowding, drunken behavior
U.S. Forest Service officials an-
nounced the first step toward address-
ing overcrowding and drunken behavior
at some of Oregon’s most iconic outdoor
Officials laid out a series of new rules
and regulations for Three Pools Recrea-
tion Site, Opal Creek Trail, Elk Lake and
Breitenbush River east of Salem.
The goal is to provide relief for places
impacted by large crowds, drunken be-
havior and damage to the natural envi-
ronment. Now they want the public’s in-
“We’re trying the least-restrictive
management techniques to start,” said
Josh Weathers, developed recreation
manager for Willamette National Forest.
“We still want people to come up and en-
joy these places, but we want to encour-
age more responsible use and stop
places from being ‘loved to death.’”
A story on the proposed rules ap-
peared on the front page of the States-
man Journal’s March 28 edition, but
many readers had questions about the
details and queries such as “who will en-
force these rules?” and “why is my favor-
ite place suddenly so crowded?”
Here are a few answers.
What are the rules, in a nutshell?
Three Pools: Alcohol would be
banned and only people parking in the
site’s 94-space lot would be allowed into
the popular swimming holes northeast of
Opal Creek Trail: Campfires would be
banned at most backpacking campsites
along Opal Creek Trail, near Jawbone
Flats and up Kopetski Trail. Parking
would be limited to a quarter mile down
Forest Service Road 2209 from the Opal
Creek Gate Trailhead.
Elk Lake, Breitenbush River, French
Creek, Blowout Creek: Dispersed
camping — user-created sites not part of
an official campground — would be ille-
gal for larger area along roads that ac-
cess these waterbodies.
Why these type of rules?
The Forest Service is basically look-
ing for a middle way to deal with overuse
and bad behavior.
Instead of limiting crowds with a per-
mit system — or capping the number of
visitors allowed — they propose limiting
parking spaces. They hope it achieves
the same goal.
The ban on alcohol has worked well at
other popular sites, such as Terwilliger
Hot Springs and the Clackamas River
corridor, Weathers said.
Getting rid of about 50 to 60 of the
most problematic dispersed campsites
— especially in popular recreation corri-
dors like Breitenbush River near Detroit
— helps encourage day use while still
leaving open vast swaths of Willamette
National Forest for dispersed camping,
What would the penalty of
breaking the rules be?
Violating the alcohol ban: $200
Violating the campfire ban: $250
Violating dispersed camping ban:
Violating parking rules: $50
Each fine would also carry a $35 proc-
Who would enforce the rules?
Willamette National Forest has 10
rangers who can issue citations but who
are not armed. It has two officers who
are armed and are trained for more con-
The Forest Service also has relation-
ships with deputies from the Marion
County Sheriff’s Office who can assist,
especially in the Three Pools and Opal
“We have a deputy that patrols the Lit-
tle North Santiam canyon, and if they
called for help, we would assist the best
we were able,” said Lt. Chris Baldridge
of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
“We also have intergovernmental agree-
ments where we’re able to enforce the
rules of a (federal) agency. In this case,
we would take a look at it if they pro-
Weathers said the Forest Service
would seek that type of intergovernmen-
tal agreement if the rules are approved.
Meaning, there’s a chance county depu-
ties could enforce Forest Service rules.
How can I make my voice heard?
You can make a comment that the For-
est Service will consider in shaping
these rules at https://cara.ecosystem-
?project=51339. The deadline for making
a comment is April 14.
If approved, when would these
new rules go into effect?
STATESMAN JOURNAL FILE
Opal Creek Trail passes Jawbones Flats, which was built in the 1930s and was an old mining
town. Under new proposed rules, campfires would be banned at most backpacking campsites
along Opal Creek Trail, near Jawbone Flats and up Kopetski Trail.
They would be in place this summer,
likely beginning Memorial Day — May
29. A decision is likely by May 1.
How bad is the problem?
That depends on how you view it. In
winter, and during much of late autumn
and spring, crowds are sparse.
During the height of summer, from
mid-June to mid-August, it’s a different
story. Hot summer days bring hundreds
of people to Three Pools, a relatively
small area. Opal Creek has the same
problem. Both sites have seen drug use,
heavy drinking and irresponsible camp-
ing, officials said.
The main problem at dispersed camp-
sites along Breitenbush and the other
rivers and creeks is human waste wash-
ing into streams and damage to vegeta-
tion. Those sites also discourage day-use
visitors, Weathers said.
“As our beautiful forest becomes
more popular, we find there are a few lo-
cations that are not able to withstand the
impacts from visitors,” District Ranger
Grady McMahan said. “In addition to lit-
ter and human waste, irresponsible
drinking is a problem at Three Pools Day
Use Area, specifically. We want all peo-
ple to feel welcome to come enjoy their
forest; that means asking everyone to be-
have considerately of others and the
What’s causing the increase in
Population growth in the Willamette
Valley, unusually hot summers and lots
of attention from social media and tradi-
tional media outlets have created a per-
fect storm for places like Three Pools
and Opal Creek.
Weathers said visitors frequently
travel from Portland’s metro area to visit
Three Pools and Opal Creek, inspired by
“best swimming holes” lists posted by
media companies and spread through so-
cial media. The social media website In-
stagram, in particular, has driven people
to the Little North Fork canyon seeking
pictures to post.
The Statesman Journal, along with
The Oregonian, Willamette Week, Out-
door Project, OnlyInYourState.com and
countless magazines and websites have
all featured stories about recreating at
Three Pools and Opal Creek. The in-
crease in visitors to outdoor destina-
tions, in Oregon and the West, has been a
well-documented trend spanning state
parks, national parks and federal lands.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors
writer, photographer and videographer
in Oregon for eight years. He is the author
of the book “Hiking Southern Oregon”
(503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at