4A | WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2022 | APPEAL TRIBUNE Dry Continued from Page 1A Oregon winters, but this year’s has last- ed an unusually long time — almost four weeks — has dashed hopes for a major rebound from the years-long drought the state has faced. After a major inﬂux of snow and rain in late December and early January, the water has almost completely turned oﬀ, leaving a decent situation in the north- ern half of the state but only deepening the drought in the south, central and eastern parts of the state. “In terms of rainfall and snowpack, northern Oregon looks pretty good — we’ll probably be OK,” Oregon state cli- matologist Larry O’Neill said. “But it’s pretty bad almost everywhere else. The most concerning thing is that southern and eastern Oregon, who now have multiple years of historically dry weather, are seeing even more.” The situation is particularly unfortu- nate in places like the Klamath Basin, which still sits under extreme drought and badly needs a good water year. “Seven counties in Oregon had their lowest precipitation on record last year. Another ﬁve had top 5 lowest rainfall totals. And now, in the wettest time of the year, it’s turning out to be very dry,” O’Neill said. Long-lasting high-pressure systems Outdoors Continued from Page 1A that includes parks with limited sewer, trash, parking and camping infrastruc- ture. “It has been something of a shock to the system.” Extreme weather pushes people to Oregon Coast The best metric for measuring recre- ation numbers comes from Oregon’s state parks system, which measures visits at over 180 recreation sites state- wide and 60 campgrounds in every cor- ner of the state. In 2021, those parks recorded an esti- mated 53.6 million day-visits, smashing the previous record of 51.7 million in 2016. In addition, the number of camper nights — the number of people who stay overnight at campsites — also set a rec- ord at 3.02 million, breaking the 2019 record of 2.9 million. The biggest uptick was at the Oregon Coast, which recorded 31.4 million visits — almost 2 million higher than any pre- vious year. Fueled by record-setting heat and wildﬁre smoke that plagued the rest of the state, the Coast was cool and smoke-free, oﬀering a welcome es- cape for overheated valley dwellers. Other parts of the state — the Wil- lamette Valley, Central Oregon and East- ern Oregon — had recreation visits at near record levels, but also saw slight late summer declines amid the heat and smoke. Central Oregon, for example, likely saw close to record visits overall, but saw the biggest uptick in winter rather than summer, as the region experienced a record number of days with unhealthy air quality. “Our summer use was slightly down from 2020 — although still much higher than any year prior to 2020,” said Jean Nelson-Dean, spokeswoman for Des- chutes National Forest near Bend. “But our winter use increased (to record lev- els).” A pair of bald eagles perch in a tree near Skinner Butte in Eugene on an unseasonably warm and clear February day in the Willamette Valley. CHRIS PIETSCH/THE REGISTER-GUARD have been a plague for Oregon in recent years, fueling some of the state’s worst droughts and setting the stage for drier and hotter summers by sapping the soil of its moisture and limiting snow in the mountains. O’Neill said he suspects climate change plays a role in what “feels” like more frequent and longer-lasting high- pressure ridges, but there isn’t any spe- ciﬁc research pointing toward it at this time. “These ridges are a big deal but right now the research is inconclusive,” he search and rescue coordinator Scott Lu- cas, who noted Oregon had more res- cues than more populated recreation states such as Colorado and Arizona. (See year-by-year breakdown of res- cues at bottom of story). The most common activity that re- quired a rescue was hiking, which brought 70% of rescues. The number of fatal accidents while boating, which spiked to 27 in 2020, was down to 19 in 2021. That’s still above the long-term average of 14 deaths per year, according to the Oregon State Ma- rine Board. keting of these same handful of places,” Collier added. “And those places get hammered. People go where they see on the Internet, and that tends to be the same places everybody wants to go.” Raw numbers: Oregon state parks visitation, search and rescue Dispersed camping more popular, but brings issues 2021: 53,656,533 visits With some campgrounds packed, however, federal land managers have seen an uptick in dispersed camping — putting up a tent oﬀ a national forest road in unoﬃcial but legal locations — by people who are not well-equipped for it. “A lot of people who are used to dumping in a toilet and throwing used batteries into the trash at a state camp- ground are being pushed into the back- woods,” Howe said. “They don’t show up with sealed ﬁve-gallon buckets or waste bags. They poop in the streams and throw the batteries on the ground. That’s been concerning to see.” 2019: 49,907,706 Fewer places to go due to wildﬁre closures 2008: 38,880,032 Part of the issue in 2021 was massive wildﬁre closures limited some of the places that would traditionally absorb campers, hikers and boaters. An area between Estacada and the Clackamas River corridor, all the way over through the Opal Creek and Mount Jeﬀerson area — around 500,000 acres at least — remained closed or limited last summer following the 2020 Labor Day Fires. Those closures are likely to stay in place, for the most part, next summer. 2006: 40,295,626 Campsites difficult to get, but adding more not easy One of the most obvious conse- quences of the record visits was that campsites were harder than ever to re- serve. State park campgrounds were fre- quently 70 to 80 percent of capacity — meaning almost every site was taken on weekends, Havel said. And in the sum- mer, many coastal campsites were 90 to 95 percent of capacity, meaning only a smattering of single-night campsites could be grabbed. State parks is spending $50 million in state bonds to expand camping, but it’s not always where the highest de- mand is, Havel said. “We know that we have a capacity problem, especially on the Coast,” Havel said. “The thing is, we don’t have the au- thority to simply bulldoze the trees and build new camping loops. Land use laws don’t allow it and communities also must be part of the process. We are ex- panding in the Willamette Valley and east of the Cascades, but expanding any park takes time.” Parks oﬃcials have made small changes to spread out use and bring in more revenue. The price for RV campers from out of state will increase next sum- mer, for example. And parks has tried discounts on less popular campgrounds and increased prices on busier ones. “Early data shows discounts do oﬀer some encouragement for people to choose a lesser-known park over a big- ger, more popular one,” Havel said. Winter recreation up as well Indeed, winter recreation has seen a major increase the past two winters, with ski resorts and sno-parks around Mount Hood, Santiam Pass and Wil- lamette Pass seeing packed weekends. Some ski areas even began limiting the number of lift tickets they sell. “I’ve never seen crowds like this year — it was just totally over the top,” Shel- ley Hakanson, owner of Wy’East Nor- dic, a cross-country ski school on Mount Hood, told the Statesman Jour- nal in March. “Cars were parked for miles down both sides of the highway. There was people just jumping into the road. Some families were so desperate they went sledding down the cut-banks of the highway and into the ditch. “It was insane.” Not every park saw record crowds in Oregon. Crater Lake National Park actu- ally saw a drop in visits, along with Ore- gon’s national monuments, due to a number of factors, including indoor and recreation facilities that didn’t fully open in 2021 due to the pandemic. Impact: Search and rescue, boating deaths remain high With more people outdoors, there are naturally more accidents and that was true in 2021, although not at a record pace. The number of search and rescue missions climbed to 1,082 missions, the third-highest behind 2019 (1,212 mis- sions) and 2020 (1,128 missions). Ore- gon has one of the highest numbers of rescue missions in the nation, said state said. “It does seem as though it has happened more often over the past 5 to 10 years but nobody has the numbers to say speciﬁcally that it’s one way or the other.” The good news is that Oregon will still have the chance for more rain and snow throughout late February, March and April. “There is a chance for some precip- itation this coming Monday and Tues- day,” NWS hydrologist Andy Bryant said. “There’s no sign of a complete pat- tern shift that would start letting in a lot of storms, but we’re only able to look about a week out.” Long-term, O’Neill said, the weather appears to be a roll of the dice over whether Oregon will see signiﬁcant precipitation, but after such a dry few weeks, it has suddenly become a more urgent issue. “If we have another dry spring — on top of this dry stretch of winter — that just doesn’t bode well for the summer,” he said. Zach Urness has been an outdoors re- porter in Oregon for 15 years and is host of the Explore Oregon Podcast. To sup- port his work, subscribe to the States- man Journal. Urness is the author of “Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon” and “Hiking South- ern Oregon.” He can be reached at zur- ness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors. Online reservation systems lead to snapping up sites On federal lands — such as U.S. For- est Service sites — the problem is just as pronounced. In Central Oregon, just about every campsite in Deschutes Na- tional Forest was snapped up by May last year, Nelson-Dean said. One frustration has been that with many campgrounds moving reserva- tions to Recreation.gov — the one-stop- shop for federal public land reservations — people are hoarding campsites even when they don’t use them. “You’ve got people huddling around their laptops at midnight six months be- fore a reservation instead of keeping an eye on the weather and taking sponta- neous respites into nature that once made living in Oregon so special,” said Gabe Howe, executive director of the Siskyou Mountain Club in Southern Oregon. “More spaces should be held for ﬁrst-come, ﬁrst-serve campers. That way Oregonians can carry on the tradi- tion of packing up the family and getting away from it all when we need to.” Zach Collier, owner of Hood River- based Northwest Rafting Company, said that ﬁlling campsites was a good thing and that there were plenty of spaces to be found if you looked hard enough. “In the past, campgrounds weren’t full, so the fact that they’re getting used now is a good thing,” Collier said. “And there are a lot of campgrounds nobody uses. They’re a little oﬀ the beaten path and maybe don’t have RV hookups, but there are plenty of campsites out there. “I just think we have too much mar- Travel Oregon toes line between encouraging tourism spending and overcrowding Jaime Eder said Oregon’s tourism bu- reau walks a ﬁne line between encour- aging visitors who support local econo- mies and not overwhelming areas with too many people. “That’s the big thing we’re doing now, ﬁnding that balance, because so many communities rely on visitation,” she said. She said this past spring, they geo- tagged social media ads that focus on high use areas and tailored messages about going early or picking alternative places. “For example, if you were in Bend, you might get something about ‘Rather than going to Smith Rock, have you tried X, Y or Z as an alternative,’” she said. “Our social media channels are the best way to get ahead of visitation so that people are informed before they go.” As Travel Oregon puts together its 10- year plan, one of the main things they’re working toward is creating a model of sustainable tourism. ‘This is a good thing’ While it’s easy to get frustrated by crowds, Collier stressed that more peo- ple outdoors brings lots of positives. “We’re seeing more diverse popula- tions outdoors in terms of age, gender, income,” he said. “It’s a good thing. It builds up our recreation economy, sup- ports funding for world-class parks and creates more people who care about these places and how to protect them.” The trick, Havel said, is just doing it better — getting the infrastructure to catch up to the number of people de- manding it. “It could be the beginning of some- thing terriﬁc,” Havel said. “But we have to do more planning and provide better options, including recreation closer to where people live. Right now we’ve been kind of just tripping from one season to the next, trying to keep up. The opportu- nity is there, but we’re not quite there yet.” Oregon state parks day-use 2020*: 42,912,868 2018: 51,288,043 2017: 50,772,895 2016: 51,716,729 2015: 48,471,330 2014: 45,510,297 2013: 43,733,985 2012: 41,917,175 2011: 39,762,608 2010: 41,498,739 2009: 41,952,843 2007: 41,499,240 2005: 40,077,029 2004: 41,778,009 2003: 39,514,980 2002: 38,551,864 Oregon state parks camping nights 2021: 3,026,756 2020*: 1,931,828 2019: 2,953,537 2018: 2,891,665 2017: 2,788,358 2016: 2,741,578 2015: 2,590,942 2014: 2,491,805 2013: 2,411,954 2012: 2,319,078 2011: 2,307,741 2010: 2,410,817 2009: 2,515,652 2008: 2,327,464 2007: 2,362,409 2006: 2,305,651 2005: 2,318,074 2004: 2,381,379 2003: 2,383,534 2002: 2,380,911 Search and rescue missions 2021: 1082 2020: 1128 2019: 1212 2018: 882 2017: 1037 2016: 1013 2015: 793 2014: 886 2013: 887 2012: 920 *Numbers smaller due to COVID shutdown of state parks and most public lands Zach Urness has been an outdoors re- porter in Oregon for 15 years and is host of the Explore Oregon Podcast. To sup- port his work, subscribe to the States- man Journal. Urness can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.