Appeal tribune. (Silverton, Or.) 1999-current, February 16, 2022, Page 4, Image 4

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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 influx 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 five 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
Continued from Page 1A
that includes parks with limited sewer,
trash, parking and camping infrastruc-
“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 wildfire smoke that plagued
the rest of the state, the Coast was cool
and smoke-free, offering 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
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-
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.
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
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-
cific research pointing toward it at this
“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 unofficial but legal locations —
by people who are not well-equipped for
“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 five-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 wildfire
2008: 38,880,032
Part of the issue in 2021 was massive
wildfire 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
Jefferson 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-
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 officials 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 offer
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
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 specifically that it’s one way or the
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 significant
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- or (503)
399-6801. Find him on Twitter at
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 — 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
first-come, first-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 filling 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
Jaime Eder said Oregon’s tourism bu-
reau walks a fine 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,
finding that balance, because so many
communities rely on visitation,” she
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
“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 terrific,” 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
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
(503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at