Umpqua Post/Deborah Yates
Douglas County sheriff’s deputy Nick Hansen rides his ATV on one of the many trails that wind through the dunes south of Winchester Bay. The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to close 103 miles of riding trails on the dunes between Florence and Coos Bay.

By Deborah Yates and Lori Newman, The Umpqua Post

Thousands of recreationists are furious over a proposal to close more than 100 miles of trails in the sand dunes between Florence and Coos Bay.

At this point, however, it is only a proposal, and not a policy.

After meeting with a working group made up of multi-use stakeholders for well over a year, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to change where all-terrain vehicles and other off-highway vehicles can go in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Part of the proposed changes will give ATV riders an additional 10 routes, nine of which already exist, between open sand areas.

This will give riders 3.96 more miles of trails. The Forest Service will then close 103 miles of unauthorized user-developed routes, primarily in the Florence and Coos Bay areas, allowing the trails eventually to fill in with vegetation.

Other proposed changes include moving boundaries between management areas, giving riders more access to some European beachgrass-covered dunes.

Banshee Hill is OK

Access to Banshee Hill in Winchester Bay will remain unchanged.

ATV riders and other users of the dunes have until Monday, July 25, to express their opinions on the Forest Service’s proposed Oregon Dunes NRA Management Area 10 (C) Route and Area Designation Project.

“This is not a plan, it is a proposal,” said U.S. Forest Service recreation planner Angie Morris. “We are asking people to give us their comments, the more specific the better. That’s really important. We want to know what trails they want to remain open and why.”

But many ATV users disagree with Morris’ assessment. Groups have formed and petitions are being signed in an effort to stop the Forest Service from once again reducing the amount of land in the Oregon Dunes NRA that is available for ATV use.

While most petition signers at are from the West Coast, hundreds more hail from at least half the states and a dozen foreign countries.

Trail history

“Between 1972 and 2011, the acreage available for ATV riders has been reduced from 28,000 acres to just below 6,000 acres,” said Discovery Point Resort and RV Park owner Greg Hoover. “Just 20 percent of the Oregon Dunes NRA is available for legal ATV use today.”

Before the proposal was put out for public comment, a working group was established by the Forest Service to bring together groups that have an interest in the Oregon Dunes NRA. This group included environmentalists, business owners, tribal members, mushroom pickers, Audubon Society members and others.

“I participated for over a year and a half in the group,” said Jody Phillips, a North Bend ATV enthusiast. “We got across what we wanted. With a couple of exceptions however, the Forest Service ignored everything we did.”

Economic impacts

The changes suggested in the proposal could have significant financial impacts in coastal communities near the dunes. Campgrounds, restaurants, ATV rental businesses, motels and grocery stores will all be impacted if ATV riders stop coming to the area because riding trails are closed.

“Already I am getting calls asking if the dunes are closed,” Hoover said. “The ATV riders will go to Idaho and California to ride in dunes. They will forget about coming here.”

This sentiment is echoed by petitioners on the petition’s website, which had garnered 3,196 signatures and comments by Monday evening.

Robert Fasoli from Washington state commented: “We have been going to the Oregon Dunes for 25 years. Our family has enjoyed riding in the dunes and our family vacations that we have will come to an end in Oregon. We will however continue them either in the California or Idaho dunes.”

Great family fun

Fasoli is not alone. Jeremiah Ross from Montana wrote: “Please don’t close any of the dunes. This is one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had, riding the dunes with my family. I spend quite a bit of money on my vacations to the dunes, and if you close this down that’s money that you won’t be seeing any more. Thank you.”

David Goodman of California stated: “Once a year I take a 10-day trip to Oregon Dunes. Spending a couple days riding the trails have always been a part of the trip. When they are closed, sorry Oregon, I have to spend my money in a different state.”

For Ryan Harris of Idaho, the dunes are a regular part of his vacation time.
“I visit the dunes with friends and family, we bring a good share of our recreation spending money to the region,” Harris wrote. “That would go to another state and we would miss the fun of riding in Oregon.”

Listening to the people

Other petitioners object to what they see as heavy-handed government.

Arizona’s Heath Carlson wrote: “These are public lands that our tax dollars go to maintain. By closing them to our preferred form of recreation the USFS is going against public wishes by closing the public out of public lands. This is un-American and goes against the very principle of the USFS.”

Washington’s Chris Kettman advises the Forest Service to listen to recreationists: “As an avid outdoorsman, I hope that these trails would stay open. I pay my licensing fees and taxes to be able to enjoy my public lands. Taking these trails away has an effect on the much more than just local economies. It also affects the ATV/dirtbike manufacturers, the aftermarket parts sector and those in the RV/travel trailer industries. Keep America great by keeping its resources open to the public. Don’t be part of the economic problem, be part of the solution.”

Safety of ATV riders is another issue brought up by some people opposed to the potential changes suggested in the proposal.

The newer ATVs are more powerful and faster than the dune buggies of years past. The proposal puts more people riding these vehicles in smaller areas as they move between open sand areas, some ATV users say.

“It is a hundred times safer to ride on the trails than in the open sand,” Jody Phillips said.

John Everitt of Oregon agrees with Phillips. In his petition comment, he wrote that, “Limiting the areas for riding within the dunes will greatly increase accidents, therefore diminishing the safety for all who venture to explore this great region of our state.”

B.J. Breti, also from Oregon, wrote that, “An increase in injuries is a mathematical certainty if the same, or greater number of riders continue to be forced into increasingly smaller areas.”

Next step

After the July 25 public comment deadline has passed, the proposal will move into the draft environmental impact statement phase, Morris said.

Speak up before Monday

Written comments to: Forest Supervisor Jerry Ingersoll c/o Angie Morris Recreation Planner, Siuslaw National Forest, 855 Highway 101, Reedsport, OR 97467.

E-mail comments to: [email protected].

Written and e-mail comments must include:

– Name, address and telephone number.

– Title of the proposed project.

– Specific facts or comments along with supporting reasons for opinions. These facts and supporting reasons will be given to the responsible official for consideration during the decision-making process.

For oral comments, call Angie Morris at 541-271-6040.

Staff writer Deborah Yates can be contacted at [email protected], or (541) 271-7474, ext. 206.   Editor Lori Newman can be contacted at [email protected], or (541) 271-7474, ext. 203.