November 29th, 2012|Tags: |2 Comments

What do you do with a ski mountain in the off-season?

Growing up in central New Hampshire, I saw many popular winter destinations struggle with this problem. Fortunately for my state, northern New England provides year-round tourist attractions such as fall foliage, lakes and hiking trails. Mountains become campsites, outdoor recreation areas and even concert venues. But whether its spring, summer or fall, those in charge struggle to maintain consistent business. This is true for ski areas across the country and adapting can be difficult.

Mount Hood from the Timberline LodgeOn the West Coast, a recent decision by Christopher Worth, the Mount Hood National Forest supervisor, is bringing a new attraction to the Timberline ski area from July through October: a mountain biking “skills park.” The decision by RLK & Company — the group in charge of Timberline Lodge and the ski area’s operations — to add 17 miles of trails and a modification to one of the mountain’s chairlifts stirred up some controversy over the environmental effects and brought up several concerns for locals. But after two years of Environmental Assessment (EA) of the project by Mount Hood National Forest, it was determined that the new bike trails and skills park was in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental regulations, as is revealed in Worth’s decision letter. (For more background on EAs and NEPA, check out our blog post “Fire in the West – Part 2.”)

One of the major concerns examined in the EA was erosion and damage to existing vegetation. Worth addressed these in his letter by promising the implementation of sediment traps and that the trails would be built an appropriate distance from any stream. He also noted that visitors would be required to wash their bikes before and after using the trails in order to prevent the transportation of invasive species.

Beyond the physical impact of the new park, Worth also felt compelled to address the question of the mountain’s integrity and tradition, which was a popular topic among the 1,200 public comments on the development. He maintained that his goal was to not have any specific use of the Timberline area negatively affect another mountain activity. He based his position off of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1937 dedication of the Timberline Lodge.

Roosevelt declared that “those who will follow us to Timberline Lodge on their holidays and vacations will represent the enjoyment of new opportunities for play in every season of the year.” According to Worth, FDR would be proud to see a new form of summer recreation on Mount Hood. In order to back up this position, Worth cites how recreational activities on the mountain have already spread to the off-season with hiking, summer skiing and external events. He also mentions that this plan is in line with the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011, which looks to use year-round visitation in order to boost local economies while continuing to protect the environment.