Oregon State University’s College of Forestry intends to improve the parking access at the Oak Creek Trailhead in the McDonald Forest. After two hearings, one on August 1 and the second on August 15, OSU delivered their final plans to the Benton County Planning Commission on August 30. The commission will make a final decision on those plans September 5.
“It’s unsafe, it’s too small, and it needs to be fixed,” said Steve Cook, who lives next to the trailhead and has experienced firsthand how busy the access can be.
Both first-timers and frequent visitors know, the parking area at Oak Creek is almost nonexistent. It’s first come, first serve for the three spots close to the trailhead itself, if you can spot the faded white divider lines, and then it’s a free-for-all for the better spots located off to the side. Additional visitors are then forced to parallel park, straddling either side of the road as a partial median exists only along a small portion.
The road leading to the trailhead, which results in a dead end, is narrow and void of any lane separation. When the parking area is crowded, this can make it difficult for visitors to not only find a space, but share the road with other drivers. Should any emergency vehicles need access to the trails, there’s a problem.
“I’ve been to the meetings,” continues Cook, “we’ve [residential owners near the trailhead] all worked together, and met with both the county and OSU, to reach a census.”
As for the plans themselves, expect to see a turnaround so that drivers can easily navigate to and from the trailhead, wooden beams to keep drivers from parking in a way that obstructs the flow of traffic, and 20 to 25 clear, established parking spaces that keep things more organized.
Although the rumor was that the parking area was being expanded at the trailhead, Recreation and Engagement Program Manager at OSU Forestry, Ryan Brown, explains that the existing footprint is only being improved, not increased.
“Right now, we aren’t actually looking to expand the parking area, just make it clearer, and eliminate illegal parking,” Brown said. “We’re working very closely with the neighbors to develop solutions that work for everybody.”
After the first hearing with the planning commission on August 1, OSU’s goal was to meet with the residential owners in the area directly, in order to come up with a sustainable plan in time for the second hearing. The commission also left the matter open to public testimony for a week so that they could come to a fair decision.
“OSU needs a conditional use permit for all expansion or improvement plans,” said Kevin Young, Senior Planner for Benton County Community Development, “it was held open for testimony, which doesn’t always happen, but it’s not unheard of.”
Conditional Use permits are needed in situations involving recreation, which is why the planning commission and the residents needed to be involved throughout the process.
“I’d say 95 percent of the written testimony was in favor of the applicant’s [OSU] plans for improvements,” continued Young, “productive conversations have been had, and the applicant is responding.”
According to Young, mountain bikers, trail runners, and hikers have also been working hard to spread the word and show their support for the improvement plans.
If you enjoy using, or have ever used the Oak Creek access to McDonald forest, the support for OSU’s improvement plans come as no surprise; something needed to be done, and now it will be a little less chaotic for nearby homeowners, too.
As far as the future goes, there’s still a lot to be done with the Oak Creek access to the forest and OSU Forestry knows it. These plans serve as an immediate solution to a pressing problem, but they aren’t the final solution.
According to Brown, OSU hopes to work with public transportation so that extensive parking space won’t be an issue, and create carpooling incentives, such as parking fees, so that visitors don’t take up so much space individually.
“We’re also toying with the idea of a webcam so that people can get a look at the space available before they drive to the trailhead,” said Brown.
By Nick Stollings