Last Friday, May 10, the U.S. Forest Service finalized plans to begin requiring permits for overnight camping and day hiking in three of Oregon’s biggest wilderness areas, starting in 2020.
Over a area of 450,000 acres, trails in the Three Sisters, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson areas of the Willamette National Forest will now issue a limited number of both day hiking and overnight camping permits. All 79 trails across the three areas will have limited overnight camping, and 19 of those (originally 30) will be limited for day hiking. Many national parks limit overnight camping visitors, but fewer restrict day hiking as well.
These plans have been in development for the past few years, as the Forest Service has dealt with increasing numbers of visitors, resulting in potential environmental damage to these highly-protected federal lands. Their stated goal is to reduce overcrowding in the park and incentivize hikers to come during non-peak time of the week or year, to “redistribute use” of the park. But the cost and widespread restriction have drawn objections from both low-income Oregonians and avid hikers’ organizations.
Oregon’s large number of publicly accessible parks and hiking trails represent not just environmental priorities, but also a main source of recreation and relaxation for the state’s low-income residents. Permits for day hiking are estimated to cost at least $6, but the mention of additional fees means the price could rise above $10 for a single afternoon hike for one person.
Reporting from February 2019 showed hiking groups like Mazamas and others have filed a total of 96 complaints to the Forest Service about the new regulations. They argue that the system is overly restrictive, and a more gradual means of reducing overcrowding would be less disruptive to how Oregonians use the land. They say some homeowners who live near the Sisters would need to purchase a permit to hike in what is essentially their backyard.
The cost of the permits is being decided separately, and will be finalized later this summer.
By Ian MacRonald