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home : opinions : opinions July 23, 2016

8/13/2013 12:42:00 PM
Forest Service weighs in on paved paths
By Kristie Miller, Sisters District Ranger

I am writing to respond to the concerns of local citizens about the proposed multi-use paved path from Sisters to Black Butte (Ranch) and the high school to Crossroads.

As the multi-use paved path planning process moves forward, the comments, questions, concerns of the people who love this area and its National Forest are appreciated. I hope the following clarifications will assist in moving forward together as a community.

In 2011 the Sisters Trails Alliance (STA), a committee under the Sisters Park & Recreation District, submitted a trail and trailhead proposal to the Sisters Ranger District. After internal review and modifications to the proposal, then District Ranger Bill Anthony formally accepted the proposal. This acceptance initiated the environmental review process and public involvement in that environmental review. The STA funded and continues to fund this environmental review process.

The proposed path would travel from Sisters to Black Butte Ranch and from Sisters High School to the community of Crossroads. The path is proposed in phases, with phase 1 starting in Sisters and leading to the Tollgate entrance road, and then from Sisters High School to the east fire exit in Crossroads. Phase 1 is approximately 2.11 miles in length. Phase 2 is from the Tollgate entrance road to Black Butte Ranch. Phase 2 is approximately 6.5 miles in length.

Throughout the process the Sisters Ranger District informed and engaged the public in the project proposal and analysis. At the start of the process over 700 letters were mailed out to inform people about the proposal and to gather public input into the project. In addition, maps and letters were hand-delivered to the residents of Tyee Road, which backs up to National Forest lands.

The comments we received from this outreach indicated some concerns for the Sisters to Black Butte (Ranch) trail, mostly from people who live in Tollgate. We received few comments on the high school to Crossroads or trailhead projects. All of them supportive.

A public meeting was held on April 23, 2012, at the community of Tollgate and a public field trip was hosted on June 2, 2012. During the public field trip a new action alternative was suggested by members of the public. That new alternative was considered and included in the environmental analysis process. Following these initial stages of gathering public input, a draft environmental assessment was prepared and posted on the Deschutes National Forest website, which included a 30-day public comment period. Notifications about the project were also in the Bend Bulletin and The Nugget Newspaper through legal notices and articles.

In addition, the STA conducted outreach, which can be traced back to their original 2003 Sisters Community Trail Plan, and more recently to their updated 2011 Community Trail Plan. The outreach included an open house in 2010, an online trail survey, and a newspaper article and outreach to community groups.

The new Santiam Path installed by the City of Sisters is a good example of how the proposed path would be designed. As much as possible, we plan to allow the path to meander around trees and follow old two-tracks or user-created motorized paths. Very few large trees will be removed; in fact the path was designed to use trees as anchors for turns, tools to mitigate speed, and to provide screening where necessary.

The estimated cost for the paved path is approximately $2.8 million. If we approve the path, 90 percent of the funding would be acquired through grants. With our partner, STA, we have applied for three grants to fund the design, planning, and construction of the multi-use paved path system. Our first two applications were unsuccessful and the third is pending. The pending grant is a Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) grant. The funds for this grant are administered through ODOT; however, the funding for STIP grants comes from the Federal Highways Administration and those funds come from the federal gas tax. If these STIP funds are not awarded to this multi-use path project in our community, these funds will be awarded to another project in Oregon or in the nation.

Not building this path in our community will not send money back to taxpayers, it will just move those tax dollars away from supporting our local economy.

The STA has agreed to maintain these trails, which would include the daily operation of the trail system and budgeting for the annual maintenance of the paved multi-use paths. The STA, as a partner committee of the Sisters Park & Recreation District, will enter into a signed agreement with the Sisters Ranger District. The trail will remain a National Forest trail. This is similar to the Peterson Ridge trail system, where STA adopted and maintains the trail, but it is officially a National Forest trail.

If I sign a decision notice on the project, it will be late this summer or in the fall. The decision notice will address comments received during public review of the environmental analysis (EA). Individuals or groups who commented during the EA review process will have a 45-day period to object to the decision after the decision notice is published.

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