The U.S. Forest Service has a long history in the city of Sisters. And it looks like that history could be even longer due to some changes in Forest Service plans for its proposed new administrative site.

The total 67 acres owned by the Forest Service on either side of State Highway 20 at the northwest end of town has been the subject of years of speculation, dreaming, and concern about what would happen to the property when the Forest Service announced it was selling the property and moving its new Sisters Ranger District headquarters.

The first plan was to build a new building across Barclay Drive on Forest Service property and sell off the rest. The second plan was to sell all 67 acres with its current zoning as a single parcel, and build new headquarters west of Rail Way off Highway 20. After deciding to break up the property into sections to enable separate sales, the 18 acres north of Barclay sold to a local party who plans to build light industrial buildings.

When the City and ODOT sent a letter to the USFS indicating an interest in the East Portal (the triangle of land bounded by Highways 20 and 242, and Hood Avenue), USFS staff decided to push the pause button and revisit their plans regarding the location of their new headquarters before any more sales agreements came their way.

Their newest proposal involves partitioning the 42 acres in the middle parcel into one piece of seven to 12 acres called the lower campus, and the remaining piece of approximately 30 acres, where the current headquarters building is located.

Plans call for new headquarters to be built on the smaller parcel after selling the East Portal and the 30 acres. By doing that, the staff could continue to work out of the current office while the new headquarters are under construction.

Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid pointed out a number of advantages to the new plan. The Forest Service will be able to maintain a presence in the heart of Sisters, where it has been for decades. They will be able to stay in place while building the new headquarters, providing a savings in moving costs to temporary headquarters.

Reid stressed the savings to taxpayers:

“By staying on the current property, there will be a savings of about $1 million in site development costs and less permitting required. City utilities already serve the property.”

Another positive aspect is that the USFS will retain the highway frontage along Highway 20, relieving a concern voiced by many local citizens about the nature of the entrance into Sisters.

Design costs could be minimal, as the plan is to utilize the design used in constructing the headquarters in Crescent, which Reid indicated is a beautiful facility. The Forest Service owns those plans, so they can be reused with minor modifications.

Reid said signage near the roundabout could direct traffic to follow Barclay Drive out of the roundabout to the new headquarters, reducing turning traffic at North Pine Street.

Several things need to happen before the local Forest Service can move forward with their newest proposal. Plans need to be approved by the regional office in Portland and then forwarded to Washington, D.C. The zoning changes from public facility and open space need to be approved by the City of Sisters to allow for more uses.

The other two parcels of land must sell. If the proceeds from the sales don’t fully cover the costs of the new headquarters, staff will have to figure out how to get necessary appropriations from the Federal government.

That’s a lot of moving pieces, but it looks like Smokey Bear will continue residing in downtown Sisters along Highway 20.