After a year of controversy, plans for a proposed paved trail between Sisters and Black Butte Ranch have been nixed - at least in their current form.

Sisters District Ranger Kristie Miller told The Nugget on Tuesday morning, "I am pulling my draft decision" on the paved path.

A draft environmental analysis on the project had been under review. Last month, the community went through a process that gave members of the public who had participated in the debate over the trail - and filed letters giving them the status of "objectors" - the opportunity to object to the content of that draft and meet with Forest Service staff to discuss it. Deschutes National Forest Supervisor John Allen was supposed to render a final decision this month, which would not have been appealable; opponents at that stage would have had to take the matter to court.

Miller's move, pulling the draft decision, means that the current process stops. Allen is "setting aside all objections without further review," per federal regulations, Miller said.

Miller said that interested parties will be brought together to "see if we can come up with a more supportable project." Miller envisions a small group of 10 or so participants who will see if they can come up with a "purpose and need" that can garner broad public support. Any options that are legal under Forest Service strictures will be considered - including a complete relocation of the proposed trail.

"Everything is open," Miller said. "Whatever we can come up with will be considered."

She noted that the Forest Service does not want to be the facilitator of the group.

Those interested in participating in the new process may contact the Forest Service at 541-549-7700. Miller notes that "it has to be somebody who is willing to collaborate and compromise."

Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) has advocated for a system of paved trails from Crossroads to Sisters High School, from town to Tollgate, and from Tollgate to Black Butte Ranch. The projects would be completed under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service. The Crossroads trail was dropped earlier.

The Sisters-to-Tollgate and especially the Tollgate-to-Black Butte Ranch legs of the trail continued to be the focus of considerable controversy.

Opponents protested what they considered a deeply flawed public process and raised concerns over cost, maintenance, and the loss of privacy and possible increase in crime associated with a trail through the forest near residential communities.

Proponents saw the trail as a boon to recreation-based tourism in Sisters and a significant amenity for those whose physical limitations limit their ability to get out into Sisters Country forests.

Proponents pointed to evidence of broad public support, while opponents argued that support was based on incorrect information about the trail.

An example of the contention over what qualified as "support" can be found in a recent survey at Black Butte Ranch.

The survey indicated that 61 percent of property owners responding were in favor of the path and only 25 percent were opposed, which proponents point to as evidence of support. However, opponents point out that the 47 percent return of survey respondents only reflects a portion of property owners. And Isolde Hedemark, a BBR resident, told The Nugget that support is much lower amongst those who live full-time or much of the year at the Ranch. She said that they are concerned about increased public use of Ranch trails and facilities.

The Forest Service hopes that a new process will come up with a more clearly supported option by the end of the Forest Service fiscal year, September 30.

"My guess is we'll start having meetings this winter, after the holidays," said Miller.