The Lemon Gulch trail system proposal, a would-be 52-mile trail network with mountain bikers as a primary user group focus in Prineville, Oregon has been withdrawn from consideration by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS)
The proposal had been in development for years and was withdrawn by the district ranger after a final environmental assessment was published on April 26, “effectively blocking the project from proceeding,” according to the Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA).
The USFS said about 820 comments from the public were recorded and a “large proportion of the comments were in support of the project,” however in a press release, the Ochoco National Forest said some individuals felt they were not considered during the planning process, despite the agency’s multiple attempts to gather public input.
“Although the project is broadly supported in Central Oregon, there are also individuals who have felt left out of the planning process, which has led to social divisions in our communities and that is not an acceptable outcome for us,” said District Ranger Slate Turner. “We believe the National Forest is a place to unify our communities around shared values. Therefore, I will not be issuing a Decision on this project and will instead look for opportunities in the future to have a broader community conversation about non-motorized trails on the Forest. For now, we will be turning our focus to other priority work.”
The project was intended to open more non-motorized recreation opportunities in the forest and had support from a variety of user groups, including equestrians and mountain bikers.
“If we build more bike trails, there will be less bikers on hiker and equestrian trails,” Kim McCarrel, a representative for Oregon Equestrian Trails and Backcountry Horsemen at Ochoco Trails, told us last year in an article about the proposed network. Ochoco Trails formed in 2017 as a response to growth and conflict between mountain bikers and equestrians.
Much of the opposition came from residents of Prineville who were concerned about how the trail network and influx of mountain bikers could impact the culture of the town. Local residents formed a Facebook group named Don’t Bend Prineville and voiced concern about turning the small town into a smaller Bend, which has become a major hub for outdoor recreation. Other opponent concerns were centered around how the trails may impact cattle grazing.
COTA said they were “extremely dismayed” by the decision to withdraw the network from consideration.
“Although around 75% of public comments supported the project (a *huge* margin by today’s standards), the Forest Service capitulated to a few special interests that opposed the project,” said COTA on Instagram.
COTA said opponents were misinformed by the potential impacts, despite findings of minimal impact in the environmental assessment and that the USFS conducted more public outreach than is required by a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and news media who shared the concerns.
“This is a huge blow to mountain bikers, to our relationship with the Forest Service, and to the future of multi-stakeholder collaboration,” said Emmy Andrews, COTA’s executive director.