State won't relax bridge ban for Bend park district

February 28, 2016
State won't relax bridge ban for Bend park district

Instead, protections for Deschutes on edge of town will be reviewed

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

The Bend Park & Recreation District’s push to build a bridge across the Deschutes River upstream from town was handed a setback when the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission voted to deny a rule change requested by the district.

The district has proposed a bridge for walkers and cyclists that would help tie together currently unconnected sections of the Deschutes River Trail while providing access to trails on U.S. Forest Service land southwest of town.

Because the river upstream of Bend is designated as a state scenic waterway, the district had approached the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to request a change that would have lifted a prohibition on new bridges in the area.

Chris Havel, associate director of the Oregon Parks Department, said Thursday that rather than grant the rule change, the commission will look to examine the scenic waterway designation on the outskirts of Bend as a whole.

The rules limiting development in the area have not changed since the designation was adopted in the 1990s, he said, but Bend’s growth over the past 20-plus years has changed the area surrounding the river canyon, and different standards of protection from development may be appropriate.

Havel said the commission would convene a study group that probably would consist of nine to 15 local representatives appointed by the state Parks Department and would spend up to a year looking into the issues. Any changes suggested by the study group would have to be approved by the state parks commission, he said.

The Bend park district does not currently own any property in the area where it is seeking to build the bridge and has not obtained any easements or permission from property owners there.

A citizens panel working with the district reviewed five possible bridge locations and recommended one due east of Buck Canyon Road.

Steve Jorgenson, planning manager for the park district, said the Buck Canyon Road location was found to be the most promising, as both sides of the river are Deschutes National Forest land.

Deschutes National Forest District Ranger Kevin Larkin said the Forest Service has not taken any position on the suitability of a bridge at the end of Buck Canyon Road.

Larkin said the process of granting Forest Service approval for the bridge could be extensive, potentially requiring amendments to the federal Wild and Scenic River management plan that applies in the area and an assessment of how the bridge could affect the number of people accessing Forest Service trails and amenities on the west side of the river.

Larkin said the Forest Service would want to gather public input on any proposal for a bridge and that the process could take years before the district was cleared to proceed with construction.

Jorgenson said the decision Wednesday by state parks commissioners is likely a relatively minor setback, as the district has anticipated it could take several years to gain the necessary approvals to begin building a bridge.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387

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