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Petitioners oppose Wildwood development

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Proposal would keep park open overnight, add cabins, RV spots

COURTESY PHOTO - The Burea of Land Management's proposal would affect three acres of the 556-acre site.

An online petition shows more than 500 citizens want to keep overnighters out of a day-use nature reserve in the foothills of Mount Hood.

Federal foresters say the petition will count as one public comment.

"Our planning process does not work on a voting basis, and a five-name petition or a 500,000-name petition counts the same — one comment," wrote Bureau of Land Management Planning Supervisor Jeffrey McCusker in an email dated Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016.

FILE PHOTO - A sign marks where one proposed tent site would be built. Wildwood Recreation Site looks wild, but most of the trees here were planted by loggers who wanted straight timber, not native species.Government planners envision hook-ups for two dozen RVs at the Wildwood Recreation Site, as well as flat land for 11 rentable log cabins, seven yurts and four double-sized yurts.

The BLM reports campers and tourists will flip the park's balance book — the park currently operates at a $600,000 yearly deficit — and boost annual foot traffic from 50,000 to 100,000. The park was built to accommodate 375,000 guests a year, according to the Mountain Times newspaper.

But neighbors, who lack a community park of their own, like Wildwood the way it is.

"Bringing campers/tourists to Welches is not something we need or want," wrote Rhododendron resident Jesse Wagoner in a public comment submitted to the BLM. "This is our home. This (is) where we live year round. And we use the park respectfully."

A rough count from the bureau's 90-day comment period shows about 40 letters opposing all plans to convert the park from day-use to overnight camping. Around nine people wrote in favor of the proposal. Thirteen commentators offered other suggestions for the land's management, saying they are neutral on the project.

FILE PHOTO - Bureau of Land Management Recreation Planner Dan Davis addresses community members during an open house at Wildwood Recreation Site on Thursday, Aug. 11.Traci Meredith, another recreation planner, said the federal agency will eventually compile all comments into a single spreadsheet noting the writer's opinion and the BLM's response. In a phone interview, she said she hadn't done any of that work since the comment period ended on Nov. 11.

"In the BLM, folks who have been around for awhile are used to the type of feedback we had at the meeting last week," Supervisor McCusker wrote in his email, referring to an open house at Wildwood last August. "At the same time, when things get really heated, like any government organization we often have political influence on our decision making."

McCusker was corresponding with a spokesman for Clackamas County's tourism board, who also took a dim view of the local pushback.

Community Relations Lead Jim Austin wrote that he "couldn't help but guffaw" after hearing concerns from citizens.

"We were standing on a blacktopped road in between two parking areas, with restrooms, volleyball courts and picnic areas not 100 feet away when one lady said 'You're going to destroy this pristine environment,'" he wrote.

Austin has a point. Wildwood may appear untamed, but the trees and vegetation date back to the 1960s, when commercial forestry was prohibited in the area. Most of the trees visible today were planted by loggers who preferred timber that grows straight-as-an-arrow, rather than the less desirable indigenous species.

FILE PHOTO - The proposed changes would build log cabins, yurts, spots for camping in tents and create a RV hookup area.The public spaces in Wildwood aren't entirely secluded either. Traffic on Highway 26 is plainly audible.

"Why did the local community feel so much animosity to the BLM at the meeting?" pondered David L. Schutzer, who spends his summers in Brightwood. "The meeting announcement implied to the local community that the BLM had a plan in place that was well conceived and the bulldozers were 30 days away," Schutzer wrote in his public comment. "How could that have been changed?"

The BLM's proposal would hardscape three more acres of the 556-acre Wildwood site. A little more than 8 acres are currently under asphalt as parking areas, paved trails and roads.