Contributed by long time Bend resident, avid mountain biker and previous owner of Cog Wild, Melanie Fisher.
A few years ago, I was invited to a meeting on Storm King Trail to discuss the West Bend thinning project. Along with many other local mountain bikers, we were concerned with how the forest thinning would affect our trails: bright paint on the trees, trail closures and the impact of machinery criss-crossing the trails. However, when a local wildfire fighter explained the real implications of a fire on our beloved trail system, I started to think differently about the project.
“If a lightning strike starts a fire in the West Bend forest area, there is a very high probability it will grow and spread at a fast pace. With the current conditions of the forest overgrown and full of kindling, we have little chance to stop a fire from moving through the forest. There would be little time to warn mountain bikers on the trails and get them to safety. Many people will have no idea there is a fire moving towards them until it is too late.”
I realized then that my concerns were just small details in fixing a much more important issue—the chance of our entire trail network burning down or more importantly, the devastating chance of people getting caught in the fire.
This was all I needed to hear to be in full support of the thinning of the West Bend area. Knowing we have the ability to make positive ecological changes to the forest, open up the trails to amazing views and bring more balance between the trees and the wildlife helped. But knowing this project will make our woods safer for everyone who recreates and the wildlife that calls the woods home, seemed the most important to me.
Thanks to Visit Bend, we now know over 3 million people visited Bend, Oregon in the last year. Data tells us that a large portion of visitors come here to recreate out in Bend’s awesome outdoors. Summer recreation activities include hiking, trail running, paddle sports, disc golf, bird watching, horseback riding and of course mountain biking. Winter activities include skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and fat biking. Add in the local population and this translates to hundreds, if not thousands of people a day recreating out in the Deschutes National Forest and the local trails.
Knowing the numbers, a little paint on the trees is more than worth saving our forest in the long run. I would rather have trees than a burnt forest. Without our trail network Bend would be a very different place! It would affect our economy and our local community for years, if not forever. I am thankful that the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project is making the West Bend project happen.
I hope that locals and visitors alike will embrace the ongoing trail closures and changes to our forest as a small price to pay to ensure our beloved trail network will be around for years to come. I like to think of this as an opportunity to be creative in where to ride. We are very lucky to have hundreds of miles of singletrack to choose from, but this does not stop at the West Bend area. Add in the trails east of Bend, Smith Rock, Peterson Ridge, Oakridge, Ochocos, McKenzie region and beyond. Pull out the maps and create new routes in our local trail network – and then plan to ride in local areas you have not yet experienced. Information for trails can be found at local bike shops, online at sites like BendTrails.org or by asking friends.
The changes that have happened to our forest already get me excited for what is to come. A recent fall ride that ended late in the day meant catching the setting sun through the new grasses on Marvin’s Garden trail. Climbing Storm King through the recently cleared section meant seeing a family of deer in the distance, whereas in the past, our view ended at a wall of unhealthy trees lining the trail.
For those on social media, let’s start a new hashtag: #mydeschutesforest. Let’s use this to celebrate our forest as the West Bend project gives the woods a new look on life.