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A pond for all people

WHITE CITY — Wheelchair-bound anglers, birdwatchers and others soon will get better access to a Denman Wildlife Area pond, thanks to upgrades paid in part from parking fees at the state-run lands.

But the addition of two wheelchair-accessible fishing piers at the Whetstone Pond off East Gregory Road likely will be the last large project funded by the $22 annual passes to park at wildlife area access points, authorities said.

Federal rules mean the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife cannot stockpile parking fees and pay them out every four years to places such as Denman. That's how it previously paid for larger infrastructure projects, such as the $62,000 spent on fishing piers and upgrades to paved pathways at the Denman pond.

Instead, the money must be meted out and spent annually or it reverts to the federal government because of federal rules regarding income gained off places such as Denman, which is managed using revenues from federal excise taxes on guns and ammunition.

"If you don't spend it, then we have to give it back," says Keith Kohl, who oversees wildlife area management for the ODFW.

"We were kind of putting the money in the bank, but we can't," Kohl says. "We are working within the federal guidelines."

This year, Denman received another $3,145 from parking fees that must be spent by June 30 to avoid being deducted from the excise tax payments, Kohl says.

Denman Manager Clayton Barber says he's considering purchasing car-counting machines with the money to help gauge visitor use at the White City wildlife area and measure any changes since the parking fee program went into effect in 2012.

While the program's original intent was to create more visible improvements to wildlife area infrastructure as well as habitat work, Barber says getting smaller amounts of money annually instead of a larger chunk every four years will create a steady income stream. That likely will be used for maintenance at the 1,760-acre wildlife area popular with anglers, dog-trainers, hunters and bird-watchers.

"In the long run, it's probably more useful to get paid every year," Barber says.

Barber says he used the first $15,500 from parking fees last year to leverage state Restoration and Enhancement Program grants to cover the remaining costs of the pond access project. That work also benefited from about $12,000 in donated rock from L&S Rock and the Dry Creek Landfill.

The rock formed the base of the fishing piers and was installed over the past week. The walkway and piers will be paved and curbed this fall, Barber says.

When completed, the piers will be 12 feet wide and stretch 50 feet into the 10-acre pond, which is home to a popular largemouth bass fishery as well as bluegill, crappie and other warmwater fish.

Some of that original permit payment went toward signs installed along the area's Little Butte Creek Loop Trail, Barber says.

Before 2012, the only parking permit needed at a wildlife area was on the Columbia River's Sauvie Island, which is by far the most visited of the 16 state-run wildlife areas. It worked so well at Sauvie Island that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2012 decided to phase in an expansion of it and Denman was one of the first added on.

Now, 12 wildlife areas require annual or daily parking permits, with the four remaining wildlife areas deemed to not have enough use for the program.

Oregonians who buy hunting licenses receive a free permit, because they are considered already to be paying their way through the taxes on guns and ammunition. The so-called "non-consumptive users," mostly birdwatchers, hikers and anglers, must buy permits to park at or enter wildlife area access points.

Permits are available either through the point-of-sale computer-licensing system or from a book of prepaid permits bought in bulk by vendors who then sell them individually to visitors.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Work on a new fishing pier funded primarily through a federal program is under way at the Denman Wildlife Area near White City. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch