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Crater Lake trails on the agenda

A virtual meeting is planned Wednesday to discuss plans for adding more hiking trails to Crater Lake National Park
Hikers begin an uphill trail section past Discovery Point in Crater Lake National Park. A virtual meeting is planned Wednesday to discuss the addition of new trails in the park.

The development of future trails at Crater Lake National Park will be discussed and open for public comment during a virtual meeting Wednesday.

Park officials will outline the proposed Trail Management Plan that will help guide trail management over the next 25 years. Two of the plan’s alternatives include proposals for the possible addition of more than 20 miles of new trails. Wednesday’s virtual meeting will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Following an overview of the draft plan and information on how to comment — the comment deadline is Oct. 21 — there will be question-answer period.

“We’d really like people to provide their input on the alternatives, including their concerns and ideas we might not have considered,” said Sean Denniston, Crater Lake’s acting superintendent. “We want to make the best decisions for the park’s infrastructure and protect the park for future generations.”

Denniston said the planning process has a goal of developing a comprehensive trails plan that can be implemented over the next quarter-century. Several years ago public information sessions were held throughout the region, including Klamath Falls. Comments from those gatherings were incorporated with plans considered by park staff and planners at the NPS Denver office.

The draft plan includes three alternatives. The No Action Alternative would make no changes in the park’s existing trail network, which covers 95 miles of summer and winter trails, including nearly 35 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Alternative 1, the preferred alternative, would add about 20 miles of new summer trails and make changes to about 9 miles of existing trails. According to the plan, implementing the preferred alternative would disperse visitors to areas where few trails currently exist and would “relieve some of the visitor crowding along Rim Drive during the summer months. New trails would also be added at the lower elevations of the park to improve year-round visitor access to areas that receive less snowfall.”

Examples include a Mazama Campground Loop Trail, Fall to Flowers Trail, Munson Valley Spur, Raven Trail, Ponderosa Pine Trail, Panhandle Trail and Pinnacles Trailhead Improvement.

Denniston noted some additional trails would be linked with other new or existing trails to provide easier connections and access.

Alternative 2 would add almost 23 miles of summer trails, largely in the eastern area of the park and again move the focus away from heavily visited areas, including West Rim Drive. A major focus of the alternative is the addition of 13.3 miles to the Rim Trail that would connect with the existing Rim Trail and provide backpackers with the opportunity to hike around the lake.

All alternatives include allowing snowshoeing, walking, cross-country skiing and dog walking on the existing 1.3-mile Lady of the Woods Trail, at the park’s North Entrance Road, where current permitted uses include snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and hiking. Expanded uses would permit pets, dog sledding, skijoring and snow bikes. A new summer trail, the quarter-mile long Chevron Trail, would connect existing employee areas and be open for hiking and dog walking.

Denniston said some trail proposals are aimed at offering opportunities for special interest groups, including equestrians. One proposal would allow horses on the existing Pumice Flat and Union Peak trails with a new connector trail. Trails near the Mazama Campground would provide more, limited places to walk dogs and ride bicycles.

Actions considered but dismissed in the plan include closing East Rim Drive to motor vehicles; closing one lane of East Rim Drive to vehicles and converting it to a multiuse trail; expanding the use of snowmobiles, mountain bikes and other mechanized and motorized transit into backcountry areas; developing a second access trail to the lake; adding trails on and around Llao Rock; and developing trails near Cascade Springs.

The plan also includes cost estimates with breakdowns for each trail. The total construction cost for Alternative 1 is estimated at $8.5 million along with an additional $165,000 in annual operation and maintenance costs. The costs for Alternative 2 are estimated at $4.2 million for construction and $49,000 yearly for ongoing operation and maintenance.

Denniston stressed there is no guarantee that the trails proposed in the plan will be funded. He said a major goal is to develop a comprehensive, coordinated framework. He said no priorities have been set on when and which trails might be added.

Decisions about the Cleetwood Cove Trail will likely impact any future trail developments. Denniston said park officials are considering closing the trail, the park’s most-used trail and the only one that provides access to the lake, for one or more summer seasons in coming years. He said its closure is necessary because of the need for extensive repairs, including trail reconstruction, rock scaling, installation of a new boat dock and other upgrades.

“It is ‘the’ trail that everybody wants to hike,” Denniston said, noting, “Everybody knows the Cleetwood needs work and repairs.”

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.