Groups oppose plan by national forest: California company will manage 28 sites on Mt. Hood National Forest

By Lisa K. Anderson
The Gresham Outlook
http://www.theoutlookonline.com/news/story.php?story_id=133114260477005500

The Forest Service announced Feb. 23 it would grant California Land Management Services Corp. a private concessionaire permit, much to the ire of environmental groups such as Bark and the Northwest Forest Conservancy.

“Bagby Hot Springs is an icon,” said Olivia Schmidt, program director of Bark, a Portland-based group that monitors activities in the national forest. “I’m not trying to say it’s a pristine and perfect place, but it’s still a beloved site that’s free and open to the public. The thing most concerning is the very strong likelihood that a day-use fee could be assessed.”

Right now, soaking at the hot springs is free, except for the $5 forest parking pass. Under new management, that could soon change.

Because of public comment heard in the last year opposed to the change in management, Bark plans to appeal the decision.
Schmidt said she has heard concerns about:

• Concessionaire management that poorly manages other Forest Service lands;

• A loss of knowledge and recreation focus surrounding the sites;

• Frustration over public resources being privatized.

Rick Acosta, public affairs officer for the Mt. Hood National Forest, pointed out that a longstanding partnership between the Forest Service and a private company has worked well at Timberline Lodge, a national historic landmark.

“The character of a resource can be maintained,” he said.

By bundling the 28 Mt. Hood National Forest sites under private management, Acosta said the sites could see more of a presence by managers, making them cleaner and safer places for recreation.

Additionally, he said, the Forest Service will still oversee the management company, and changes of any kind to the 28 sites would require Forest Service approval.

Acosta also said that of the more than 80,000 visitors who use Mt. Hood National Forest campgrounds run by concessionaires each year, fewer than 10 people complain each season.

Still, concerns abound from Bark, Northwest Forest Conservancy and the general public.

Michael Rysavy, executive director of Northwest Forest Conservancy, said he is concerned that whatever is most convenient for the concessionaire will direct its management.

He’s also worried the hot springs will become profit driven and lose its historical charm.

“A change in management could substantially change the way the whole thing feels,” Rysavy said about Bagby Hot Springs. “I just wish the Forest Service was a little more open and would actually take a more serious look at other proposals that were local and viable.”

Acosta said private management of the Hot Springs would begin 45 days from the Feb. 23 announcement.

California Land Management is a Palo Alto. Calif.-based company led by Eric and Janice Mart. The company manages hundreds of campgrounds in the western part of the country. With its latest assignment to manage the 28 Mt. Hood National Forest sites, the company will call itself Mount Hood Recreation.