A potential trail project in Lemon Gulch out in the Ochoco National Forest is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of locals.
It’s a collaborative effort from the group Ochoco Trails, nearly three years in the making…to build up to 52 miles of bike trails in the area around 15 miles northeast of Prineville.
The proposal was the topic of harsh criticism on Wednesday during a meeting at the Crook County 4H Clover Building between Forest Service representatives and around 60 members of the community, many of whom live on Mill Creek Road near the potential project.
“We are 100% opposed to this project. I want everyone to hear that loud and clear,” said neighbor Stan Hickman, who spoke during the meeting’s question and answer period. “It will really change and alter our lives a lot, anyone who lives up Mill Creek.”
Driving up Mill Creek Road, signs reading “Lemon Gulch Development” and “Lemon Gulch Parking Lot” with large red ‘X’ marks through them are clearly visible at the ends of many driveways.
The trail system would be constructed in phases, complete with three trailheads and parking lots.
“Ochoco National Forest consists of over 850,000 acres, and Mill Creek Road and Lemon Gulch are not the only alternative,” said Nanette Hickman, another neighbor.
Most commenters said they weren’t informed about the project in advance, and some were concerned about the effects on grazing land for their cattle.
“We were assured salt grounds, water troughs and common use trails weren’t going to be affected by this program,” said farmer Sean Santucci, “We reviewed the map. Salt grounds were nearly disregarded, trails were fully disregarded, and water troughs were cut from one mile to a half mile.”
“No one really understood that there was 52 miles in a congested area like this until it was marked on the ground by COTA [Central Oregon Trail Alliance],” said Kim Vogel, another neighbor.
Forest Service Representatives made sure the crowd knew that nothing is set in stone yet.
“I want to assure you that no decision’s been made,” said Anthony Botello, the Forest Service’s Acting Forest Supervisor. “And so there’s opportunity for continued public involvement to shape that decision.”
Next steps include an environmental assessment and another public comment period opening sometime in June.
“The people of Prineville are never going to go along with this,” Nanette Hickman added, and the crowd burst into applause.
The Forest Service expects to come to a decision by the end of the summer.