▶️ Campers overstaying their welcome in Sno-Parks are asked to leave

Campers who overstay their welcome in Sno-Parks near Mount Bachelor are being asked to leave. 

Camping is permitted for 14 days in Sno-Parks, but longer stays cause problems for other users which, in turn, attracts law enforcement. 

The High Desert Rippers Facebook page lit up the past few weeks with comments and pictures of people camping beyond 14 days in the Kapka Butte and Wanoga Sno-Parks.

Campers who stay too long restrict the Oregon Department of Transportation’s ability to plow snow out of the Sno-Park parking lots and that is something a lot of people notice.

“When our plows come in we start in the center and plow out, so what happens is if those vehicles are there long enough, they’ll kind of get a berm. They’ll get landlocked. They’ll kind of become an island in the middle of a Sno-Park,” said Kasey Davey, ODOT public information officer. “It makes it really difficult for us to plow, and it’s unfortunate because those people have to dig themselves out.”  

RELATED: It’s Sno-Park season, so know the parking rules before you go

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: Snowshoe with a Ranger tours

Leaving berms around parked vehicles means other parking spaces aren’t accessible.

That’s led to frustration on the part of people who buy Sno-Park parking permits, the revenues of which are dedicated to plowing the lots. 

“Most of the Sno-Parks are open for camping,” said Justin Ewer, trails program manager for the Deschutes National Forest. “Dutchman is the exception. A couple other Sno-Parks have vehicle size limitations.”

Last week, Forest Service law enforcement officers contacted a handful of campers in the Kapka Butte and Wanoga Sno-Park parking lots and ordered them to leave.

“I’m glad that something was done. I believe this is for daily users up here,” said Onay Weaver, a snowmobile guide for Central Oregon Adventures. “There are laws in effect for limited time and all that. The more that we can all work together and be out here enjoying all this, the better it’s going to work for everyone.”

Even on Wednesday, a week after the sweep, I found a couple of camp trailers that have not moved in several days.

Deep snow on top of trailers and personal items — such as bags of dog food and garbage cans — stored around and under trailers suggests some campers have stayed or plan to stay for a while. 

▶️ Bend City Council proposes eliminating off-street parking requirements

How much parking should developers be required to install in new developments inside the Urban Growth Boundary? None, if a Bend City Council proposal passes muster.

This week, the council held a first reading on a proposal to do away with minimum parking requirements for new developments.

The theory is that will reduce the cost of new housing, reduce vehicle emissions and encourage walkable communities.

We asked how the council thinks that’s supposed to work.

“When we require a certain amount of it to be parking with arbitrary mandates, that’s taking away space that could be used for housing,” said Mayor Melanie Kebler. “Maybe space to save a tree or provide an amenity for that housing development. What we are doing is offering flexibility so developments can be more focused on the people they are going to serve instead of just how many cars they need to fit on the lot.”

RELATED: ‘Thinking of moving’: Bend residents react to new quality of life survey

RELATED: Bend City Council OK’s new Costco

Kebler says removing the minimum off-street parking requirement will allow for denser housing developments. She says that will encourage residents to walk where they need to go without using a car every time, which in turn should reduce emissions and traffic congestion. 

Kebler say one example is in the Old Bend neighborhood.

“Those were built before we had a development code or any of these parking minimum requirements. What you see is a really natural neighborhood that feels really great to walk around and to be in because its built for people first. That’s a lot of the idea. What are we building for? People who live here and people who need to live in houses, or focusing on car storage?”

People I spoke with expressed skepticism about the concept, given the amount of on-street parking congestion in parts of Bend where new development is occurring. 

“I think the response to that is to take the next step in a whole suite of parking lot reforms and say, yes, this is one thing to take away a parking requirement for off street parking. We also need to do things like we’ve done in the Old Bend neighborhood and have rules and regulations to help us manage curbside parking,” Kebler said.

“How long are they parking? Are they paying for it? That can help manage that congestion you see in some spots in town.”

A second reading of the proposal to eliminate minimum parking requirements will be held in February. If approved, it could take effect in March.

▶️ Deschutes River Trail through Drake Park being extended under Newport Ave.

Hiking and biking along the Deschutes River Trail through downtown Bend is about to get a lot better.

After nearly a decade of planning, trail construction and bank improvements are underway in Drake Park, Bend’s most popular riverfront park.

A plan to extend the Deschutes River Trail through Drake Park, under the Newport Avenue Bridge all the way north to Awbrey Butte, all the way south to the southern footbridge is finally happening.

“The main thing is it’s a major gap in the Deschutes River Trail that we are fixing,” said Brian Hudspeth, Bend Park and Recreation Development Manager. “Currently, the Deschutes River Trail goes up into Brooks Alley, takes you to Newport Avenue and the stoplight, across the road, back down and then down through. So this bypasses all that, takes the trail off the streets and sidewalks and keeps it next to the river which is what we envisioned for the Deschutes River Trail.”

RELATED: Bend Park and Rec seeks input on Deschutes River access concepts

RELATED: Riverbend Park access project expected to be finished this spring

Several parts of the trail along the river through Drake Park are closed and detours are in place, as contractors stabilize the banks and replace and expand a series of boardwalks.

“I really like what they are doing with the walkway on the north end to go underneath the bridge,” said Brian Sudol of La Pine, who was walking black Labrador in Drake Park. “I used to go up there when there was no concrete trail and try to make my way through the river to connect to the trail. It’s nice to see they are going to be finishing it up for the entirety of the park.”

 

Construction is estimated at $8 million with funds coming from taxes paid to the park and recreation district, system development charges and grants.

Completion is scheduled by the end of June.

“I’m pleased to see the trail going through,” said Sid Snyder, Bend. “I’m a little disappointed to see the loss of some of the big trees on the other end of the park. Having end to end trail for bikes and pedestrians is something the city really needs and I’m glad to see that. I’m also glad to see the bank improvements. Those have been sorely needed for quite some time.”

The bank and trail improvements extend throughout Drake Park from Newport Avenue to the Galveston takeout where hundreds, sometimes thousands of people a day, end their floats on the Deschutes River.

The beach near the Galveston bridge will be improved, made ADA accessible and a plaza with seating be installed for people who are waiting to be picked up at the end of their river float trips.

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Rescued bald eagle finds new purpose with Yakama Nation

An injured bald eagle that could not be released back into the wild has a new purpose as a wildlife ambassador for Native Americans.

Late last summer, Think Wild, Central Oregon’s wildlife hospital and conservation center, received a call about an injured eagle near Pringle Falls west of La Pine. 

Think Wild volunteer Gary Lauder was dispatched to assess the situation. 

“Some hikers had seen it for three days. They had thrown salmon at it and the eagle ate it. They noticed it wasn’t flighted and it was abnormal for it to be near or on the ground,” said Pauline Hice, Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at Think Wild. “They gave us a call and we sent a volunteer out there. The volunteer was able to chase the eagle down. Even not flighted, it was difficult to catch.”  

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: Bird Count pairs experienced watchers with newbies

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: Winter range closures help wildlife thrive

An x-ray showed a portion of the eagle’s wing was amputated. It’s believed the eagle flew into a power line near where it was found and its wing was electrocuted. 

Luckily, the wound appeared cauterized and healed without infection. But clearly the majestic bird would never fly.

“The silver lining of that situation is that due to her being a first year, placement is definitely possible,” Hice said. “I reached out to a couple of facilities in Oregon, one being Cascade Raptor Center. They referred me to Michael in Yakama Nation to transfer the eagle to.”

 

Central Oregon Daily News had the good fortune to be invited to observe the transfer of the juvenile bald eagle from Think Wild in Bend to the Yakama Nation’s Aviary program in Toppenish, Washington.

Suffice it to say it is not easy capturing a 12-pound bird of prey, even one that can’t fly.

“We do a lot of things to make the animal calm such as putting on the hood. When you black out the eyes, it lowers their fear response. The crate is all blacked out,” said Michael Beckler, Yakama Nation Aviary Biologist. “It’s always an adventure. You never know where you are going to go to get an animal and you never know what the animal is going to do when you get it back. We always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” 

Similar to putting blinders on a horse, what the eagle could not see calmed it down.

Anklets were placed on the eagle’s legs to help with training, to begin the process of getting it accustomed to being handled.

“Typically, we’ll train them to sit on a glove in front of an audience, be calm and receive reinforcement from us,” Beckler said. “Basically, you are training them to sit on a glove in front of a group of people that are obviously scary to it. It requires a lot of training to reverse that.” 

Bumper guards and cushions were placed on the bird’s wings and tail feathers to protect them if it thrashed around inside the transport crate.

And finally, a mild sedative was administered to help the eagle remain calm during transport and to ensure it wasn’t overly stressed when it arrived at its new home. 

“I learned a lot about a first-year bird as opposed to an adult bald eagle,” Hice said. “An adult bald eagle would be bouncing off the walls trying to attack us if I entered an enclosure. By comparison, she is really calm. Very food motivated. Completely different behavior compared to what I’ve experienced with adult bald eagles.” 

Bald eagles are protected in the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act.

Only licensed and certified experts are allowed to handle eagles, and only a select few are allowed to keep eagles in captivity.

“Eagles naturally molt a full set of feathers each year. That means a multiple set. The full tail, they’ll molt and regrow. Same with their secondary and primary feathers,” said Alyssa Woodward, Yakama Nation Aviary Technician. “Part of the aviary’s job is to collect those feathers, store them safely and eventually distribute them to our tribal members. That’s what tribal eagle aviaries are supposed to do.” 

Eagles are culturally significant to indigenous people of North America.

Tribal members wait for up to 10 years to obtain an eagle feather. The Yakama Nation tries to give eagle feathers to its members as they graduate from high school and college.

“It’s an evolving situation. We can’t guarantee we’ll have the feathers everyone wants at a certain time. We end up having a wait time. We can’t help it. We’re hoping this will benefit the tribe in years to come,” Woodward said.

The Yakama Nation plans to implement a youth eagle internship program for young people to learn about raptor care and training, as well as career opportunities at the aviary or in wildlife-related fields.

For now, the tribes are thrilled to receive their first bald eagle ambassador.

“Currently, we just have one redtail hawk. This will be our first bald eagle. We’ve had some golden eagles in the past,” Beckler said. “The idea is in the future to hit the magic number of 30 birds; 15 bald eagles and 15 gold eagles that people can come and freely see whenever they want.” 

The eagle, safely cushioned in its crate, left Bend about 9 o’clock in the morning and arrived at its new home in Toppenish about 7 hours later.

According to Beckler, it is adjusting well to its new home.

Hice said she would keep in touch to learn how the eagle is adapting to its new life in the Yakama Nation Aviary. 

“I’m not going to bother them but, every once in a while, I might ask them how is she doing? I know the volunteer who rescued her is very excited that she’s getting to go to a facility and continue her life.” 

▶️ Hikers and climbers revel at Smith Rock and prepare for wildlife closures

A rare sunny holiday brought out crowds of hikers to Smith Rock State Park on Monday. We caught up with crowds enjoying the trails before closures to protect nesting eagles, hawks and falcons begin to limit visitors’ options.

Any day in winter that the sun comes out is a popular day at Smith Rock. People come from miles away to experience the heat radiating off the rock walls.

“We got sun today which we are very happy about because there’s nothing worse than coming to Central Oregon and not being able to see the mountains,” said Dawn Kennington-Kerrigan from Hermiston.

The mild conditions also attract nesting raptors — bald eagles, golden eagles, falcons and hawks — that require space and distance from humans to raise their young.

RELATED: BLM begins Central Oregon seasonal closures for nesting birds of prey

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: Bird Count pairs experienced watchers with newbies

A ban on flying drones throughout the park is now in effect. Starting January 18, climbing routes in the Monument area will close.

“We close the area because there’s a lot of line of sight and we want to keep the greatest distance from them,” said Sam Vanderbeek, a ranger at Smith Rock State Park. “Our main trail is far enough away we won’t close that but we will close all climbing in that area.”

The climbing closures are posted on map kiosks, on the footbridge over the Crooked River and at the base of closed climbing routes.

RELATED: Little Did I Know: The mystery of how Smith Rock got its name

 

Hiking on the Canyon Trail near the bald eagle nest is restricted to travel in groups of four or less, and noise needs to be kept to a minimum.

That might crimp the style of large groups such as the Hiker Babes, a group of 25 women we met at the canyon rim. 

I’m just popping in to join them and meet all the other members and have a good time,” said Nikki Phanco, an ambassador for the Bend chapter of Hiker Babes.

“So you crashed a Hiker Babe event?”

“I crash as many as I can. Absolutely. And I encourage them to crash mine.”

“Being able to respect the climbing closure cuts off a lot of great routes, but folks want to see the wildlife too,” Vanderbeek said. “They want to know the wildlife is flourishing. They generally respect the closures. I would say we have very few folks who blatantly disregard those.”

Closures are a balancing act between providing access to the park’s one million annual visitors and keeping wildlife in one of this region’s most biologically and geographically diverse areas.

 

▶️ Crook County declares drought emergency for 4th consecutive year

Crook County is declaring a drought emergency in the middle of winter. Despite near normal snowpack in the Ochocos, streamflows and reservoir storage levels are at record lows due to persistent drought conditions.

Crook County officials are seeking a drought declaration, possibly the earliest on record, because of record low levels in reservoirs and streams that should be refilling them at this time.

Prineville Reservoir sits at just 11% capacity. Ochoco Reservoir is at 10% of capacity.

RELATED: Crook County still in ‘exceptional drought,’ new snow and water report says

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: High Desert drought helping effort to remove carp

The low water levels means less water for farmers who will grow less crops and make less money.

On Thursday, the Crook County Court declared a drought emergency for the fourth consecutive year due to widespread and severe economic damage to the agriculture and livestock industries, as well as recreation and related economies.

“Today, even though it’s been raining, there’s one group of cattle I had to haul water to them for drinking water because the springs haven’t returned yet,” said Wade Flegel, Crook County farmer.

The U.S. Drought Monitor confirms what the locals are saying: All of Crook County is and has been in extreme or exceptional drought for the past three years.

Unless the atmospheric river pummeling California shifts north, Crook County likely will remain in drought even with normal winter precipitation.

“We live in a desert. Sometimes there’s water. Sometimes not. When we don’t have it we need to make sure we make those declarations to take care of our farmers, our ranchers and our domestic water users,” said Seth Crawford, Crook County Judge. “We have a lot of citizens out there on wells.”

The drought declaration, when accepted by the state, gives Crook County residents access to loans and grants to help compensate for losses due to drought conditions.

▶️Firefighters train to rescue people, pets who fall through Central Oregon ice

Bend Fire and Rescue is reminding the public to stay off the ice, whether it be frozen ponds, canals or river.

The warning applies to pets, too, and the people who may go out on the ice to try to rescue their four legged friends.

Less than two weeks ago, firefighters pulled a Bernedoodle named Daisy from the ice at Discovery Park.

“Daisy, on New Year’s Eve day, decided to take a walk on the ice and chase some Canada geese. Well, unfortunately, the ice was thin and Daisy fell in,” said Candace Rulan of Bend. “We didn’t know what to do so we called 911. The fire department came. Some nice guy got dressed in a wetsuit and rescued Daisy.”

RELATED: Bend Fire hires 9 new firefighters in hopes of securing levy

RELATED: WATCH: Rescuers pull victim out of California sinkhole

Bend Fire responds to dogs that fall through ice because they know pet owners are likely to try to rescue their furry friend. 

Without the proper equipment and know how, such efforts often make things worse.

“The keys that they can do to help us is stay in contact with that victim; visual contact, voice contact. Let them know that somebody’s there. If there’s something somebody can throw, a rope, they can throw that to secure that victim,” said Jeremy South, Bend Fire & Rescue training captain. “Otherwise we ask them to please not go on the ice because of the inherent danger. We end up with multiple victims instead of single victim at that point.”

 

All of the Bend Fire Department’s recently hired firefighters receive ice rescue training. They take turns being the victim unable to get out of the ice they’ve broken through, and the rescuer sent to extract them.

“If we can get to them safely, that’s what we are going to do because by the time we get there they are definitely tired, they’ve been out there for a little bit. They are cold, could be lethargic,” said Melissa Steele, a fire inspector. “So what we are practicing here is a firefighter is tethered. They go out to the victim and then crews on shore are pulling them out.”

Even wearing dry suits, gloves and hoods, the firefighters got cold within a matter of minutes. Imagine how cold it would be without all that protective equipment.

Because of Central Oregon’s variable winter conditions — it gets cold and then it warms up — we get a lot of what’s called rotten ice.

Two inches of clear ice is stronger than four inches of rotten ice.

So be careful. It’s probably best to stay off if you don’t know about ice.

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Bird Count pairs experienced watchers with newbies

Thousands of bird watchers participated in the Audubon Society’s nationwide Christmas Bird Count the past few weeks. The count isn’t officially tallied yet, but so far, they’ve counted nearly 6 million birds.

The annual Christmas Bird Count is a citizen science activity in which beginners are paired with experienced bird watchers to count as many birds as can be found in designated areas. 

“It’s done every year, same time period. The idea is you get a very consistent count across the entire United States and in other extended areas,” said Ron Young, Christmas Bird Count team leader. “The idea is you can see what weather changes are happening, how populations are changing, how environments are changing and how it impacts the birds.”

Is there a trick to spotting birds in cold weather? 

“You’ve just got to be patient because in the cold weather the small species, the sparrows, chickadees, they’ll stay down without sunshine and warmth. We just have to move slow, look in the bushes and try to get a good count,” Young said.

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: Off-roading with the Deschutes Co. 4 Wheelers Club

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: Avalanche dangers in Central Oregon

“All you need to do is grab a pair of binoculars and just go outside. There are birds everywhere,” said Kelli Neumann, programs director at the Sunriver Nature Center. “That’s what’s really neat about this hobby is you can go anywhere. You can do it anytime. The whole family can get involved. We have a feeder here at the Nature Center and that’s a good place to check out birds. We also have bird walks available guided by professional birders.”

 

The Christmas Bird Count is a prime example of how everyday observations by first-time volunteers and experts alike can make a big difference in understanding how the climate is changing.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 16, almost 44 years. I’ve done a lot of these over the years,” Young said. “They are a lot of fun. Everybody gets into it.”

We caught up with Nancy Albert of Sunriver who was participating in her first bird count.

“It was exciting and interesting,” she said. “Being new to the area, I was not familiar with a lot of the bird varieties. Traveling around this lake this morning, I was able to learn more about the birds that live here. Now I’ll know a little more when I start looking out my kitchen window and what I’m seeing.”

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: COCC’s Physiology Lab can test your conditioning

RELATED: The Great Outdoors: Snowshoe with a Ranger tours

The Audubon Society has been staging Christmas Bird Counts for more than 120 years.

Long-term trends in the data show dramatic changes.

More and more bird watchers are seeing half as many birds as were counted just 35 years ago.

Ron Young started participating in bird counts when he lived in Eastern Oregon. 

“Where I grew up, I saw a lot of changes in bird populations over the years. You go back 20-30 years ago the chukar count was incredibly high. It’s gone down and now it’s coming back up a little bit. The pheasant population is way down. But we are seeing more bald eagles than we’ve seen in the last 10 years. That’s fun seeing them come back the way they have.” 

 

On this day, the bird watchers spotted the Nature Center’s resident trumpeter swans, mallard ducks and Canada geese.

In the meadows and thickets around Lake Aspen, chickadees, sparrows, ravens, ducks, hawks and bald eagles were seen.

“It’s really fun to do a walk with the birders because the more you get into birding, the more you start seeing,” Neumann said. “You might first notice the robins and stuff. But when you are out with a birder, they’ll point out there’s a robin. There’s a titmouse. There’s a sparrow. You start seeing more that’s around you. It’s a really fun way to see and enjoy nature.” 

Christmas Bird Count data has prompted changes in how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies manage natural resources to protect places birds need to thrive now, and in a climate-disrupted future.

After participating in an organized bird count, Nancy Albert said she planned to buy some bird books so she can identify birds she sees on her own. 

“I have binoculars. I forgot to bring them but next year I will be wiser and bring them with me.” 

The next time you go for a nature walk or explore your neighborhood, record the wildlife you see. Your observations can help protect the environment.

▶️ Kindness Project greets elementary students with encouraging signs, friendly waves

They are too young to drink coffee but students are dishing out shots of kindness at a local elementary school that brightens everyone’s day. It’s a simple message: Kindness matters.

Here at Silver Rail Elementary, they are proving it by standing in the cold rain greeting all the parents as they drop their students off.

“We want to spread kindness,” said Kaysen Dickerson, a second grader at Silver Rail.

How are they doing it?

“By waving and having signs that say nice things.”

RELATED: ‘Wonderful gesture’: Bend DoorDash driver leaves flowers for sick customers

RELATED: Silver Rail Elementary’s new principal named

A small army of second grade students wearing Kindness Squad tee shirts and waving signs are part of a movement at Silver Rail Elementary School.

And it is working.

“It was so sweet. I arrived this morning to see all the kids with their signs with positive messages. It was a great start to my day. They’ve got me smiling for sure,” said Erica Dietz of Bend.

“This is one way to bring joy into a world that is hard right now and people are going through struggles,” said Mrs. Kittelson, second grade teacher. “We thought one way as a second grade family that we could be out here every Monday morning kicking off, helping everyone off to a wonderful week.”

With the exception of next Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the students will be in front of Silver Rail Elementary from 7:20 to 7:40 each Monday morning.

“What does it do when we fill someone else’s bucket?” Kittelson asked.

“It fills other peoples’ buckets and it fills ours,” said Courtney Cruz, a second grader.

The Kindness Project will continue through the rest of the school year at Silver Rail Elementary.

▶️ Redmond High School students building homeless shelters for Oasis Village

Redmond High School students are getting a lesson in compassion, as well as construction. They’re assembling shelters for homeless people.

It’s part of an innovative public-private partnership involving the State of Oregon, local schools and the construction industry.

Students in Redmond High School’s construction class began assembling an 80-square-foot shelter that will house a homeless individual in Redmond’s Oasis Village later this year.

“My dad and I worked on building my tree house about five years ago. It was a lot of trial and error and I am having remember how to do this again,” said Chloee Haavisto, a junior at Redmond High School. 

RELATED: Anonymous homeless person raises money for local charities

RELATED: Volunteers assist campers on Redmond-Powell Butte Road

Guided by their instructor and representatives from Parr Lumber and Hayden Homes, the students are building an 8-foot by 10-foot structure with pre-measured and pre-cut lumber.

“We asked the students how long they thought it would take to assemble one of these. One of them said ‘a month.’ We’ve been here about 45 minutes today and we’re about three-quarters of the way through building all four walls and the floor system,” said Levi Means, Parr Lumber regional sales manager.

Students will build at least two shelters this year.

 

Program sponsors are not shy about hoping to ignite student interest in the construction trades.

“We as an industry need to do a better job of communicating the benefits of owning your own company,” said Deborah Flagan, Hayden Homes vice president. “You get flexible hours. Yes, you work hard but there’s a really good living. You can do that anywhere in the state. That’s what we are communicating with these students.”

Oregon is facing a shortage of 16,000 construction workers, which is exacerbating the housing crisis.

That means there are internships, apprenticeships and jobs available now, and for years to come.

“We are going to tip walls up on these here. It would be easier to leave them flat but that takes a lot of the opportunity for learning and excitement out of the project. We want to make sure they see what they are building,” said Alan Wheeler, Redmond High School construction class instructor.

For the moment, Chloee Haavisto is happy to help address the homeless crisis.

“I’ve seen a lot of people out wandering around. I know how they feel. It’s really cold out there. Be nice to have a home,” she said.