Nearly two years ago, a local landowner put up gates on his private property, restricting a stretch of a popular stretch of forest road west of Bend. But recent funding from Congress will provide a long-awaited work-around.
The Verheyden family’s closure of the stretch of Forest Road 4606 that runs through their property was a cause of outrage for members of the public who enjoyed hiking and biking on the scenic route.
The U.S. Forest Service now plans to construct an alternate route around the property, thanks to $700,000 in funding recently provided from Congress’s fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations package.
“Basically we were trying to find the most direct alternative to getting back to the 4606 Road off of Johnson Road, and this was a pathway that takes advantage of a number of existing paved county roads and then basically beefs up an existing forest service road,” Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang said.
Chang sought federal funding for the project after it appeared there would be no other way forward.
“I carried a request to our two senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, to provide a congressionally directed spending allocation to restore access to those lands. And the senators were very kind and very attentive in helping to make that happen,” Chang told Central Oregon Daily News on Tuesday.
Chang said when the controversy first began, he was hearing from many people in Deschutes County about access to their favorite playground being cut off.
“It reached a point where I did not believe that we were going to be able to resolve any of these disagreements to the point where I thought we could restore public access through the original road that connected to the original 4606 Road, so I started looking for an alternative,” he said.
“Last year when this all was going down and I attempted to speak with the land owners, Mr. Verheyden declined to speak with me,” Chang added.
The Verheyden Family sent a statement to Central Oregon Daily News today, saying they have endured vandalism and even physical assault as a result of the public backlash.
They say they’ve spent half a million dollars already on maintaining their section of the road, and have offered alternatives to the county and forest service.
“The ongoing and misdirected public outcry suggests that the Bend community would like to see the road reopened. Despite public comments suggesting the contrary, the Verheyden family would as well, so long as the county or forest service commit to paving and maintaining it,” the statement read in part.
It’s an offer they say has been turned down.
You can read the family’s full statement below:Verheyden Public Statement (1_16_23)
“We really just were never able to find common interests and find common ground in terms of what road maintenance would look like and what what each party’s authorities were, and so we didn’t get very far in the negotiations,” said Kevin Larkin, the Bend-Fort Rock District Ranger for the Deschutes National Forest.
“No one has ever received such an offer to me, and I would’ve been very interested in discussing that if such an offer had been made,” Chang said.
It’s now up to the forest service to allocate resources to get the project off the ground.
“Initially, we conducted a preliminary assessment of what kind of work would need to go on on the ground. Now, we will actually go into the process of conducting an NEPA analysis for this project,” said Jaimie Olle, the Public Affairs Specialist for Deschutes National Forest. “So we intend to initiate that this year, making sure that we include adequate time for public comment.”
The forest service does not yet know how long that analysis will take, when the public comment period will open, or when exactly the road will open.