They want a peaceful walk in the woods, but they’re getting quite the opposite.
Phil’s Trail west of Bend is a popular area for locals to enjoy walking dogs, nature and bike riding. But concerning activity in the area has prompted a petition to push for a change.
The petition, started by Nicole Moore Perullo, calls out the “long-term camping, fire hazards, burned-out cars, abandoned furniture, and used toilet paper'” that accumulates when the gate opens to motor traffic April 1 through December. She wants the gate closed year-round.
“From December to March 31st, it’s usually super peaceful,” Perullo told Central Oregon Daily News on Wednesday. “It’s just a nice time to just be, and connect to nature, and it’s really my go-to place after having a busy, busy morning with the kids and dropping them off.”
But when the gate opens to drivers in April, she said, peaceful is hardly accurate.
“We see a lot of excessive speeding, reckless driving, long-term dwellers there, and you’re supposed to move your vehicles every 14 days,” she said, citing Forest Service rules. “People are staying there for months on end, creating these makeshift housing situations where they’re dumping lots of their garbage around.”
Nicole said she’s witnessed drug deals, a meth lab in a bus and was once followed by a camper in the area.
She said she’s called police up to 50 times about various situations at Phil’s Trail since she moved to Bend five years ago.
When she started the petition, she was surprised by the response it received. By Wednesday afternoon, it had gained more than 1,800 signatures.
“I thought maybe we’re just an anomaly, but a lot of people have reached out to us,” she said.
“It’s a free for all with no oversight from the forest service putting us all at risk with increased fire dangers,” Matthew Engel commented.
Commenter Melissa Eaton said she no longer feels safe as a female biking alone on the trail.
“Last year, I generally encountered at least 20 random campsite/vehicles and two long-term sketchy tarp camps way out on the trails on every ride. The area below the trailhead looks like the day after Burning Man with litter, loose dogs, human and animal waste, smoke, and junked out vehicles,” she said.
“For God’s sake, close the gate,” commented Vincent Rowley. “None of the agencies will stand up and make a stance for what is right… it’s such a simple decision.”
The U.S. Forest Service admits the petition could potentially lead to a change.
“We will certainly take that petition,” said Jean Nelson-Dean, the Public Affairs Officer for the Deschutes National Forest. “What it leads to next, whether that’s opening up an environmental analysis and looking at closing that or not, certainly is in the purview of the Bend Fort Rock District Ranger.”
The Forest Service isn’t able to remove campers unless a federal court orders it. Nelson-Dean is not aware of campers being moved from Phil’s Trail.
“We do have efforts where we do clean-ups out there,” she said. “We do try to work with social service agencies and nonprofits to connect those people to the resources they might need to help them get off the forest.”
But Nicole and many other petition signers believe those efforts just aren’t enough.
“This is just not a safe situation and it’s been really hard to get anything done because I feel like nobody is working together to get this done,” she said.
Nicole is meeting with the Forest Service later this week to discuss the petition, a meeting that will leave them with immediate action steps.