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.
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.
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.