Crowding on Pilot Butte road must be addressed

Bob Riggs /


Published Oct 5, 2012 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

There are many attractions in Central Oregon: Mount Bachelor, the Three Sisters, the High Desert Museum, bike and hiking trails, the Deschutes River and Pilot Butte State Park. With its trails, scenic views and picnic area, Pilot Butte State Park is one of the most popular and visited places in Bend.

But Pilot Butte has a problem: The paved road. It’s shared by cars, hikers, runners, bikers and many walkers — some with baby strollers and many with dogs. There is a dusty, rocky, too-narrow trail on the downhill side of the road. The road itself is in terrible condition, with broken and cracked pavement. People with carriages and many walkers are on the road. Most drivers are careful and courteous, but there certainly is a strong potential for a serious accident. Too often, cars are seen that are going too fast and there are probably some with bad brakes. A personal observation is that the younger drivers seem to be the most likely going too fast and not always yielding to walkers.

All of the non-drivers — the walkers and runners — certainly appreciate it when the road is closed during the winter months and during icy conditions, typically November through April. It’s really great to not smell exhaust fumes, not hear noisy engines and to use the whole road without any fear of getting clipped. It’s also great not having to deal with the idling cars at the summit.

So, it’s clear that many people would be happy to have the road closed permanently.

Recognizing that tourists, the handicapped and locals who just enjoy a casual drive to the summit for a scenic view need a road or some way to get to the summit, something is needed to resolve the problem.

One suggestion being put forward is to close the road and build a tram, or maybe a ski lift or cable car. These could be fun and would probably attract even more locals. But the handicapped probably couldn’t ride a ski lift. So, a cable car tram could work. These, of course, could be active all year long.

In the interim, it seems clear the existing paved road should be repaired and repaved. During the repaving, the dirt trail next to the road should be broadened as much as possible and asphalt paved such that the stroller/carriage people wouldn’t have to use the paved road.

As a follow-up to a much improved road, possibly it could become a gated toll road. This would certainly limit the use and should generate some income. To accommodate the toll gate and required parking space, some rerouting and broadening the bottom of the summit road might be required. An added advantage of a gated toll road is that the number of vehicles allowed to pass could be controlled. This is important since parking at the summit is quite limited.

Creating a gated toll road would be much less expensive than building a tram, but the road would still be closed during icy conditions whereas a tram could be used during the winter. Operating a tram would require some number of personnel to be on duty daily whereas a gated toll road shouldn’t require any operators. So, there are trade-offs between the two options. But with the present state of the economy, it would seem that the cost of building a tram is beyond any reasonable expectations.

Bend is certainly a great outdoor city and there are many, many super nice outdoor people that are at the butte almost daily. Many volunteers have put in a lot of unpaid tough hours just keeping it clean and presentable. The major problem is dealing with the cars and the poor road condition.