Forest Service blocks grooming at Meissner ski trail

Volunteer group can’t groom until environmental analysis is complete

By Stephen Hamway, The Bulletin, @Shamway1

One of the most popular nordic ski trails at Virginia Meissner Sno-park will not be groomed for the near future, following an intervention by Deschutes National Forest officials.

“I can’t think of another situation where we’ve had to make a change in the middle of a season like this,” said Kevin Larkin, Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District ranger for the Deschutes National Forest.

Meissner Nordic Ski Club, a nonprofit group that handles trail grooming operations for skiing and snowshoeing trails at Meissner Sno-park, has had a formal agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to groom trails in the Deschutes National Forest since 2008, according to president Susan Hopkins. She said they reached a verbal agreement to periodically groom a portion of Wednesdays Trail, a popular nordic ski trail near the northern end of the sno-park.

However, Larkin said the Forest Service had no record of such an agreement. After it came to the agency’s attention around the first of the year, the club was informed it would not be permitted to groom Wednesdays Trail until the Forest Service can conduct a review process. In a message posted on Facebook last Friday, the club informed its members that Feb. 12 would be the last day of grooming until the process is complete.

“They’re looking out for us,” Hopkins said. “It’s just a long, tedious process.”

Hopkins said the ski trail was popular among Meissner Nordic’s members, thanks to the significant number of downhill slopes. However, she added that the trail tends to get icy when not groomed consistently, and she said she doesn’t expect it to attract much attention until the Forest Service finishes its assessment.

“Nobody will be down there if it isn’t groomed,” Hopkins said.

Separately, Meissner Nordic received permission from the Forest Service to work on a previously ungroomed section of road near Swede Ridge earlier this winter.

Larkin added that the Forest Service will conduct an environmental assessment in accordance with the federal National Environmental Policy Act. The assessment, known colloquially as a NEPA analysis, is designed to determine whether a given activity will have a negative impact on federally managed lands. Larkin said the time frame for the analysis varies, but it could be complete before the end of skiing season unless the agency discovers a threatened or endangered plant or animal species.

“We’re hopeful that this will be a very quick analysis,” Larkin said.

The situation is not the first time a volunteer trail grooming group has run into problems on Deschutes National Forest land. Near the end of 2015, two local snowmobile clubs, Central Oregon Snowbusters and La Pine Lodgepole Dodgers, damaged around 30 miles of trails at Wanoga Sno-park. In total, the clubs did about $200,000 of damage, according to The Bulletin’s archives.

“They were doing summer maintenance during the winter,” Larkin said.

Larkin attributed the misunderstanding to a lack of due diligence from the Forest Service, something the agency is hoping to correct with Meissner.

“Had we asked the right questions at the right time, they would have never gone out there,” Larkin said of the snowmobile clubs.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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