Campsite changes at Green Lakes basin

Some of the more worn sites removed at popular backpacking spot near Bend

The Deschutes National Forest has cut the number of campsites at the Green Lakes basin by six.

By eliminating them, U.S. Forest Service officials say they hope to restore the most worn campsites and preserve the wilderness aspects of the popular backpacking spot in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. Green Lakes basin used to have 28 designated campsites; now it has 22.

By federal definition, wilderness is intended to be untrammeled land where people can find solitude.

Amy Tinderholt, recreation team leader for the national forest’s Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District, explained how campsites were chosen to be removed.

“They were either too close to water,” she said Thursday , “too close to trails or too close to other campsites.”

Forest officials do not have immediate plans to change backcountry campsites at other places.

But they are set to inventory the campsites next year around Moraine Lake, which is off the climber’s trail leading to the top of South Sister.

At popular places like Moraine Lake and the Green Lakes, signs of people’s visits abound. There are footprints to the lakes and toilet paper strung in bushes used for bathrooms. Changes to the campsites aim to address the situation.

Green Lakes Trail, located 27 miles west of Bend along the Cascade Lakes Highway, provides the main access to the Green Lakes basin. Home to a cluster of emerald-colored lakes, the basin sits between South Sister and Broken Top. The trail is among the most popular in the Deschutes National Forest, drawing hikers and runners as well as backpackers.

The number of people using the trail has increased substantially from two decades ago. An Oregon State University study showed an average of 41 people on the trail per hour during weekends and holidays and 29 people on the trail per hour during the week in the summers of 2013 and 2014, professor Troy Hall, head of the Forest Ecosystems and Society department at Oregon State University in Corvallis wrote in an email.

Researchers collected data in four-hour blocks typically between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., she wrote. A similar study of the summers from 1991 to 1993 found eight people per hour during weekends and holidays and six people per hour during the week.

“So it appears that use has increased pretty dramatically in the (Green Lakes) area,” she wrote.

Along with the growing number of people visiting Green Lakes, wilderness rangers have noted increased wear on campsites there.

Because of its popularity, Green Lakes basin is among the wilderness camping areas in Central Oregon with designated campsites, like nearby Moraine Lake. Numbered wooden posts mark the campsites, and tents should be set up within 15 feet of the posts, according to the site’s rules.

Over two weekends earlier this month, rangers and volunteers from Friends of the Central Cascades Wilderness , a nonprofit started in 2014 and focused on wilderness projects in the Deschutes and Willamette national forests, pulled the posts marking six of the campsites in the Green Lakes basin. Maps along Green Lakes Trail and others leading into the basin already reflect the eliminated sites and new numbers for some of the spots.

Small signs saying “Closed Restoration Site” mark eliminated campsites that could still be inviting to potential campers. To further dissuade people from setting up in the old sites, rangers and volunteers moved rocks and branches into what had been tent spots, Jason Fisher, wilderness specialist for the Deschutes National Forest, said Thursday.

Though not near water like some of the removed campsites, many of the sites that remain offer views of the lakes and surrounding mountains, he said.

“We are trying to move use from one place to another,” Fisher said.

So far response from visitors to the basin has been positive, he said. He said wilderness rangers have told people the point is to let the most worn places heal. People seem to understand.

In coming years more changes could be made at the campsites in the Green Lakes basin, Fisher said. “We just need to manage this well to take care of the (natural resources),” he said.

As part of the project, rangers and volunteers have also added signs along trails in the basin, pointing to the remaining campsites. More signs, showing what campsites are down which trail, are set to go in soon. Fisher said people had been having a hard time finding some of the campsites.

Rarely did forest officials see all 28 sites at Green Lakes full at the same time, he said. For now, there are no plans to add campsites to the basin, Tinderholt said, even though that means the popular place will have fewer campsites than before.

Forest Service officials would “like to see how things go given the sites we have right now,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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