A proposal to move Pilot Butte State Park under the management of the Bend Park & Recreation District is unlikely to get much traction anytime soon.
Denny Sullivan, an 88-year-old who has been volunteering at Pilot Butte for more than 20 years, has been promoting the idea as a way to address what he views as the accelerating deterioration of the butte. Formal and informal trails are destroying vegetation and triggering erosion on the loose slope of the butte, he said, and the narrow road to the top is unsafe for both drivers and those on foot or bicycles.
Sullivan, who lives outside Sunriver, said the park district is the right body to take over operation of the butte, as most visitors to the park are local, and the park district’s focus on providing facilities for physical fitness better suits how the butte is used today.
“If they don’t do this, you think the problem we have with Mirror Pond is a problem, you wait until four or five years from now — it’s gonna be a bigger problem on the butte, a far bigger problem,” he said.
Jerry Winegar, regional manager for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said the state has on occasion turned over its parks to local control. One example can be found locally, he said — Ochoco Lake State Park near Prineville is run by the Crook County Parks & Recreation District under an agreement with the state.
The state parks department is in no rush to turn over its facilities to local control, Winegar added, but would entertain the discussion of what should happen to Pilot Butte if approached by Bend Park & Recreation.
Winegar said Sullivan’s concerns about overuse of the park’s road and trails are shared by his agency. The state is considering upgrades to the shoulder of the road to eliminate “ankle rollers,” he said, and the possibility of keeping the vehicle gate closed until later in the day or adding vehicle-free days during the busy summer season.
“Any time you get a park that’s popular, you end up with user conflicts … that’s what we’ve really got up here now, with vehicular (users) and pedestrian (users) with the huge number of people that want to walk up that hill,” Winegar said.
Don Horton, executive director of the Bend Park & Recreation District, said there were a number of discussions about transferring the butte to control of the park district before he started 11 years ago, but there’s been little talk since then.
Horton said the park district is unlikely to pursue a takeover of the butte because of liability concerns and the expense associated with maintaining the butte’s facilities.
The park district periodically hears complaints about safety at the butte, Horton said, particularly the condition of the trails and roads, but has had little direct engagement with the state agency aside from building Pilot Butte Neighborhood Park on state parks land on the eastern edge of the butte.
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