A public comment period to review fees for Central Oregon’s new trailhead permit system will begin in June, opening a window of potentially heated discussion on the price of accessing wilderness areas in the Deschutes and Willamette national forests.

The cost for a day-use trail permit, plus the registration fee, is expected to cost more than $10, according to Matt Peterson, project leader for the Willamette National Forest. The new system will go into effect in 2020.

Trail permits have been deemed necessary on 19 wilderness trails as increased use has led to environmental degradation, including trail widening, loss of meadow vegetation, tree damage, piles of litter and even human waste. Access has become more difficult as parking lots at trailheads are over capacity.

The project area includes five wilderness areas spanning 532,800 acres of land. One of the areas, the Three Sisters Wilderness, saw a 180% increase in visitors over the past five years, with some trailhead use increasing up to 500%.

According to the project rules, finalized earlier this month, a limited entry permit system will be introduced at 19 of the 79 trailheads in the five wilderness areas. The program will be in effect only in summer, from the Friday before Memorial Day until Sept. 30.

Fees collected through the system will help fund trail crews to maintain and clean the routes.

The affected trails are located in just three of the five project areas — Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and the Three Sisters Wilderness.

The plan also includes an elevation fire ban. At Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and Three Sisters wilderness areas, fires are prohibited at elevations higher than 5,700 feet.

Fires are also banned at Diamond Peak Wilderness over 6,000 feet.

“The public has been engaged throughout the process for two years, we have heard from all across the spectrum, from people who like it and people who don’t and people who have a mixed opinion,” said Peterson.

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

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