The Mazamas organization has a long history with Smith Rock, dating back before the iconic formation was established as a state park. For that reason, when an approximately 2-acre lot across from the park on NE Crooked River Drive became available, it picked it for an ambitious project: a bed-and-breakfast with adjacent campsites, capable of housing up to 30 people.
“We’ve got a really good opportunity here,” said Adam Baylor, stewardship and advocacy manager for the Portland-based nonprofit.
However, the project has drawn the ire of neighbors, who feel it could be a vanguard for more commercial development in the rural neighborhood nearby. Al Dertinger, temporary spokesman for the Terrebonne Neighborhood Alliance — a group of concerned residents who organized, in part, as a response to the proposal — said the park is straining to accommodate a recent increase in use. He added that these types of projects could spur additional development that permanently changes the complexion of the neighborhood.
“We can just see it slipping away from us,” Dertinger said.
Following a nearly three-hour public hearing in August, the project was allowed to move forward with several revisions to the site plan. A second hearing is slated for Dec. 18 at 1300 NW Wall St. in Bend.
“We believe this is a treasured place,” Baylor said during the August hearing. “It’s attractive because of its rural character, and we believe that this project really does fit within that criteria.”
In 2013, a triangular lot at NE Crooked River Drive and NE Smith Rock Loop, across the street from the edge of the state park, drew the attention of Mazamas, a nonprofit dedicated to mountaineering in the state of Oregon. Baylor said the organization was founded at the summit of Mount Hood in 1894, and members have been traveling to Smith Rock since at least the 1930s.
The Mazamas Foundation — a supporting organization affiliated with, but separate from the nonprofit group — bought the parcel across the street from the state park earlier this year, with the intent of developing a 2,200-square-foot bed-and-breakfast with adjacent campsites.
Teresa Bright, project manager for the development, said the organization plans to remove the structures that occupy the lot, which include a barn and a manufactured home, and construct a new building to house the bed-and-breakfast.
Bright said the building will be one story, designed to look like a residential building that matches other developments in the area.
The building will have room for 10 guests, and the six campsites outside will have room for an additional 20 guests, following changes made after the August hearing. The goal of the project is to provide visitors to Smith Rock with nearby, cost-effective lodging.
“The park itself is seeing an exponential increase in visitors,” Bright said.
While “exponential” is an overstatement, Smith Rock State Park has been getting busier for years as Central Oregon’s population and tourism industry have grown, according to park manager Scott Brown. In 2014, state tourism organization Travel Oregon launched its “Seven Wonders of Oregon” campaign, which spurred visits by an additional 10 percent each year, Brown said.
In 2016, about 750,000 day visitors came to the 651-acre park, along with 24,000 overnight campers, according to Smith. While he said visitation numbers have been down slightly in 2017, he acknowledged that parking and crowds are an issue, one that the park is attempting to address in an update to its master plan. A visitor capacity assessment released in October noted that 61 percent of visitors to the park felt at least somewhat crowded at the park.
“We see the need to make a change,” Brown said.
However, the prevailing view from neighbors is that too much change could damage the community surrounding the park. Dertinger said the Terrebonne Neighborhood Alliance formed in November to provide input on Smith Rock’s master plan and voice concerns about the Mazamas project. About 30 neighbors attended the group’s first meeting, Dertinger said.
He said he spoke with the developers and, other than concerns about noise, didn’t have many issues with the project. Instead, he expressed concern that the development could prompt other commercial developers to buy residential lots in the area.
“What’s to stop (Kampgrounds of America) from coming in here and buying up 10 acres?” Dertinger said, referring to the popular North American network of camp sites.
Dertinger has lived in the area for 13 years and said it has virtually no commercial development, other than an ice cream shop that’s open on weekends. Brown added that the only lodging at Smith Rock is a walk-in campground near the park’s southern edge.
On busy holiday weekends, Dertinger said Crooked River Drive, the main access road to the park from Bend and Redmond, can get so crowded that local residents can barely use it. While he acknowledged that Smith Rock likely is to remain popular, he added that it was important to keep the surrounding area from being overrun.
“We like it out here just as much as everyone else,” Dertinger said of his neighborhood.
Bright noted that the Mazamas project, when fully occupied, would represent just one-tenth of 1 percent of the park’s average daily visitors, and having lodging within walking distance of Smith Rock would reduce traffic on the road.
While the park has not taken a stance on the Mazamas project, Brown said lodging has come up at community meetings during the park’s master planning process. Park officials have completed two rounds of public meetings on the park’s master plan, last updated in 1991. The park has unveiled three plans for development at the park, and Dertinger said neighbors are expecting a fourth to be released soon.
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