Badlands Wildness near Bend passes milestone

Congressional designation was five years ago

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin

If you go

What: Badlands / Spring Basin Birthday Bash

When: 5-8 p.m. Friday

Where: Oregon Natural Desert Association, 50 S.W. Bond St., Suite 4, Bend

Contact: 541-330-2638 or

The Badlands Wilderness east of Bend has now been protected for more than five years.

Congress made the designation for the 30,000 acres overseen by the Bureau of Land Management on March 30, 2009, granting the Badlands the highest level of permanent legislative protection for public land.

The trails at the Badlands, improved by volunteers, have proved popular. During fiscal year 2013, from fall 2012 to fall 2013, an estimated 25,000 visitors went for an outing there, said Gavin Hoban, geographic information system specialist for the BLM in Prineville.

“It’s a readily available hiking opportunity,” Hoban said.

In February, the BLM finalized plans to change some of the trails and trailheads at the Badlands. The changes will increase the total mileage of trails from 43 to 53 miles, while creating more loops. The trail work probably will occur in the next two years.

Hoban said the changes will make it easier for Badlands visitors to find solitude.

“You’ll have less chance of encountering another party on a closed-loop system,” he said.

Although the wilderness is still young, the effort to establish it goes back decades.

The BLM noted the special characteristics of the Badlands in reports in the early 1980s based on surveys conducted in the late 1970s, and the founding members of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, a Bend-based conservation group, championed the designation.

The effort to protect the Badlands started in 1980, said Alice Elshoff, who helped found the desert association later in the 1980s and is still on the group’s advisory board. The group is planning a fifth-anniversary celebration for the Badlands on Friday in Bend.

Elshoff said she wanted to see the Badlands protected because of the distinct lava outcroppings and ancient juniper found there.

“It’s just a fun place to go to,” she said.

Although the Badlands are about a 15-minute drive from Bend, it is a place to get away, said Craig Miller, another founding member of ONDA and the group’s geographic information system specialist.

“I think some people don’t understand until they get out there and walk a couple of miles into the interior how remote it can seem,” he said.

Prior to the designation by Congress, the BLM closed the land that would become the Badlands Wilderness to motor vehicles in 2005. Before the closure, Elshoff said, people were driving onto the land and then sometimes dropping off trash, picking up lava rocks or cutting down juniper to haul out as firewood.

The change stopped people from driving across the land, said Hoban, of the BLM in Prineville.

Like Elshoff, Hoban said the signatures of the Badlands are lava formations and ancient juniper. To really appreciate some of the rock at the Badlands, he said, visitors may have to climb up on them.

“(The Badlands) has a subtle beauty,” Hogan said.

The Badlands are popular among hikers, horseback riders and photographers, said Berry Phelps, wilderness specialist with the BLM in Prineville. There are also deer and elk hunting and some cattle grazing on the land, as allowed by federal wilderness law.

The trails at the Badlands don’t get covered in snow as often as those in the mountains, adding to their popularity.

“It is basically accessible year-round,” Phelps said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., authored the bill to designate the Badlands in 2009.

“The creation of the Badlands Wilderness Area help cement Bend’s well-deserved reputation as the kind of place with vast and varied recreation opportunities,” Wyden wrote Wednesday in an email. “It says that Bend is a community that values different choices for how people want to spend their time, whether it’s skiing, fishing or, in the case of the Badlands, hiking in a wilderness area that is just a few miles outside of town. I am very proud that Congress agreed with me that the Badlands was a place to enjoyed by people of all ages and treasured by future generations.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,