By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

A new sno-park off Cascade Lakes Highway should be open and ready for use next winter, officials at the Deschutes National Forest said this week.

The Kapka Butte Sno-park faced legal challenges, but a federal judge sided with the U.S. Forest Service earlier this month. A trio of groups — Wild Wilderness, Bend Backcountry Alliance and Winter Wildlands — filed the lawsuit against the Forest Service in March 2013, arguing that the agency hadn’t followed proper environmental review procedures when planning the sno-park.

Adding the new sno-park should thin the crowd at Dutchman Flat Sno-park, about 3 miles west along the Cascade Lakes Highway, said Kevin Larkin, Bend-Fort Rock district ranger. Kapka is set to have 70 parking spots. Dutchman — a hub for snowmobilers heading out on the closed portion of the highway and skiers and snowshoers heading up Tumalo Mountain — has 26 parking spots.

“We are over parking capacity just about every weekend,” Larkin said.

Accessed off Forest Road 45 just south of the Cascade Lakes Highway, Kapka Butte Sno-park will have short connector trails linking it to existing nordic and snowmobile trails, said Amy Tinderholt, recreation team leader for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District.

The trails, a 6-acre asphalt parking lot, a pair of toilets and bulletin boards should all be put in place between now and next winter.

The Forest Service has a federal grant for about $550,000 to build the sno-park. Along with more parking spots, Kapka will also have overnight parking, which Tinderholt said will allow for RV camping.

In the works for a decade, Kapka faced opposition from groups representing backcountry users and a contingent of snowmobilers who’d rather see more parking at Dutchman Flat, which is about 500 feet higher in elevation. On April 14 U.S. District Judge Thomas Coffin in Eugene rejected the lawsuit, allowing the Forest Service to go ahead with the project.

Peggy Spieger, executive director for the Oregon State Snowmobile Association, said the group is very happy about Coffin’s decision.

“Obviously, a new sno-park will disperse the use and provide much needed parking,” said Spieger, who lives in La Pine.

Scott Silver, executive director for Wild Wilderness, said the groups behind the lawsuit are disappointed in Coffin’s decision and may appeal.

“We are assessing the decision and trying to determine what makes sense at this point,” he said.

They have about two months to decide whether to appeal.

Silver said the groups oppose the plan for Kapka because it strictly benefits one group — snowmobilers. The short nordic trail planned to link Kapka to existing nordic trails would wind through an underpass below the Cascade Lakes Highway mainly used by snowmobilers, and then connect to the existing Vista Butte Sno-park, an exclusively nordic and snowshoe park.

There’s no reason for cross-country skiers to park at Kapka, Silver said. “They would park at Vista Butte.”

And even though there will be more room, snowmobilers might not want to park at Kapka either, said Ron Sironen, a board member of the Moon Country Sno Mobilers , a Bend-based group. Sironen led the effort to try to have the Forest Service expand Dutchman rather than build Kapka. He said he collected more than 1,000 signatures from all sorts of sno-park users in support of his idea.

“The Forest Service didn’t want to listen to us,” he said.

He doesn’t think building Kapka will cure the crowding at Dutchman because the new sno-park won’t likely have snow as early and late in the winter sports season as Dutchman. Along with being lower in elevation than Dutchman, the new sno-park has southern exposure.

The low snow for many of the sno-parks along the Cascade Lakes Highway this winter sports season caused them to open later than normal and led to even worse crowds at Dutchman, Sironen said.

“It was mayhem,” he said. “You are trying to get hundreds of people into a little, dinky ski park.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,