A trail designed to connect the new welcome center in the Deschutes National Forest to the Bend Park & Recreation District trail system has been awaiting pavement for nearly a year, thanks to several delays.

The 3.4-mile trail was designed to give riders and pedestrians using the Haul Road Trail, which stretches from McKay Park in Bend to the edge of the Deschutes National Forest, easier access to the Cascade Lakes Welcome Center, along the Cascade Lakes Highway. The new trail has been graded, and was initially slated to be paved this spring, according to The Bulletin’s archives.

However, the trail is now likely to be completed this autumn, as the U.S. Forest Service waits for the end of woodpecker nesting season, and for the Oregon Department of Transportation to complete an underpass, according to Amy Tinderholt, deputy district ranger for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District.

In 2013, when the Forest Service began designing the Cascade Lakes Welcome Center, the agency began looking for ways to connect the building to Bend’s existing network of trails, according to a 2013 document from the Forest Service. Tinderholt said the 10-foot-wide, 3.4-mile-long trail, one of several trails that comprise the larger project, is designed in part to alleviate some of the congestion in the Deschutes National Forest near Bend.

“In Central Oregon over the past three years, we’re seeing an increase in the number of recreators in the forest,” she said.

Tinderholt estimated that the number of visitors to the Deschutes National Forest has increased by 20 to 30 percent. Having a way to connect visitors to Bend Park & Recreation District’s network of trails would help reduce damage to the environment and help draw visitors to the 2,080-square-foot, $1.7 million welcome station, which was completed in 2016.

Rod Robinson, co-owner of Robinson & Owen Heavy Construction, the general contractor on the project, said the company cleared and flattened the trail last year. However, Tinderholt added that woodpeckers nest in lodgepole pines in the area during the summer, and a large-scale paving project would have disturbed the birds.

Because of that, the Forest Service determined that Robinson & Owen could pave the trail in the spring or fall. Robinson said the company had a busy schedule during the spring, and opted to begin work this fall instead.

In addition, the Forest Service is working with the ODOT to build a tunnel under the Cascade Lakes Highway that is designed to connect with the trail and allow hikers and cyclists to avoid the busy road.

Peter Murphy, ODOT spokesman, said construction on the tunnel is set to begin in September and wrap up before the winter weather takes hold.

“We work on their timetable,” Murphy said of the Forest Service.

Unlike a bare-bones ODOT underpass closer to the welcome station, Murphy said this one will have some decorative features, including a facade designed to look like a basalt flow.

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