As visitation doubled at Smith Rock State Park in recent years, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office has decided to increase enforcement of overflow parking along the county roads outside the park.
Anyone parked on Smith Rock Way, Wilcox Road and 17th Street could be fined $115.
Last year, park and county officials and nearby property owners partnered to install signs that read “NO PARKING ON SHOULDER.” But up to 200 visitors each day keep parking along the roads. Some people leave their cars and walk a mile to the park.
To help enforce the parking rules, the sheriff’s office plans to patrol the area more often to make sure people are complying, said Sgt. Jayson Janes.
The sheriff’s office began receiving complaints last week and deputies issued eight citations on Sunday.
“We are hoping to educate people now before the warmer weather arrives,” Janes said. “The county has done a good job with the signs, so we are letting people know about the signs and that we will be enforcing the no parking.”
Matt Davey, Smith Rock State Park manager, said visitation has doubled since 2012, around the time Travel Oregon launched “The 7 Wonders of Oregon” campaign, which included Smith Rock.
The park recorded 851,144 visits in 2019, nearly double the 483,448 in 2012, according to park data. The park closed for two months in 2020 due to COVID-19 and still recorded 727,656 visits.
“The parking in the park wasn’t designed for that exponential growth,” Davey said. “We can’t just instantly accommodate that.”
Davey said the park is addressing the parking problems in its master plan, which hasn’t been updated since 1991.
Work on the new plan was delayed last year due to the pandemic, but there is a renewed focus this year, Davey said.
How to handle parking is the top priority, he said. The new plan will look at redesigning the existing parking areas to accommodate more visitors.
“We are going to look at how to reconfigure parking to give us control back so we can control the capacity of the park and stop the flood of cars coming in,” Davey said.
Davey appreciates the sheriff’s office prioritizing parking enforcement outside the park. In the past few years, more people kept parking along the county roads, but there were no warning signs telling them not to park.
Deputies didn’t have the authority to ticket people, Davey said. Now they do.
“They couldn’t really enforce it,” Davey said. “You have to have a no parking sign for the county sheriff to take action.”