National Forest is still open, more disbursed opportunities

Gavin and Owen Patterson demonstrate proper social distancing while fishing at Dog Lake in the Fremont-Winema National Forest; even though the boat ramp is closed, people are still able to fish at the lakes in the national forest.

On Monday, March 30, the Regional Forester for the sixth region, which encompasses the Pacific Northwest, issued an order to comply with recent Governor’s Executive Orders to stay at home to save lives, the order closed all developed recreation sites in the National Forests in the Pacific Northwest.

While the order originally closed trails, on Thursday, April 2, there was clarification to the order and trails and other ways for people to enjoy the forest were issued. Though developed recreation sites such as campground, boat ramps, trailheads, rentals and fire lookouts are closed. Roads in the Fremont-Winema Nation Forest are still open, though many are still impassable due to the snow.

Tamara Schmidt, public affairs officer for Fremont-Winema National Forest, and Scott Stoffel, recreation program manager for the Fremont-Winema National Forest, took me to a couple of places to show that the Fremont-Winema National Forest is still open and people are still able to recreate; just on a more disbursed scale.

While the developed recreation sites are closed, people are still able to access lakes, creeks, rivers, and trails according to Schmidt. Although people are not able to park directly at boat ramp access points, or at trailheads, people can park on the roadway, if they are not blocking traffic, and then walk to the areas they wish to go. Whether it is fishing at Dog Lake by parking on the side of the road and then walking across the ground, even if there is no trail or accommodations. The same holds true for those wishing to put their boats into the water. People will not be able to use the boat ramp, but they can take their kayaks, canoes, and other non-motorized boats across the ground to where they wish to launch. Schmidt and Stoffel noted that motorized boat access is pretty much off limits with no boat ramps.

While the original order did close down all trails, there was some pushback. With recent clarification the trails in the Fremont-Winema National Forest are still open, people will need to walk around the trailhead and join up with the trail a little ways up.

As described to me by Schmidt, people who wish to go fishing or boating, will need to park on the side of the road and not block traffic, then walk around the trailhead and join up with the trail. Walking through the trailhead is not allowed under the current order. Stoffel and Schmidt both pointed out this is a great opportunity for folks to be more disbursed in the forest than just sticking to the trail. Schmidt noted people can hike anywhere they want in the forest, they do not need to stay on trails like in the National Parks. She believes this is a great way for people to enjoy Fremont-Winema, and to see different aspects of the forest than just having to stick to the trails.

With the campgrounds closed Stoffel and Schmidt are letting people know that disbursed camping is available throughout the entire National Forest system, and to use the closure of the campgrounds as an opportunity to experience more disbursed camping than in established campgrounds.

Like accessing lakes for fishing and boating, and trails, the same rules apply of not blocking roadways when parking. Though camp sites do need to be 300 feet from a roadway and 150 feet from a waterway. Schmidt noted there are still plenty of campsites people can camp at for the weekend and not run into people, and not be stuck in campgrounds.

While the closure order is dated to end on Sept. 30, Schmidt noted that corresponds to the end of the fiscal year. Once the COVID-19 crisis has passed, the order will be reviewed and an excellent possibility to could be lifted long before Sept. 30.

Finally Schmidt and Stoffel both said they want people to follow the no trace rules when visiting the Fremont-Winema National Forest, especially with the more disbursed camping and hiking. To keep the forest clean and healthy for everyone.

For more information contact the Fremont-Winema National Forest at 541-947-3334.

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