By MIKE SIEVERS
Special to the News
The development of a recreation based resort at Cooper Spur should be carefully considered with an open mind.
Hood River County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, and Oregon leads the nation in unemployment. The two industries that have been the mainstay of the economy and tax base, timber and farming, are dead and dying. The local school system has been cut to the bone and still looking for more ways to cut.
Recreation is the shining star for jobs and quality of life in Hood River County. It started with windsurfing and now has branched out to mountain biking, skiing, golfing, kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, etc. Both Mt. Hood Meadows and Cooper Spur Ski Area are having record seasons this year in spite of the down economy. Mt. Hood Meadows employs hundreds of people during the winter, many of whom used to work in the timber and agriculture industries, and has expressed desire to become a year-round recreation company.
I built a vacation home at Cooper Spur in 1978. At Cooper Spur, we receive no fire protection, police surveillance, and because 100 percent of the houses are second homes at Cooper Spur, we do not have children in the local school system. From the county's perspective all we do is pay taxes. Currently there are over 50 vacation homes and rental units at Cooper Spur. An expanded resort development would likely have to provide its own fire and security protection, and would not likely draw heavily on county resources. Many of us who have homes at Cooper Spur would welcome an expanded resort. The likely outcome would be a tremendous tax base increased for the struggling county and a variety of new year-round jobs from construction and on-going operations, as well as increased transient room tax revenues.
This property that Meadows has acquired recently has been clear-cut many times over. It is far from being a wilderness; it's been at tree farm for decades. The nearest fruit farm is over two air miles away. Meadows private land is surrounded by thousands of acres of public land that provides habitat for wildlife. The Forest Service recently approved a project that will create a fire buffer between Meadows private land and the public forest land.
The road system at Cooper Spur is underutilized and has excess capacity. The Forest Service has already identified that Mt. Hood Meadows would be a willing partner to provide recreation management within the Cooper Spur Ski Area permit area which would provide improved forest health and fire protection in the areas leading up to Cloud Cap Inn. If you hike within the Cooper Spur Ski Area permit area, you will see thousands of dead and dying trees that are too congested, causing a terrible fire danger. The ski area expansion would remove those trees and be required to establish a new vegetation management plan to improve the stand health.
Mt. Hood Meadows has not submitted a proposal to either the Forest Service or Hood River County yet. It is premature to condemn a project that has not been formally proposed. Meadows representatives are doing the right thing by talking to the community and their neighbors at Cooper Spur to gain their input and listen to their concerns prior to submitting a plan.
It's quite possible that an expanded resort at Cooper Spur is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Mike Sievers, a forestry consultant for over 50 years, was one of the first people to develop a home in the area.