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County hearings review trails code, ambulance districts

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

March 3, 2007

Hood River County is gearing up to create two new outdoor opportunities by fine-tuning its Forest Recreation Trails Ordinance.

Changes to the code will be brought before the public at 7 p.m. on Monday. The hearing takes place in the first floor conference room at the county administration building, 601 State St.

Also on the agenda that evening is the introduction of an ordinance that lays out the boundaries for ambulance service districts. The proposed regulations also set up a replacement process in case one of the three providers ceases operations.

County Forestry Technician Henry Buckalew said the trails code is primarily being modified to better delineate responsibilities.

For example, the title of one oversight individual has been updated — from forestry department director to county forest manager.

“We just had some inconsistencies that needed to be cleared up,” said Buckalew.

He wants everything in order since the county is in good standing to score $55,628 in state grant funds. That money is slated to be used this summer to sign and organize 62 miles of trails for motorized vehicles on county land just west of Hood River.

He said negotiations are also underway with private landowners to create a contiguous trail throughout all 30,000 of the county’s woodlands. Buckalew said the National Park Service is lending assistance to meet the growing public demand for more outdoor recreation.

The goal of the county and advisory body, as stated in the ordinance, is to accommodate human activity without harming natural resources and/or wildlife.

“Our challenge is to coordinate all of these recreation activities with our timber harvests and forest management,” he said. “And we’ve gotten a ton of cooperation from the recreational community.

The original code for trail use was adopted in 2003 and crafted by a committee made up of representatives from recreation groups, forestry officials and citizens. Buckalew said the need for regulation followed the discovery that bikers had constructed a series of “rails” high up in trees by nailing loose branches to the trunks.

“We inherited a poorly designed trail system with no rules or regulations,” he said.

Not only did the county face liability issues but the metal embedded in the trees created safety and forest health issues. Buckalew said the county generates about $4 million each year in revenue from timber receipts on its properties.

By working with joggers, bikers, off-road vehicle owners, equestrians and cross country skiers, he said the county has been able to come up with a plan that blends both sets of needs. Buckalew said developing a management plan — also under review with some changes on March 5 — has provided direction for future projects.

David Meriwether, county administrator, said the proposed ambulance district ordinance sets up a governance system for service delivery.

He said the plan is state mandated to ensure that emergency transports are done efficiently and effectively. The code incorporates the three communities already providing ambulance service: the City of Hood River, Parkdale and Cascade Locks.

“It’s not as though this is creating something out of nothing; these districts are already there,” said Meriwether.

He said the code establishes a uniform set of duties for each provider. It also lays the framework for formation of an Ambulance Service Area Advisory Committee. The seven members of that group are tasked with reviewing and making recommendations for how a new franchise should be established in the event that one of the providers goes out of business.

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