A proposed commercial development on former logging grounds in western Klickitat County is receiving backlash from residents and a local environmental group who argue the location does not fit the proposed use of the land.
The proposed project, through Montana-based company Under Canvas, would see approximately 20 acres of land near Husum developed into luxury camping grounds, fit with “individual canvas tents,” some with en-suite bathrooms, as well a communal kitchen and dining area, according to an outreach brochure obtained by Columbia Gorge News. Facilities would run from April to October, weather depending.
No official proposal has been released to the public, said Caitlan Cullen, manager of real estate for Under Canvas; however, a pre-submission request filed with Klickitat County estimated approximately 100 guest tents, a commercial kitchen, and two communal bathroom facilities included with the facility. Cullen did note details in the use application have been modified upon receiving feedback. The application is expected to be filed with the county soon. A public hearing will then be held to consider the application.
In the outreach brochure, Under Canvas estimates the campsite would employ 40-60 staff. According to Jacob Anderson, project coordinator for the Klickitat County Economic Development Department, county staff are waiting for the conditional use application to be submitted to estimate the economic impact of such a development.
Cullen said the company identified the Husum area while exploring opportunities to provide accommodation to meet tourism demand on the northern side of the Columbia River and those seeking an alternative to short-term rental stays.
“As a low impact, seasonal development, this camp will conserve the important function played by the Wild & Scenic Corridor and forestry lands in the community while simultaneously providing diverse lodging opportunities for the tourists (in) that area already visiting the area,” Cullen wrote in an email.
The project site sits on an approximately 120-acre piece of land, partially split between two parcels currently owned by Weyerhaeuser, according to an online parcel map of Klickitat County, and is currently designated for forestry use. Neither Weyerhaeuser nor Under Canvas responded to an inquiry seeking information on the relationship of the two parties.
Cullen said approximately 30 acres of the land in question is within the boundaries of the White Salmon River Wild & Scenic Area.
“While regulations allow for development in this area of the property and we could do so without impact to its aesthetic or ecological functions, we have instead opted to locate our camp footprint (100 percent) out of this overlay, (and) are not including access to the river in anyway in our proposal,” Cullen wrote in an email. “We plan to use only approximately 20 acres of the site, previously disturbed by logging activity, for our camp. The previous use of the site for logging works well for a camp because it allows us to leverage existing road infrastructure designed for truck traffic and previously cleared open space thereby allowing us to minimize new impacts. We plan to leave the rest of the site as open space and be good stewards of the land though active management of the forest.”
That did not satisfy the board of the Friends of the White Salmon River, who at their May meeting agreed to send a letter voicing their opposition to the proposed development.
“We very much appreciate your communication with FWSR, as it allowed us to consider the issues early in the process. In short, we feel that the potential environmental impacts of the projects outweigh any benefits to the community. We also feel urgently that the Wild & Scenic management area needs stronger protection than your proposal provides,” the board wrote in the letter.
FWSR did not respond to an inquiry requesting what specifically the board did not agree with in terms of environmental impact by press time.
The proposed project is also drawing controversy from neighbors who say the land is not compatible with the current level of activity in the area. Longtime residents say such a development would interfere with their rural way of life and attract tourists who might find the clear-cutting, the orchard pesticide sprays, and the cattle-grazing objectionable.
They also argue the infrastructure cannot handle the activity, citing the partially paved access road, the availability of water resources and the growing concern of wildfires in the area as evidence, according to letters of opposition reviewed by the Columbia Gorge News.
The proposed project would be accessed through Oak Ridge Road, which residents argue is “not geared for this kind of traffic.”
Beverly Eisner, a resident of Oak Ridge Road, estimated nearly 40 cars drive along the logging road each day. She said she is worried most about tourists driving the road, which switches back often and runs through eight miles of open range. It also carries a mail and a school bus route.
“There’s going to be accidents. It’s just not safe,” Eisner said.
She wrote in a June 4 letter to Dan McBrearty, chief development officer at Under Canvas, that “the influx of traffic from 40-60 on site, or off site, employees and the potential for up to 120 glampsites would be horrific.
“Your project would drastically change the peaceful, rural residential nature of this part of Klickitat County,” Eisner wrote.
Cullen told Columbia Gorge News a full traffic study was completed, “assessing existing traffic, the safety of the road infrastructure and the impact of our proposed traffic.”
Cullen then reiterated the road would provide “safe and adequate access” to the campsite, noting the site would not offer accommodations for RVs, and that guests’ personal vehicles would make up a small amount of traffic during the operating season.
Still, residents are arguing that is not enough. In a petition signed by 17 property owners in the Husum area, residents are requesting that an independent traffic study be completed and implored the Board of County Commissioners to “adhere to its Six Year Road Transportation Program for the years 2020-2025.”
They note that “from reading the (six-year) county road plan that no improvements to this section are planned until 2025.”
The petition goes on to request that “the board not advance any request by Under Canvas for land use or construction permits until Oak Ridge Road requirements are defined, issues resolved, and physical improvements are fully complete.”
Steve Morrow, a proprietor of the petition, argued that were also “practical” concerns, such as figuring out who pays for any necessary repairs to the road or upgrades to the Fire District No. 3, whose station is located across Highway 141 from Oak Ridge Road.
“If I were an investor, I’d be asking a lot of questions,” Morrow said in an interview.
Other residents say approving this proposed use would set a precedent that would not bode well for the natural resources found in the area.
Cullen said a pre-submission meeting with county officials has been held to review the project and discuss regulations that must be followed.
“In the course of developing plans for the proposed project, Under Canvas has been meeting with neighbors of the property, community groups, affiliated agencies and environmental groups, to share the proposed project and receive feedback which has been incorporated into our proposed plans … in addition, extensive due diligence has been performed to ensure the project can be developed on the site without negative impact to the environment,” Cullen wrote in an email.
Cullen has met with the Husum-BZ Corner Community Council, which has no official authority, as well as Friends of the White Salmon River and interested neighbors to discuss the project during the pre-submission process.
Under Canvas maintains seven “glamping sites” in five different states. Glamping, a portmanteau of “Glamour Camping,” has become an increasingly popular recreation for tourists, although according to Anderson, this project would be the first of its kind in Klickitat County.