A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Presence: As Summers Went By

With apologies to Les and to readers, Les had sent me a series and I got them out of order.  He recently sent me the correct order, so here goes…-Sharon

By Les Joslin

I often reflect on the variety of people and predicaments experienced during my Green Lakes Trailhead summer duties. A few anecdotes make one believe just about anything could happen there. That, of course, meant volunteer information specialists and I had to be ready for just about anything.

A Couple Wilderness Old-Timers

On July 7, 1995, Forbes W. “Buck” Rogers of Spokane, Washington, and John Barton of Bend, Oregon, visited the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station. Mr. Barton had been the Sparks Lake recreation guard in the summer of 1964 and Mr. Barton the first Bend Ranger District wilderness guard in the summer of 1965. I enjoyed their stories of those days, particularly when Buck told me part of his job in 1964 was to bury the garbage visitors left behind in the Green Lakes basin—before the Wilderness Act of 1964 had been signed that September, and John told me part of his job in 1965 was to dig it up and pack it out. In those days, they told me, the parking area and trailhead were across Fall Creek from their current location, and both had stayed in the old Fall Creek Guard Station cabin just a few hundred yards north of the current trailhead. We ambled up that way, poked around in the pumice, and actually found a small piece of green-painted wood from the structure.

A Shooting Incident

On July 29, 1995, I heard gunshots to the west of the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station. Within a couple of minutes, visitors drove in and reported a man indiscriminately shooting at the Devil’s Garden not far west of my location.  I reported the incident to Central Oregon Dispatch, and within fifteen minutes a Forest Service law enforcement officer arrived, arrested the person at gunpoint, and took him to the Deschutes County Jail.

A Fire on Devils Hill

My daughter Wendy, who served 17 days as a volunteer wilderness information specialist in 1996, was staffing the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station on July 26 when a violent lightning storm ignited a fire on Devils Hill just over a mile to the northwest. In response to her report of the smoke to Central Oregon Dispatch, she watched eight smokejumpers jump the fire about 30 minutes later. I often wonder if this experience influenced her toward studying forestry at Oregon State University.

A Los Angeles Times Writer

On August 23, 1996, John McKinney, Los Angeles Times hiking columnist, visited the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station. He was researching his book Great Walks of North America: The Pacific Northwest, published by Henry Holt and Company in 1997, for which I provided him information and photographs and in which he profiles my wilderness service and my wilderness education project. “When hikers meet a helpful wilderness ranger, it adds to their experience and makes their trek all the more special,” he quoted me.

A Controversial Fee Program

In 1997 it fell to me to help implement the Pacific Northwest Region’s controversial Trail Park Pass program mandated by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 1996. By that act Congress permitted—and, for all practical purposes, required—federal land management agencies to charge fees to cover recreation facility operation expenses previously covered by appropriated funds. In the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Forest System, wilderness visitors in “participating national forests” paid a parking fee at wilderness trailheads.

Public protests resulted and cost my project some good trailhead volunteers. I couldn’t blame them for not wanting to be targets of the more vitriolic protesters. Others stuck, helped explain that Congress had required the Forest Service to charge user fees in lieu of reduced appropriated funds to maintain recreation facilities including wilderness trails, and we sold $6,337 worth of the passes at the station that summer. Those receipts increased to $7,975 in 1998 but decreased to less than a third of that sum in 1999 as more visitors purchased annual passes prior to visiting and day passes became available at self-service pay stations. Although the public increasingly accepted the fees, protests continued as the system evolved pursuant to subsequent acts and programs.


7 thoughts on “A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Presence: As Summers Went By”

  1. Aaarg! “Others stuck, helped explain that Congress had required the Forest Service to charge user fees in lieu of reduced appropriated funds to maintain recreation facilities including wilderness trails, …” could not have been a more incorrect message! I took over the Fee Demonstration Program in 2000 and walked into a hornet’s nest in DC, partly because of misunderstandings like this on the ground. It was meant to be an experiment to figure out where fees might be acceptable, never a requirement of Congress. We had most opposition in the PNW and SoCal because forests were charging fees for the same exact access people had enjoyed for years. There were no enhancements and fees were often difficult to pay (encountering a fee envelope requiring small cash in the middle of the forest, or worse, requiring a pass only available during business hours in an office 20 miles away). It was hard to get forests to give up the $$, but after many years of “experiments”, we had to develop guidelines for fees, because otherwise Congress was going to take the authority away. It was encapsulated into the ABCs: Accountability, Benefits, and Convenience. There are many stories to tell about the Rec Fee program, and it is interesting to get this take. It is also why this was one of the most stressful jobs I’ve ever had.

    • Teri, I wish you would share your stories about this! TSW is always available. I believe history is helpful, and should be shared so that the younger generations understand what we went through, what went wrong, and how they can avoid the same pitfalls.

      • You’re right of course, and I should do it before I forget too much. I have included some of it in oral history with the FS museum in Missoula, but only as a part of my career. It is an interesting story about the development of major legislation, where I got to see some sausage being made. But so many other things are drawing my attention!

  2. We instituted a new rec fee at Oregon Dunes NRA c 1995 – hugely successful! Generated a lot of new money that was distributed immediately w the help of a citizen’s committee to enhance rec experiences. We got beat in court (weak DOJ atty) when a wind surfer contested $5 day pass to drive thru NRA to access a jetty. This crippled the Rec Fee Demo project.


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