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Decision on BZ Corner launch site development plans due out in July

The U.S. Forest Service intends to issue a notice of decision next month on its development plans for the White Salmon River Launch Site at BZ Corner.

A one-month public comment period on three alternative site plans ended June 18, according to Scott Springer, wild and scenic rivers manager for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area office in Hood River.

A notice of decision by the Forest Service's Scenic Area Manager is due out in early July.

The decision is being written by the same team that did the environmental assessment for the site. But it won't be final until the end of a 45-day appeal period.

As a result, Springer noted, nothing will occur on site until late-August, early-September at the earliest.

The recreation-related issues to be decided by the Scenic Area Manager include:

The method or system for providing public access to the river.

The level of construction on the nature trail to BZ Falls.

Public facilities to be conÿstructed on site.

The services to be provided.

"It's taken us longer than we anticipated," Springer said of the planning process, which began in 1999.

He added: "A lot of recreationists were hoping we'd get something in there fast and soon, but we have to comply with the laws of the nation before we can do anything."

First and foremost, the Scenic Area Manager's decision must comply with the standards and guidelines of the Gifford Pinchot and Lower White Salmon Wild and Scenic River management plans, as amended by the Northwest Forest Plan, as well as Klickitat County land-use rules, and achieve an acceptable level of environmental impact.

The environmental assessment for the site -- the only public facility that provides for boat entry into the main whitewater section of the river -- looked at three alternatives.

The first would require removal/relocation of some existing structures and construction of an all-new, 4-foot-wide, 650-foot-long trail down to the rock shelf that meets the "difficult" level of access under Americans with Disability Act requirements.

It also would provide for increased width of the vehicle access off State Route 141; a 50-car, five-bus parking facility; separate unloading and rigging areas, picnic tables; upgraded changing rooms and toilets; and BZ Falls nature trail improvements, including widening, water crossings and a viewing plaza at the trail's terminus.

The second would provide for limited trail construction and improvements, with only individual short sections built to ADA "difficult" access standards, plus structure removal/relocation, improved highway access, parking, staging areas and restroom facilities.

The third ("no action") alternative would retain all existing trail accesses with only minor tread and clearing work to prevent erosion and further degradation of the environment.

In addition, the nature trail would remain in its current condition with only minor improvements made to eliminate water quality concerns and erosion.

"We're just trying to get some recreation development on site that's similar to what has worked so well there in the past," Springer said, adding, "Mainly, we're looking at improving the existing trail or creating new trail to get people and their equipment down to the river safely and [developing] a site that will better represent more of a natural setting."

The Forest Service took ownership of the launch site in March, purchasing it from the Trust for Public Lands for $306,000.

The land trust bought the property -- consisting of 12 acres and some existing structures -- from the William Gross family of BZ Corner and held it in trust for the Forest Service.


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