Badlands Wilderness Area marks 4th birthday

So does Spring Basin near John Day River

This weekend marks the fourth anniversary of the creation of Oregon's newest wilderness areas. They include the Badlands near Bend, and Spring Basin near the John Day River in north central Oregon.

The Badlands, east of Bend, encompass 29,000 acres and are popular with hikers and horseback riders, with 50 miles of trails through the stark remnants of an ancient volcano.

Four years ago, David Eddleston, manager of Friends of the Oregon Badlands, says he was part of a group of volunteers and Bureau of Land Management workers pulling up old fence posts in the area to donate as firewood for the poor when someone's cell phone rang.

"We received a phone call that President Obama had actually signed the bill, creating wilderness," he recalls. "So I think we're probably the only group in the United States that went into a Wilderness Study Area - and we hiked out of a fully declared wilderness! I think we made history that day."

True to its name, Spring Basin comes to life in the spring, with carpets of colorful wildflowers that attract hikers, climbers and photographers to its canyons and hilltops.

The wilderness area itself is less than 6,400 acres, but Jefferson Jacobs, wilderness stewardship coordinator of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, says tribal-run lands that also have some protections surround it.

"Spring Basin is a really neat example of conservation where one size doesn't fit all," he says. "Some may have grazing on it, some may not. Some is open to vehicles, some is not. But it is all protected, in one way or another."

In all of Oregon's wilderness and conservation areas, volunteers put in thousands of hours, in partnership with the federal agencies that manage them. Eddleston says with budget cutbacks, there's been plenty to do.

"Removing obsolete barbed-wire fence, maintaining of trails and trailheads, installing signs, re-installing vandalized signs," he says, "and outreach programs, to have people let the light of wilderness into their souls."

In all, Oregon gained a dozen new wilderness areas as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, including Soda Mountain near Ashland, Copper Salmon in the Siskiyou National Forest, and eight areas in the vicinity of Mount Hood.

Nationwide, 2 million acres were designated in nine states.

Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this report.

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