BEND, Ore. - A forest thinning plan could have a big impact on a giant recreation area just west of Bend, with construction lasting for years, said US Forest Service officials on Friday.
Greg Roller and his friends are visiting Central Oregon from Reno, Nevada. They were all geared up and ready to hit the trails on their mountain bikes.
"We come up here once or twice a year, generally spring or fall," Roller said.
By fall, plans could be finalized for the 'West Bend Project.' Officials say it includes thinning more than 21,000 acres of trees and brush in the area of the Phil's Trail mountain bike trail complex, Virginia Meissner Sno-Park and parts of the Deschutes River Trail south of town.
"Right now, the conditions in the forest are a little out of whack," said Ranger Kevin Larkin. "So we are at a higher risk for a catastrophic wildfire than we should be."
It's fear of the wildfires that has many mountain bikers welcoming the work, despite any disruptions.
"You can look around, and you can see dead trees everywhere that need to be cleared out," said Bend resident Kurt Woeller. "Those things ignite, and this whole forest could go up in flames."
"I think it's something we can all live with," added Tracy Tranchitella. "It would certainly be better than having a forest fire come through and shutting it down for a very long time."
No schedule is set yet, as public input is now being sought on the plans, but the work could last for about two years.
Some two-wheeled visitors said they plan to ride around it.
"If it was extensive, we would go elsewhere, but if it was just a section that was closed, and there was another area nearby, we would opt for that and still come to Bend," Roller said.
While it could be a temporary pain for outdoor enthusiasts, Forest Service officials say the project could have a big economic boost, bringing in about 200 logging jobs.
"We want to hear from as many folks as we can, so we can get this right," Larkin said. "This is an area a lot of people love, and we want to hear from them."
If you're interested in weighing in, comments are due by June 3, 2013.
You can email your comments to email@example.com. Or write to 63095 Deschutes Market Road, Bend, OR 97701. More details are in the Forest Service release linked on this page.