Kapka Butte Sno-Park DEIS, Deschutes National Forest, Comment Period Open

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By Susie Rainsberry and Todd White



The U.S. Forest Service has released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Kapka Butte Sno-Park, located in Deschutes National Forest in Central Oregon near Bend. There is a 45 day comment period that ends May 30, 2011. 


The DEIS can be found here:



SAWS has issued numerous Action Alerts related to this project and continued access rights to Tumalo Mountain. Both issues have generally been part of a combined conversation in this forest.


Here are the links to all of previous SAWS Alerts issued over the past several years related to these topics:


April 2005: http://news.snowmobilealliance.org/2005/04/2nd-annual-dutchman-winter-summit-in-bend-oregon/

February 2006: http://news.snowmobilealliance.org/2006/02/bend-fort-rock-ranger-district-environmental-assessment/

August 2008: http://news.snowmobilealliance.org/2008/08/proposal-by-the-extreme-green-groups-to-close-tumalo-mountain/

July 2008: http://www.snowmobile-alliance.org/Action_Alerts/08/SAWS_Action_Alert_-_Dutchman_Sno-Park_Proposed_Conversion_to_Non-motorized.htm

January 2009: http://news.snowmobilealliance.org/2009/01/kapka-butte-sno-park-scoping-period/


While reading through our past alerts, you'll see that the common issues addressed are user conflicts, parking, the never-ending threat to close Tumalo to all motorized use and the restriction or complete closure of Dutchman Sno-Park to snowmobile parking. As a result of constant and regular feedback from snowmobilers, the Kapka DEIS, once and for all, makes no reference to any land closures or parking restrictions at Dutchman Sno-Park. We should view this as a small victory. 


Below is a modified table from the DIES that provides a high level view of the four alternatives:


Table 2-7. Comparison of Alternatives (modified from original)


Proposed Activities




Paved Parking


Trail Access 

New Construction


Snowshoes Trails 

New Construction


Groomed Nordic Trails Opened to Unharnessed Dogs 

New Construction


Dutchman Flat Area

Relocate Existing Activities


Alternative 1

(No Action)



No Change


No Change


No Change


No Change


No Change



Alternative 2

(Proposed Action)


Truck/Trailer slots: 70


Auto slots: 40


.2 miles snowmobile trail to connect to Trail #45

0.6 miles Nordic trail to connect to Vista Butte Nordic trails



0.8 mile un-groomed trail to the top of Kapka Butte


7.2 miles (groomed, 6.2 miles non- motorized, 1.0 miles shared with motorized)


No Change


Alternative 3


Truck/Trailer slots: 50


Auto slots: 0


.2 miles snowmobile trail to connect to Trail #45

0.6 miles Nordic trail to connect to Vista Butte Nordic trails







Relocate snowmobile play area (16.6 acres) to north end of the flat

Reroute 0.5 miles of snowmobile trail #7 to east edge of the flat


Alternative 4


Truck/Trailer slots: 70


Auto slots: 40


.2 miles snowmobile trail to connect to Trail #45

0.6 miles Nordic trail to connect to Vista Butte Nordic trails



0.8 mile un-groomed trail to the top of

Kapka Butte


 7.2 miles (groomed, 6.2 miles non- motorized, 1.0 miles shared with motorized)


Relocate snowmobile play area (16.6 acres) to north end of the flat

Reroute 0.5 miles of snowmobile trail #7 to east edge of the flat 


While there are no stated closures, two of the alternatives include a relocation of the current snowmobile play area on Dutchman Flats, with no overall loss in acreage. They are simply offering to move it to an area of land that is more removed and isolated from the designated non-motorized areas of the Flats. Whether this move is a good thing or a bad thing is really subjective. SAWS does not have a position on it one way or another, but supports the fact that there will be no net loss of riding acreage included in the alternatives.


In fact, because there are no closures mentioned in the DEIS, SAWS has chosen to offer this editorial to notify members that the comment period is open. We'd also like to share some other things for you to consider.


We believe that the underlying threat of closures is still present. Interestingly enough, Bend Backcountry Alliance ("BBA"), the group trying to eliminate all motorized access in Deschutes NF, is greatly opposed to the building of Kapka Butte Sno-Park. This is directly off its website (http://www.bendbc.com/) : 


"The proposed Kapka sno-park will increase existing conflicts between motorized and non-motorized users. These conflicts not only include physical proximity and safety issues, but also noise and air pollution, and parking and access issues.

Although the Kapka proposal includes the construction of trails for non-motorized users, most winter recreationists seeking a quiet winter experience are unlikely to want to spend their time near such a massive snowmobile staging area. Additionally, these areas offer no access to suitable terrain for backcountry skiers or snowshoers seeking more of a challenge.

Most importantly, we believe that any proposal for increased motorized access in the Century Drive corridor must be balanced by equitable accommodations for non-motorized users.

Therefore, we strongly oppose the construction of the Kapka Butte Sno-Park."


There is an interesting table on page 67 of the DEIS (Table 2-9). It outlines the use level changes of people at one time (PAOT) on peak use day in the area's sno-parks. For motorized users, the change is +182 for Alternatives 2 and 4 and +130 for Alternative 3.  It's no wonder BBA isn't interested having Kapka built. That is a lot of additional snowmobilers to the area. In terms of the increase in vehicles with trailers, Alternative 2 and 4 will have a 61 percent increase over the No Action Alternative (No. 1) and Alternative 3 will have a 44 percent increase. 


The fact is, many snowmobilers and other winter users are strongly opposed to the construction of Kapka. This might be the only time that cross-country skiers and snowmobilers have found themselves sharing a position on land use in this forest. You can be assured though, that the underlying reasons for this once-in-a-lifetime agreement are vastly different. Snowmobilers want higher elevation access, such as is available currently at Dutchman. Bend Backcounty Alliance? Well, they just want us out of the forest entirely.


If you are wondering why the FS doesn't just expand Dutchman here is what it has to say about that in the DEIS:


Enlarge Dutchman Sno-Park parking area instead of building the Kapka Sno-park

Some members of the public believe that the Kapka location is not the best choice for adding winter recreation parking. They would prefer the enlargement of Dutchman since it is located at a higher elevation, is an already developed site, and provides better access to trails.


The Interdisciplinary Team considered an alternative that would provide the additional winter parking at Dutchman Sno-Park. This was not carried forward for detailed analysis in this EIS because the existing crowded corridor with Mount Bachelor ski area, Nordic skiing, motorized and non-motorized trailheads have already caused overcrowded conditions at this location. Increasing the parking capacity of Dutchman Sno-Park to accommodate 70-110 vehicles would only exacerbate the current situation.


The 1996 Sno-Park Expansions Environmental Analysis evaluated the effects of enlarging Dutchman Sno-Park and concluded that significantly increasing the capacity of the existing site or constructing a new sno-park near Dutchman Flat would increase use and the potential for user conflicts. Those conclusions are still valid and no new circumstances exist that would trigger a change to that direction. However, the Forest will continue to assess all sno-parks and may recommend changes in the future to improve the efficiency, capacity and safety of facilities.


It's the final sentence of this statement that should have you on alert. SAWS' position all along has been that Dutchman Sno-Park is an anchor for our continued access to the high country. It is the only motorized sno-park on the north side of Cascades Lakes Highway.  We continue to believe that if at any point Dutchman is closed to snowmobiles, either by vehicle length or calendar restrictions, it will be that much easier for groups like BBA to lobby for a ban on motorized access to forest lands on the north side of the highway.  You simply have to look at a map to see how likely this scenario is.   


There is a grass-roots effort underway to petition the FS to reconsider the expansion of Dutchman Sno-Park. At the time of this writing, close to 900 signatures have been collected. People signing the petition are not just snowmobilers. They are coming from all types of winter users from throughout the state.  The petition is available online at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/expanddutchman/  Not only can you sign the petition, but you can also view comments from others who have signed it. One signor's comment offers some good commentary about government spending:


"I feel that Kapka is not in the best interest of those who use the area for winter recreation. It seems to me to be a waste of money. The way that our country is hurting with the current economy wouldn't the money that will be spent on building a snowpark that no one wants be put to better use. We are closing our schools cutting our police fire departments, I can only shake my head and say WHAT!!!! does Washington have so much money that they can throw it away on unwanted projects. I feel that if the F.S. has to spend money then have them spend it on a project that people want, enlarge Dutchman Flat snow park. Please do not build Kapka snow park." - Catherine Allison


One of the new issues the FS is trying to address with this DEIS is access for people recreating with dogs. We're not even sure how to apply this information. While the document outlines new trails for development, specific to dogs off leash, it doesn't state that those areas will become closed to snowmobiles. While we can assume the proposed new trails will be close to motorized travel, as they will be designated cross-country trails, the issues about cross country travel closures are not mentioned. Some snowmobilers in the area are still upset about what was intended to be a temporary closure of a previous snowmobile trail near Wanoga for off-leash dog access for skiers.  That two mile section of trail is still closed to snowmobilers, as far as we know. Another unknown is the snowshoe trail to the summit of Kapka Butte. Will the butte then become closed to motorized as well? The DEIS does not make that clear. 


At the very least, this DEIS is informative of the issues, and the history of those issues, in this highly popular winter recreation area.


So, now what should you do about it? SAWS will always recommend that you submit a comment, contact your local representatives and we often even tell you what we would like you to do. However, SAWS is not in the business of arguing for or against parking, or grooming funds, or any other issues related to snowmobiling that do not affect land-use access rights. The FS seems to have finally figured out that this DEIS would go nowhere if snowmobile access rights were restricted. As such, they removed all such references from it and therefore SAWS will not be offering an opinion or a position about which of the Alternatives you should support. 


Instructions for submitting comments are as follows:

Comments should be addressed to Shane Jeffries, District Ranger, Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District, 1230 NE 3rd Street, Suite A-262, Bend, OR, 97701.


Comments can also be faxed to (541) 383-4700, sent electronically to comments-pacificnorthwest-deschutes-bend-ftrock@fs.fed.us or hand delivered to 1230 NE Third Street, Suite A-262, Bend, Oregon between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.


For e-mail submission, the comments must be submitted as part of the actual e-mail message or as an attachment in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx), rich text format (.rtf) or portable document format (.pdf) only. In cases where no identifiable name is attached to an electronic message, verification of identity will be required. E-mails submitted to e-mail addresses other than the one listed above, or in formats other than those listed, or containing viruses, will be rejected. It is the responsibility of the commenter to confirm receipt of comments submitted by electronic mail. Please enter "Kapka Butte Snopark DEIS Comments" into the subject line of your e-mail.


This is another chance to make a difference. We encourage you to write a comment letter or send an e-mail and let the Forest Service know what you want for this area on our public lands.


For more information, visit: http://www.snowmobile-alliance.org.

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