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ONDA, county discuss proposed Oregon Desert Trail designation

Representatives of the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) conservation group and Lake County’s Board of Commissioners discussed the Oregon Desert Trail during a Tuesday, April 2, work session.

ONDA Conservation Dir. Dan Morse led a PowerPoint presentation on the trail, which spans 800 miles and traverses multiple counties; including those of Malheur, Harney, Deschutes and Lake.

Among the Lake County points of interest that the trail crosses are Summer Lake, Abert Rim and Hart Mountain, Morse said. The trail is divided into four sections based upon regional geologic locations, he said, and concludes at Lake Owyhee State Park near the Idaho border.

The Commissioners’ central discussion with ONDA pertained to the organization’s proposed pursuit of a federal designation of the trail as a connector trail to the Oregon High Desert National Recreation Trail and Fremont National Recreation Trail.

Morse said that ONDA offered the proposal to Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials for their consideration.  The agencies then encouraged ONDA to reach out to the communities impacted by the trail’s routing, and determine if any adjustments are needed.

Morse said that ONDA is seeking a collaborative process in which communities may participate.

Detailed information on the trail’s routing, specifically as it pertains to promoting awareness against trespassing and individual responsibility for recreationists, is provided on the ONDA web site, he noted.

ONDA is also interested in feedback from community businesses, economic development groups and Chamber of Commerce organizations.

Commissioner Brad Winters noted that the organization needs to reach out to the ranching community and grazing permittees, as this is a segment of the population most likely to be directly impacted by the trail’s routing.

Morse said their input would be welcomed, and also said he did not know how many permit holders there are along the trail’s route.

Much of the discussion centered around concerns by the commissioners of the potential for future land use restrictions as a result of the proposed federal designation.

At various points, all three of the commissioners voiced their support for ensuring the preservation of local cultural heritage.  These included the livelihood of ranchers as well as such recreation as hunting.

Commissioner Brad Winters expressed concern of potential incidental conflict issues between hikers and hunters, as an example.

Morse relayed the positive interactions of Bend-based wildlife biologist Sage Clegg, who hiked the trail in its entirety in 2013, and many residents and landowners along the route.

Morse also said the trail would provide an opportunity to outside exposure to the unique geographical and cultural elements of the communities through which it passes.

Morse said that ONDA is seeking the input of all the counties through which the trail passes, and is open to dropping the federal designation if that proves to be the most sensible outcome.

Morse also said the next step would be extensive community outreach efforts that would likely include community-wide public meetings for discussion of the proposal.

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