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County readies all-terrain staging area on coast ahead of Dune Fest crowds

 WINCHESTER BAY -- Days before thousands of all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts descend on Winchester Bay and Reedsport for the five-day Dune Fest at the end of the month, Douglas County officials plan to complete construction of a new ATV staging area.

The site will allow riders to park, unload their off-road vehicles and head to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area without having to ride along Salmon Harbor Drive.

"I think people are going to be really pleased with it," Douglas County Commissioner Dan Van Slyke said.

For years, county officials have been concerned with the safety of ATV riders mixing with cars and trucks on the main road between Salmon Harbor and the dunes. They wanted to solve that problem and also eliminate engine noise from ATVs drifting into a neighborhood on a bluff above the dunes.

For more than a year, the county has worked to obtain 69 acres of dune property from the federal Bureau of Land Management and another 200 acres held by the state Parks and Recreation Department. The acreage was sandwiched between county-owned property at Half Moon Bay and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, operated by the U.S. Forest Service.

County officials were interested in the two pieces of property in order to construct a staging area and to provide active management in an area that they said had been neglected for many years. With five different county, state and federal agencies owning land along that section of dunes, it was difficult for visitors to know where one jurisdiction ended and another began.

The staging area is being constructed on a 570-by-120-foot rectangle on the former state parks property. It's located adjacent to Salmon Harbor Drive, directly east of the federal Army Corps of Engineers parking lot that provides access to the beach along the south jetty.

County crews cleared trees and brush from the property and leveled the ground. The sand is being covered with several layers of rock that will provide the surface for parking. Next year, the county hopes to be able to receive grant funding to pave the lot. There are also future plans to construct a camping area.

Parking at the staging area will be free, in contrast to the day use parking lot operated by the U.S. Forest Service farther south, where it costs $5 per day

We would like to continue to provide free access to our day-use facilities," Van Slyke said. "It's the people's property and we feel very strongly about that."

The county has been working to alleviate concerns raised by the owner of the Discovery Point Resort and RV Park, located along Salmon Harbor Drive, across from Half Moon Bay. Greg Hoover wanted to ensure that ATV riders leaving his business continued to have direct access to the dunes, without the need to drive to the staging area.

Direct access has always been a selling point for Discovery Point and without it Hoover worried that his business would suffer.

Crews have created an 18-foot-wide clearing leading from Discovery Point to the dunes, although Hoover said it isn't wide enough for safety. Hoover had originally pushed for a corridor 100 feet wide so that several ATVs could ride through at the same time and safely pass one another. He said he thought county officials had finally agreed to an opening 40 feet wide but it hasn't been widened out that far yet.

He said his relationship with county officials has been cordial. Van Slyke has stopped by and talked with him frequently over the past year, Hoover said.

"We have a very good rapport," he said.

The county's dunes plan includes the closure of the area east of the Umpqua Lighthouse to ATV riding. That, along with creation of the ATV staging area, is meant to limit the amount of noise passing through the nearby neighborhood. Hoover said he is sad to see that happen.

"I'm still against any closure," said Hoover, who has decided to give his rental customers 10 minutes of free use to allow them time to reach the riding areas, now a half-mile farther away.

One of the complaints against closure of the area beneath the lighthouse was that it contains several small bunny hills that were suitable for young children and other ATV users learning to ride.

"It takes away the easy slopes for the kids," said a Reedsport man who declined to give his name while unloading two ATVs and a small motorcycle at the Forest Service lot one day last week.

Even if those slopes were good for youngsters, they never provided any safety, Van Slyke said. Older riders screamed through there, he said.

"Even though it was called the bunny slope, it was dangerous there with people going 70 miles per hour," Van Slyke said.

Composed: 07/13/2004 | Modified: 07/13/2004

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