A controversial city water project west of Bend will result in the immediate eight-month closure of the Tumalo Falls Day Use Are beginning tomorrow, according to a joint news release sent just today from the city of Bend and the Forest Service.
Several popular hiking and biking trails in the area, including the portions of the North Fork and South Fork Tumalo trails, will be closed.
Officials said it was necessary to immediately close the popular recreational corridor to allow the city to begin staging construction equipment for the planned surface water improvement project that is designed to replace roughly 10 miles of aging pipe.
It is not clear how long the city and Forest Service knew they would need to close the highly trafficked area, but Forest Service spokesman Jean Nelson Dean said she had “just found out” about the closure.
“It’s certainly not fun to be closing a popular location like that,” Nelson-Dean said.
Nelson-Dean added that she wasn’t sure how long her staff may have known of the shutdown, but said some of the details around the project were finalized just last week after the agency rejected an appeal from a local land use watchdog, Central Oregon LandWatch.
Nelson-Dean said the deadlines are being driven by the city, which wants to get as much work done as possible while water flows are low in the creek. The city plans to begin work on laying the pipe in early October.
“We obviously like to give people a lot of notification,” she said, of the notoriously analytical federal agency.
“The city does have a need to get out there and take advantage. Once the appeal was basically resolved and they move forward, they wanted to get on it as quickly as possible.”
City spokesman Justin Finestone said he didn’t know how long the city had been aware of the necessity to close Tumalo Falls and referred questions to the city’s engineer Tom Hickman.
Hickman could not be reached for immediate comment.
While the work is expected to stretch into May, Nelson-Dean said they hope to have Tumalo Falls and the other trail section open for next summer.
In the meantime, she said, there is a chance the agency may temporarily open some of the area if weather forces a work stoppage.
Weather may not be the only obstacle, LandWatch may yet seek an injunction against the city to stop construction of the project that it and other opponents have decried as unnecessary and wasteful.
Those critics would prefer that the city move to a groundwater only system using existing and future well capacity, or explore other alternatives to the 10-mile pipe option. Other alternatives, they say, would have both long-term economic and environmental benefits.