A New Master Plan for Smith Rock | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

A New Master Plan for Smith Rock

Oregon's premier sport climbing destination hasn't had an updated master plan in more than 30 years. Now we're getting a look at Oregon State Parks' vision for the park going forward

Matthew Davey, park manager for Smith Rock State Park, joined the Source Weekly on a recent episode of our podcast, Bend Don't Break, for a chat about the recently released draft master plan for Smith Rock. Below is an excerpt from that podcast, which you can listen to in its entirety.

The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Source Weekly: What is the timeline for the master plan, and how long do people have to comment on it?

Matthew Davey: The survey data started back in 2016 or 2017 for this master plan. Typically, a master plan process lasts about two years from start to finish. This one is pushing about seven now. So, it's longer than intended due to a change of staff in 2018 and 2019. Then the pandemic that we went into really put the whole process on hold. We picked it back up in 2021, and really started refining our concept plans in 2022. That's where we're at now, a refined concept plan. We just opened up for two public meetings earlier this month, on April 10. We also opened up public comment for those concept plans and the draft master plan, so the public comment period is going to be open through May 15. We encourage people to take a look at that draft master plan and give us your feedback through May 15.

SW: What was the reasoning behind creating a new master plan?

MD: Our previous master plan was released in 1991. Typically, master plans are good for about 20 years. We're going on 32 years since the last master plan and in that time, visitation has tripled, we have added new property and there has been a lot of change at Smith Rock. The master plan is a guiding document for park management to use to improve the park and implement management strategies when funding becomes available, so it is important that it is up to date. It provides a menu of options that park managers can employ. Not everything in the master plan will get done; it is not necessarily prioritized — it just gives options and allows the permitting process to take place. If we want to build or change something that isn't in the master plan we must amend the master plan and go through a public comment process before enacting any new changes, so having everything we plan to do already on the master plan is important.

SW: That's a really interesting distinction. People may have the idea that these things are going to happen, and they're going to happen as soon as this master plan is adopted.

MD: Government works a little differently; nothing happens fast. It has taken seven years just to finish the plan, so it isn't possible for the plan to be executed in its entirety, quickly. What we'll do is implement some projects as funding becomes available. Smith Rock currently has some funding that was appropriated for project work. So as we roll out this master plan, we can get to work on some design and on some new projects in the somewhat near future.

SW: I've got a list of some of the cool new things that would be coming with this master plan if it's adopted: new restrooms, new bridges to help people get across the river, more picnic areas, group camping, a visitors' center, more parking — going up from 470 to 562 — and closing Canyon Trail. What's drawing the most attention? What do you think people are paying close attention to?

MD: The main themes that came out during the public comment process were parking, congestion, and potentially implementing a permit or a reservation system for parking. It's really about capacity and how we want to manage that capacity, while also protecting the resource. This master plan addresses some of those parking concerns and gives some options for how we can make everything safer and how we can make the experience a lot better.

SW: Most people who live here are aware of what a world-class climbing area Smith Rock is. In the master plan, what are some changes that climbers can expect to experience going forward?

MD: The master plan is suggesting the implementation of a climbing management plan. Our management plans are different than a master plan. A master plan is really focused on land use, and for facility expansion. Management plans deal with specifics; you could have a visitor management plan, a parking management plan or a climbing management plan. I think our climbing community is excited to see a climbing management plan, because it will protect the accessibility of climbing at Smith Rock for the future, making sure that it stays safe, and making sure that it is maintained in a way that can be sustainable.

SW: Would this person be in charge of setting the routes, deciding where bolts should be put in — those sort of jobs?

MD: They would be a sort of "climbing ranger." That position would be more focused on education and outreach and creating and maintaining relationships with our climbing community who we currently have a fantastic relationship with.

... This ranger would be working closely with our nonprofits and with the community to provide education and outreach, ensuring responsible climbing. The ranger would not be responsible for checking each bolt; we rely on our nonprofit groups to constantly make sure the bolts are safe, maintained and replaced as needed.

-The Smith Rock master plan draft is available on the Oregon State Parks website and at smithrock.com. People are invited to comment on the plan through May 15.

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