Friends of Cougar

Notes from phone conversation

Forest Service, McKenzie District, John Harper


By Greg Thorne 4/12/05 2:30pm

I had a 2 hour phone conversation with John Harper, who reports to Sandy Ratlin of the McKenzie River District. Sandy reports to Mary Allison, the District Ranger. I have not yet spoken with Sandy.

John said it was an unintentional mistake that Friends of Cougar were not included in the process of formulating the plan for changes. He said he thought some members had been informed. He did not know that Maria and Lionel were only peripherally involved with the Friends. He forgot to talk to me, which I find surprising, but not incredible. I have discussed Cougar with him a number of times in just the past year and told him I was with Friends of Cougar.

I told him that all indications are from Maria and Lionel, that they were merely informed of the decision about 5 weeks ago and were not invited to contribute any ideas. And I added that Maria yesterday when I spoke with her was working on a letter complaining of this very fact.

Despite this very unfortunate misunderstanding, John convinced me that the District does want to work in parallel with Friends of Cougar. We share the same goals of the public having a fine recreational experience and preserving the natural beauty of the Hot Springs and surrounding area.

John seemed to be open to an alternate plan from Friends of Cougar when the bidding reopens in 4 or 5 years. But he couldn't tell me if he's allowed to say when the Hoodoo special-use permit ends, but he could say it is within 5 years. I asked him to check and see if he can tell us when. Although I expressed surprise that something like that couldn't be revealed, he reminded me that he isn't saying it can't be, he just wants to check to be sure first.

I also came away feeling that the ball is in our court. If we come up with a convincing plan, they are interested in making things better, even if that means saving money. :-) Sorry, I couldn't resist a little sarcasm. I was frustrated that John didn't seem more open to the notion there are numerous way to save money. I think it will just take time and effort for us to go over the details with him. He explained that they have a limited budget for the Hot Springs. And I probably didn't realize how much it was costing. The vault toilets cost $500-1000 per pumping, and require two or more pumpings per year. I recall two years ago telling the FS we didn't need vault toilets and I had been asking for more parking in that area since 1998 when they made it much smaller. I warned them that there were rarely break-ins because so many people used to be in the larger parking lot. More people milling around, more security I explained. Fewer people, more risk.

When they decided to put in the toilets, Jerri said to me that it wasn't costing them anything because it was part of some grant. $1000-2000+ per year seems pretty expensive for not costing anything.

John was unable to tell me if we could review the Operating Plan. He suggested we may have to file through the Freedom of Information Act and it will cost money. The amount unknown. This contradicts what Mary Allison told me last week, that they would mail it to me. He also didn't know if the amount of receipts and expenses for the Hot Springs this year could be made public. He will check on these questions and get back to me.

I'll write more later about our conversation.




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