Congress endorses forest festivities
Legislation would allow year-round activities on federal land; some area ski resorts unaffected
WASHINGTON – Mountain bike trails and zip lines could open at more Northwest ski resorts if President Barack Obama signs a bill Congress passed this week.
The Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Act, which passed both houses unanimously, would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue permits to ski resorts for additional year-round activities on U.S. Forest Service land.
Year-round activities would create more resort jobs and boost the economy, said Phil Edholm, chief executive officer of Lookout Pass in Idaho.
“We need to put these assets to work. They shouldn’t sit during the summer just because people aren’t skiing,” Edholm said.
The bill covers many Northwest ski areas because they are on Forest Service land. Mount Spokane, however, is on state land. Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg and Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sandpoint also are on lands unaffected by the legislation.
Authorized activities could include the use of zip lines, mountain bike trails, disc golf courses and rope courses. Tennis courts, water slides and water parks, swimming pools, golf courses and amusement parks would be prohibited.
“Washington state’s population is going to continue to grow, demand for outdoor recreational activities is going to continue to grow, and we can help accommodate that,” said Scott Kaden, president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association.
Some of these year-round activities had been allowed by the Forest Service until two years ago, when the agency discovered it did not have that authority.
Some facilities, like the mountain bike trails at Lookout Pass, were allowed to continue operating, but no new activities could open. Lookout Pass began developing plans for a zip line and alpine slide last year. If the bill becomes law, Edholm said, he will move forward with those plans.
Travis Stephenson, general manager for Ski Bluewood in Dayton, Wash., said there are no plans for summer activities there yet, but the legislation would open up the option.
If Obama signs the bill, ski resorts still have to wait for the USDA to create regulations before starting any new activities.
John Eminger, chief executive officer of 49 Degrees North in Chewelah, Wash., said he doesn’t foresee huge, immediate changes.
“The effect it will have over several years will be greater,” he said. “It’s something that we can look forward to as we try to create a four-season resort.”
In the past, 49 Degrees North had to get individual permits for each event it wanted to host. The legislation would put an end to that.
“To me this is really an administrative bill,” Eminger said. “It’s just a shame that it hasn’t been this way forever.”
Jessica Holdman, a student in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, serves as a Washington, D.C., correspondent for The Spokesman-Review.