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Rules pitched to limit crowds at Three Pools, Opal Creek in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest

In this 2012 photo, from left, Shawn Foster, Carson Pemble, Emily Read, Brittany Pemble and Megan Pemble explore the summit of South Sister, west of Bend, Ore. Officials with the Deschutes National Forest and the Willamette National Forest are considering changes to possibly limit use in the most popular areas of the Three Sisters Wilderness are in order to maintain the wilderness character of those locations. (Joe Kline / AP)
In this 2012 photo, from left, Shawn Foster, Carson Pemble, Emily Read, Brittany Pemble and Megan Pemble explore the summit of South Sister, west of Bend, Ore. Officials with the Deschutes National Forest and the Willamette National Forest are considering changes to possibly limit use in the most popular areas of the Three Sisters Wilderness are in order to maintain the wilderness character of those locations. (Joe Kline / AP)
Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. – The U.S. Forest Service has proposed a series of regulations to reduce overcrowding and unruly behavior in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest.

The rules include bans on alcohol and campfires in certain areas, along with increased restrictions on where people can camp, the Statesman Journal reported. Fines for breaking the rules would run from $50 to $250 per citation.

The Three Pools Recreation Site has become a victim of its own success. Once a little-known swimming hole, the emerald pools have been overrun by growing crowds and marred by trash and vandalism.

“On those really hot days, it basically becomes a booze-infested party zone,” said Josh Weathers, developed recreation manager for Willamette National Forest. “Crowds have doubled there since 2014. It puts tremendous pressure on this fragile, natural environment.”

Opal Creek Trail, Elk Lake and the Breitenbush River have faced similar problems, Weathers said, and camping limitations are proposed at those spots.

At Three Pools, the Forest Service proposes two new regulations – an alcohol ban and limiting entry to only those who fill the 94 parking spaces. Once those spots are taken, no one else would be allowed in.

“This would be a way to limit the huge volumes of people on the really popular days – and provide a better experience for everyone,” said Suzanne Cable, recreation staff officer for Willamette National Forest.

She added: “Ninety-four parking spots still allows a lot of people to enjoy the experience.”

A parking restriction is proposed at the Opal Creek Trail. Busy weekends often see upward of 220 cars parked for a mile down Forest Service Road 2209. If the new rule takes effect, cars could only park a quarter mile down the road from the Opal Creek Gate Trailhead.

Weathers said the proposed alcohol ban at Three Pools stems from it being a contributing factor to litter, vandalism, fights and injuries.

“Every year, we’ve had calls for emergency response when people have fallen, slipped and even drowned,” he said. “Many have been alcohol-related.”

The Forest Service is inviting public comment on the proposals from April 3 to 14. Officials plan to have the rules in place before summer crowds arrive.

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