Mount Hood National Forest once provided more than 300 million board feet of timber every year.
For starters, the Portland metro area’s population is expected to nearly double to 3.8 million people by 2060. Similarly, Government Camp as it exists today could be an entirely new place in the not too distant future. After a coalition of Hood River Valley residents and environmental groups blocked Mt. Hood Meadows’ proposed resort on the north side of Hood in 2004, an agreement tentatively traded 700 acres of Meadows’ property on the north side for 120 acres of developable land in Government Camp. If the Forest Service approves the land swap — and if the economy eventually warms back up — Government Camp, an unincorporated village of about 135 registered voters, could see a wave of new residential development.
In addition, Timberline Lodge has proposed a lift-assisted mountain bike park, which would provide a sanctioned area for riding. Portland General Electric and other utility companies have expressed interest in exploring areas of the MHNF for geothermal energy sources. Ten thousand people already try to climb Mount Hood every year.
More people visiting the mountain will likely mean more revenue for small businesses like Joe’s Doughnut Shop in Sandy and more hotel tax dollars for county services and tourism efforts around the mountain. More people living or vacationing in Government Camp would certainly spur new retail and commercial endeavors.
But more people and greater demands will do more than stimulate the surrounding economy. They will use more water. They will clog the roads, the campgrounds and trailheads; they will create longer lift lines and fill parking lots at places like Timberline and Meadows, which already turn people away on busy days. Kohnstamm and others have long lobbied for improvements to the transportation system around the mountain — wider roads, mass transportation, possibly even an aerial tram — in vain.
“We’ve always suffered from underfinanced and under planned transportation systems,” he says. “That, I think, is the biggest challenge facing the mountain today.”
Fixing the transportation system around the mountain would not, of course, come cheap. And not only is there little funding available for major upgrades, but the money that may be in the state’s budget often gets allocated to projects in more populated areas. That’s an issue that has long plagued — and united — businesses out in the rural shadows of the mountain.
“I think there is still a little sensitivity toward the Metro area in terms of its political clout,” says McArthur, of the Mt. Hood Economic Alliance. “Rural communities still have to pay for infrastructure upgrades, but how do you fund those when your rate base is not large but you have a user base that is?”