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Forest Service says popular road in Elkhorns will stay open to vehicles

Photo by Christina Witham A Jeep navigates granite boulders along the North Powder River Road.

By Jayson Jacoby

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A popular four-wheel drive road in the Elkhorn Mountains northwest of Baker City will remain open to motor vehicles even if Congress designates a new wilderness there, a Forest Service official said this week.

Jodi Kramer, public affairs officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, said the Forest Service’s goal is to exclude the North Powder River Road from any new wilderness.

Congress has the final say in designating wilderness areas, and there are no bills pending to do so in the Elkhorns.

The news about the North Powder River Road is welcome, said Christina Witham of Baker City.

Avalanche Center offers training for skiers, sledders

Photo by Dave Clemens/ David Petrie along the West Fork of the Wallowa River.

By Katy Nesbitt

The (La Grande) Observer

JOSEPH — Backcountry skiing and snowmobiling, once reserved for a few adventurous souls, are gaining popularity throughout North America. With more people recreating in avalanche-prone territory, the risk of getting caught in a snow slide is also on the rise.

According to a Feb. 19 National Public Radio report, nine people died in 10 days in the Western U.S. Midwinter storms not only increased much needed snowpack, but created conditions risky for backcountry recreationists.

Backcountry skiing in the Wallowa and Elkhorn mountains is becoming more popular not only with locals, but with skiers from around the northwest. In 2009 Keith Stebbings, a retired engineer and longtime backcountry skier with ties to the avalanche center in Salt Lake City, moved to Joseph and met up with like-minded adventurers. 

Northeastern Oregon had no avalanche center, but a combination of the terrain and the growing interest in backcountry skiing and snowmobiling prompted Stebbings and others to form the Wallowa Avalanche Center.

New state park to open

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A property near Northeastern Oregon’s youngest ghost town will officially become the newest state park during a public ceremony Sept. 20.

The grand opening of Bates State Park, in Grant County about 50 miles southwest of Baker City, is set for 10 a.m. to noon.

The park, which includes a 28-site primitive campground, vault toilets and more than three miles of hiking trails, is along the Middle Fork John Day River.

Wilderness family: Baker City

The Smithson family from Baker City at a pass in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. The whole family went on a three-night, four-day backpacking trip during Labor Day Weekend. Kneeling in front, with Hunter the dog, is Thomas, 6, the youngest of the five Smithson boys. From left to right: Dan, his wife, Elizabeth, Brady, 11, James, 19, Timothy, 17, and Scott, 13.
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Elizabeth Smithson is that rare mother whose treasured family memories involve an avalanche.

And a boulder-strewn scramble disguised as a hike.

Also tears shed over a lost dog.

This is not as strange as it sounds.

Not after you’ve listened to Elizabeth explain how a backpacking trip in the Eagle Cap Wilderness this Labor Day weekend tightened the bond between she and her husband, Dan, and their five sons.

Then you’ll understand.

What wolves do, and why

Baker City Herald

Wolves are opportunists.

They’ll kill what they can.

That was one of the points of emphasis made by Timmothy Kaminski, who works for the Mountain Livestock Cooperative in Jackson, Wyo., during a presentation in September at the Eltrym Theatre.

The Cooperative’s vision, according to its Web site (www.nrccooperative.org/), is to “develop a practical ‘working model’ to reduce large carnivore-livestock conflicts across foothill and mountain landscapes in Western North America.”

“My interest in doing this is to help folks understand some of the things that go into wildlife conservation,” Kaminski said during his presentation.

About 50 people attended the event.

Duct tape saves the day for Baker angler

It also saved her 22-pound catfish

With the grudging aid of a 22-pound catfish, Marne Baines added to the already rich legend that is duct tape.

Glue was involved too.

But, as is so often the case, it was the duct tape, and not some lesser adhesive, that really binds this story together.

It all started just after dawn Monday.

Baines drove out to the Highway 203 Pond, just east of the freeway a few miles north of Baker City, with her husband, Tom Baines, and her son, Ron Skipper.

They hoped to hook some of the rainbow trout that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department recently dumped into the pond.

“It’s my favorite spot,” said Baines, who moved to Baker City eight years ago.

She tried worms and PowerBait for a while, but had no bites.

Bates park study available for public comments

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) is accepting comments through April 30 on an environmental assessment included as part of a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant application for Bates State Park in Grant County.

Wallowa Loop Road to be plowed, but it’s not open

The south section of the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road (Forest Road 39) will be plowed of snow from its junction with State Highway 86 to the junction with Forest Road 3965 (the Hells Canyon Overlook road) for emergency repair of a downed high-power transmission line.

State looks at requiring hunters to wear blaze orange

The color orange has Oregon hunters seeing black and white.

At issue is the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s plan to take a serious look at making blaze orange mandatory for hunters to prevent accidental shootings. The commission is directing the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to look into the pros and cons of mandatory hunter orange and present its findings at its June 4 meeting. The ODFW will also be collecting input from the public about the issue at the annual big game tag meetings conducted in each of its districts.

Sparks may fly at some of the sessions.

“There is a lot of passion associated with (the hunter orange issue),’’ said Richard Hargrave, information and education division deputy administrator for the ODFW.

Many hunters see this as a black and white issue — they either support or object to mandatory blaze orange.

Walt Blackman of La Grande, a former hunter safety instructor, is in the pro mandatory orange camp.

“I taught hunter safety classes for 20 years and we always preached about wearing hunter orange,’’ Blackman said. “I totally agree that it should be worn.’’

La Grande outdoorsman Phil Gillette opposes mandatory hunter orange, arguing that the issue is becoming a political  football.

“I don’t want the government making it mandatory to appease a certain group,’’ said Gillette, the owner of Phil’s Outdoor and More.

Powder River Pistolettes club hands out awards

More than 50 members of the Powder River Pistolettes club received marksmanship certificates during a season-ending awards dinner Oct. 23.

Sponsored by the Powder River Sportsmen’s Club, the Pistolettes formed in May after Buck Buckner, a certified pistol instructor, proposed women-only shooting sessions twice a month at the Sportsmen’s Club’s range at Virtue Flat east of Baker City.

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