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The Valley of the Giants has never been easy to get to, but it’s about to get a little bit tougher: Visitors will soon need a $250 permit to use the most popular access road to the famed big tree preserve during hunting season.

Even though the 1,667-acre natural area is public land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, it’s located in a remote section of the Oregon Coast Range that’s surrounded by tracts of private timberland. The most direct route is an unpaved logging road that follows a meandering course out of Falls City and runs through the abandoned timber own of Valsetz.

About 27 miles of the 30-mile route is controlled by large timber companies that close the road to public access each year during fire season, which typically runs from early July through late September.

But now one of those landowners, Weyerhaeuser, is taking the seasonal shutdown a step further by adding its Black Rock Tree Farm to what the company calls its Premier Recreation Access Program. The new restriction takes effect Aug. 1.

Under the new system, anyone who wants motorized access to the area in the fall will need to purchase an annual permit from Weyerhaeuser. Aimed largely at hunters, the $250 permits entitle holders to camp, gather firewood and engage in other forms of outdoor recreation on the 21,000-acre tree farm – but even if all you want to do is drive through, you’ll still have to pay full freight.

“The Valsetz road will be closed to open public access (motorized and non-motorized) from the start of state-declared fire season to Dec. 1,” company spokesman Greg Miller wrote in an email to the newspaper. “From Dec. 1 to the beginning of fire season, the Valsetz road is open to through traffic only for public access without a Recreation Access Permit.”

Weyerhaeuser’s permit program, which the timber giant began rolling out in Oregon about three years ago, has drawn objections from some hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreationists who have traditionally been able to use – or at least cross – the company’s lands for free. But Weyerhaeuser officials say the permit system is needed to keep tabs on those who have access to its timberlands and recover some of the costs associated with vandalism, dumping and other kinds of resource damage on its property.

The news comes as a setback to Bureau of Land Management officials, who had been hoping to secure year-round public access to the Valley of the Giants across private timber holdings.

“BLM has administrative access to its lands through reciprocal right of ways (with private landowners), but we don’t have access guaranteed to the public through this reciprocal right of ways,” said Paul Tigan, a regional field manager with the agency. “It’s fair to say there’s no guaranteed public access to the Valley of the Giants.”

There are alternate routes into the area, but all of them cross at least some private property. Hancock Timber, the other major landowner in the area, has shown no indications so far of wanting to implement a paid permit system. But that could change as more big timber companies look to follow Weyerhaeuser’s lead by monetizing recreational access to their lands.

“It’s a changing landscape, that’s for sure,” said BLM biologist Scott Hoskins.

William Sullivan, author of the popular “100 Hikes” series of guidebooks to Oregon trails, said maintaining access to public lands is a growing concern around the state.

But he also pointed out that many popular destinations are already off-limits for much of the year — Cascade Head, for instance, has seasonal shutdowns to protect endangered butterflies, and some Central Oregon caves are closed when bats are hibernating.

His advice?

“Find a new spot. There’s a lot of room if we all spread out and walk a little lighter on the land,” Sullivan said.

“Or just wait. Wait until spring — that’s actually a better time to go anyway.”

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.


Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald