Hikers, trail runners, dog walkers and other recreationists who use the Oak Creek entrance to access Oregon State University’s McDonald-Dunn Research Forest will find fewer places to park from now on.
A Benton County Public Works Department crew installed wooden bollards along the side of Oak Creek Drive on Wednesday in an effort to halt illegal overflow parking that was creating a safety hazard during peak hours at the popular trailhead.
“People used to park with one wheel out of the roadway and almost in the ditch, and the rest of their car in the roadway,” said Ryan Brown, the recreation manager for OSU Research Forests.
“The parking that was happening there was never legal by county standards,” she added. “This will make it physically impossible to park there.”
An enforcement plan is in place in case anyone manages to park illegally despite the posts. For the next month or so, OSU employees will place warning slips on mis-parked vehicles. After that, Benton County sheriff’s deputies will begin issuing citations and calling tow trucks to deal with violators.
The bollards are part of a traffic management plan the OSU College of Forestry agreed to last fall to win approval of a conditional use permit from the Benton County Planning Commission. The permit, which is good for five years, will allow the college to build new trails and make parking lot improvements on the 11,000-acre research forest in the hills north of Corvallis.
Brown stressed that there will still be room for 20 to 24 vehicles to park legally at the Oak Creek trailhead, and improvements for the parking area are in the works.
This summer, the parking lot will be paved and striped to clearly mark where cars can park legally. A paved turnaround will be added as well to make traffic flow more smoothly.
“We think it will make it so it’s a lot safer out there,” Brown said.
OSU had initially proposed expanding the parking area at Oak Creek to accommodate 40 to 50 cars, but neighbors objected, saying the area was already too congested, with illegally parked cars creating a chokepoint along the narrow dead-end road.
Improvements are also slated this summer for the Lewisburg Saddle entrance to Mac Forest. The parking area will be expanded from 10 spaces to 24, with improved parking for horse trailers. Plans also call for installing a vault toilet.
Still, traffic management is expected to remain a challenge at both locations, the two most popular entry points for recreational users of the research forest.
Sometime next month a webcam will be set up at the Oak Creek entrance so people can check to see if parking is available, but OSU is also encouraging people to find other ways to access the forest. Bike racks have been installed at the Oak Creek and Lewisburg Saddle entrances, and a push is underway to promote carpooling.
Brown also recommends that people try to plan their visits for off-peak hours and try other trailheads if there’s no room at their first choice.
“We’re at a point where we want to be proactive about creating a culture where people use alternative means to get to the trailheads,” Brown said.
“We don’t have unlimited room to create parking, so we have to be creative.”