I am a groomer operator in my 33rd year of grooming on snowmobile trails in the Tollgate area, most of those years operating near Spout Springs both day and night, from 5 a.m. to midnight at various times. I have never seen or heard of any issues that Mr. Murray mentioned in his interview as reported in your paper.
Highway 204 travels between two sno-parks, one on the north side that serves as parking for the ski area as well as snowmobiles, and one on the south side. ODOT put a 40 mph speed limit on that area for safety. We have five crossings of Highway 204 by approved snowmobile trails on the mountain, and have only had one incidence of a snowmobile and vehicle colliding, at the McDougal Road crossing below the chalet.
Spout Springs is an access point from the sno-park parking lots to the snowmobile trail. There used to be a snowmobile crossing at this point but the snowmobilers gave up the trail from Tollgate to the west end of the parking lot near the ski area on the north side of the highway at the request of the U.S. Forest Service to enhance profitability for the ski area as well as improve safety for the groomed cross country ski trail, which the snowmobile trail crossed.
In reference to the two deaths in the parking lot mentioned: I have not only been a long term groomer operator, I have been an Oregon state snowmobile district director for this region for 11 years, I have been a winter volunteer with Search and Rescue with the sheriff’s office, and have family members who have worked with the Umatilla County Sheriff snow patrol since the mid-’80s. There have been no reported deaths in Spout Springs parking lot that I have ever heard of, or that the sheriff’s office of Umatilla or Union County have reported, and not even any reports of incidents between snowmobiles and skiers in that parking lot. There have been three deaths on the mountain I do know of — two happened on snowmobile trails involving speed, alcohol and a tree, and one with a snowmobile hitting a guy wire.
Sno-parks are administered by ODOT, and anyone who buys a permit is allowed to park in these sno-parks; the snow is removed by the state using this money, and the parking area of Spout Springs is a sno-park. Through the cooperation of the USFS, and Spout Springs Cabin Association and the Snowmobile Club, they agreed snowmobiles could park overnight on the west end of the sno-park, and the area directly next to the Spout Springs ski area would be for skiers, which provided a safe buffer between the two user groups. It has worked nicely for a long long time, with no reported incidents.
According to the State Sno-Park map, the area on the south side of the highway is listed as a snowmobile sno-park area as is also the north side of the highway, ID’d as K and L on the map. The north side is listed as downhill and cross country skiing as well as snowmobiling. Every permit purchaser in the state pays for the use of these lots.
Oregon State Snowmobile Association provides liability insurance on designated snowmobile trails throughout the state for snowmobile activities, and these trails are also used by cross country skiers, snow bikes, snowshoers, side by sides, fat tired bicycles and dog sleds. These trails are groomed and maintained at the expense of the snowmobilers license fees.
In conclusion, snowmobilers are not keeping Spout Springs from opening. We have done our part to work with all user groups and help keep Spout Springs open. OSSA and the local club have worked hard to promote safe snowmobiling in the Tollgate area. This includes safety certification classes for youth as well as providing law enforcement on the mountain. The Forest Service has also tried their best to work with Spout to keep the ski area operating.