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Long-term encampments at Phil’s Trailhead lower parking lot cause concern for nearby neighbors

(Update: Adding video, comments from neighbors, Forest Service)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A new "RV park" of sorts near the Phil's Trailhead system is prompting concern for some nearby residents, as well as bike riders who use trails in the area.

The encampment is located in the trail system's lower parking lot, and appears to have nearly a dozen trailers set up currently.

"I know specific people who have been here since April," Nicole Moore, a nearby resident, told us on Tuesday.

The lower parking lot at Phil's Trailhead is meant to help ease parking congestion when the upper parking lot fills up during the summer.

But according to neighbors, the area is now the site of multiple long-term camps. Moore explained, "They are closed from December 1st to March 31st. As soon as the gates start opening up, you get your traditional kind of campers. But you also have people here coming and staying for the long term."

Nicole Moore moved to Bend five years ago and lives near the parking lot. She's concerned about what she calls a lack of enforcement by the Forest Service.

"We have those regulations, and the majority of people are following those regulations," Deschutes National Forest Public Affairs Officer Kassidy Kern explained. "It's just that maybe 5% that we have issues with, and that's when our law enforcement capabilities come into play."

According to the Forest Service, camping in a dispersed area is allowed for up to 16 days. After that, you must move at least five road miles away, to another dispersed area. Dispersed camping is not allowed in the vicinity of developed recreation areas such as campgrounds, picnic areas or trailheads, like Phil's.

Campsites on Forest Service land are also required to be 100 feet away from any water source or stream.

Campers also may not spend more than 16 days of any 30-day period at the same dispersed area.

"And if they're not leaving, if they have no plans to leave, then they get issued a citation for that," Kern said.

Earlier this year, Moore started a petition called 'Close The Gate At Phil's Trail' - she has gathered nearly 3,500 signatures.

"Over the past four years, it's got increasingly more damage on the forest floor -- lots of traffic, black water dumping, drug deals. I've seen gun exchanges here," she said

A gated community called The Highlands at Broken Top sits adjacent to Forest Service Road 4604, where the two main parking lots for the system are located.

Boulders were placed along the access road to prevent people from camping on a homeowner's land.

One neighbor told us he paid $5,700 to have a boulder installed.

Kern said, "We we're getting some folks who were camping right along the road, and then someone else would go a little farther. So the placement of those boulders was really to keep people off that road."

The Forest Service points to the lack of a managed camp in the county as one reason it can't sweep the lower parking lot.

"We recognize this is an issue," Kern said. "We also recognize we aren't the only ones with this issue."

Moore finished our interview with: "It's up to our city to help these folks out. That doesn't make it okay to break the rules and continue to destroy this land."

Article Topic Follows: Deschutes County

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Blake Mayfield

Blake Mayfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.


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