USFS Proposed Use Restrictions at Opal Creek

Through April 14, the US Forest Service is accepting public comment on a series of proposed use restrictions in the Opal Creek, Three Pools, Elk Lake, and Breitenbush River areas. This proposal comes after several years of dramatic increases in recreation in these areas, resulting in ecosystem damage, infrastructure vandalism, and a diminished experience for visitors. They expect the new policies to take effect Memorial Day weekend.

Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center has been working with the Forest Service for the past several years to keep them informed of the impacts of increased recreation in our area. We are in full support of the proposed policies, and believe that it is the right thing to do to both protect the Opal Creek ecosystem and ensure continued public access to this special area.

Read the full policy proposal and submit comments here.

How will this affect my visit to Jawbone Flats?

The Forest Service is proposing to limit parking at the Opal Creek trailhead to within 1/4 mile on the south side of the road–this will equal about 100 cars. There are two main reasons behind this proposal: 1) the large numbers of cars in recent years was restricting emergency vehicle access to the trailhead, and 2) the dramatic increase in the number of summer visitors over the past several years is taking a serious toll on the Opal Creek watershed.

If you are visiting as a cabin renter or participant in an Opal Creek program, we are working with the Forest Service to develop a plan to ensure that sufficient parking will be available for Opal Creek guests. However, carpooling is strongly encouraged to promote the most efficient use of our limited space (and it’s better for the environment!).

How will this affect my camping trip?

The Forest Service is proposing a complete campfire ban within 200 feet of the trails to Jawbone Flats and Opal Pool. Opal Creek staff and Forest Service rangers have found smoldering, unattended campfires in these areas on a regular basis for as long as we can remember–even during fire bans due to hot, dry weather. A wildfire in the North Santiam canyon would be devastating, with the potential to destroy some of the oldest trees in our area, not to mention Jawbone Flats. There is only one evacuation route in case of emergency. A campfire ban will go a long way towards ensuring the safety of our forest and its visitors.

Canister stoves will still be allowed, unless expressly prohibited by weather-related temporary bans.


Please read the full proposal to learn how these changes will impact recreation at Three Pools and elsewhere.

What can I do to help?

  • Submit your feedback to the Forest Service by April 14, and check the Willamette National Forest website for policy updates before you go.
  • Carpool to limit your parking needs and reduce vehicle impact.
  • Practice Leave No Trace at Opal Creek (and everywhere outdoors!) to minimize your impact on the environment.
  • Be considerate of other visitors–not everyone wants to hear your music, see your beer cans, or pick up after you when you leave. When hiking, swimming, or just chilling by the river, remember that this public space should feel welcoming and comfortable to everyone.