The proposed paved bike trail project has become a burr under the saddle of some folks in Sisters Country.
Trail proponents believe they have a good project that will benefit the community. They feel they have done their due diligence in reaching out to the community for input, including moving the path from Tollgate to Black Butte Ranch farther away from Tollgate residences at the urging of homeowners.
Yet critics think that public outreach was selective, sketchy and designed to elicit a desired answer. A lot of them are downright angry about the way the project has rolled out.
It's time that everybody sat down and talked this thing out.
In a community the size of Sisters, with so many interests in common, there's no excuse for not sitting down face-to-face and working through differences. There is a recent and significant precedent for successful resolution of this sort of conflict.
Downtown merchants grew concerned and angry about plans for the Cascade Avenue rehabilitation project set to begin soon. Their concerns were raised at the 11th hour, just before ODOT was set to finalize plans and go out for bids.
The City of Sisters and ODOT pointed out that the merchants had had several opportunities to weigh in on the project. All of this "new" concern was coming late in the day.
That was true, but also irrelevant. With the project upon them, the downtown merchants had serious and legitimate fears about the impact of the work on their businesses viability.
To their credit, the city and ODOT met repeatedly with the interested parties. At first the meetings were heated and contentious, but ultimately they grew productive and paid off. The project was modified and the worst fears of critics allayed. The end product doesn't please everybody completely, but it works.
The same thing could happen regarding paved bike trails. Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) and their parent organization Sisters Park & Recreation District (SPRD), along with the U.S. Forest Service, should get together with trail critics, hear their grievances and give them answers. Then they can get down to the business of coming up with a project that works for most if not all of the interested parties.
That will require some willingness to set aside hurt feelings and anger, and some institutional flexibility on the part of the Forest Service, which has its own procedures and protocols for public input.
But if ODOT can be flexible, so can the Forest Service. And if the city and downtown merchants can come to terms, so can STA and trail critics.
All of the organizations involved - STA, SPRD, and the Forest Service - depend on good relations with the community for their success. Avoiding grappling with what has become a contentious issue will damage their credibility. Engaging fully, openly and in good faith can only enhance it.