French Pete Trail
The French Pete Trail is a 9.8-mile (15.8 km) forest hiking trail in the valley of French Pete Creek in the Three Sisters Wilderness of western Oregon. The trail goes through old-growth forest that was the subject of nationwide political debate in the 1970s regarding proposed wilderness designation. In 1978, the U.S. Congress added the area to the Three Sisters Wilderness.
The trail is in an old-growth forest in the Three Sisters Wilderness of the Willamette National Forest. At the trailhead, the elevation is 1,850 feet (560 m). Open to hikers and horses spring through fall, the trail gains about 950 feet (290 m) after 5 miles (8.0 km) and ends after 9.8 miles (15.8 km). French Pete Creek flows beside the trail for 3 miles (4.8 km). The forest is made of "gargantuan Douglas firs and 1000-year-old cedars."
The passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 created new wilderness areas and controversy over the management for the new areas. This also marked the establishment and growth of an activist environmental movement. The movement is best known for the controversy surrounding French Pete's addition to the wilderness area.
In 1957, the Secretary of Agriculture lifted French Pete from protection. Debate on whether to once again protect French Pete's 19,200 acres (78 km2) from logging started in the mid-1960s, but legislation for it was not introduced until 1974. The controversy continued until 1978, when the Three Sisters Wilderness was expanded to include the French Pete area.
It was in 1968 that logging plans in the valley were announced. Most local citizens were opposed to these plans, and the Save French Pete Committee was founded. The group appealed the logging proposal in court, but the appeal was rejected, and instead the logging was only delayed, adding to political tensions.
The U.S. Forest Service had a tradition of encouraging logging in the forests of western Oregon. It planned to log at least 3,000,000 board feet (7,100 m3) of timber if the area was not protected to ensure that the logging industry would be able "to survive the mounting demands from preservationists to stop logging scenic areas." There was also concern that without logging, there would be a heightened risk of wildfire, because many of the area's trees were diseased or had been infested and killed by beetles. A forester from Springfield said, "It will be a very short time until the happenstance of lightning once again starts a fire that will wipe out the countryside."
In 1972, U.S. Senator Wayne Morse, Democrat of Oregon, hiked into the area with environmental activists and encouraged the Republican senator who had defeated him in the past election, Mark Hatfield, to do the same. After his hike, Morse expressed confidence that the area would be protected, whereas Hatfield still supported some logging. However, Hatfield later changed his mind and began to support wilderness designation in general.
Finally, in 1978, 45,400 acres (18,400 ha) of the French Pete forest were designated as wilderness by the Endangered Wilderness Act, which took effect on 28 February. French Pete became the first low-elevation valley in the Three Sisters Wilderness, after "14 years of ardent protest by hikers, students, and environmentalists."
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- Photo of French Pete Creek by Andrew Kumler
- French Pete Trail # 3311 from the Willamette National Forest