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Illegal off-roading at Crater Lake caused 'significant' damage, park officials say

Staff continue to see visitors illegally tearing through areas of the Park, damaging fragile ecosystems.

Posted: Aug 30, 2019 3:09 PM
Updated: Aug 30, 2019 3:20 PM

CRATER LAKE, Ore. — After a particularly egregious incident of illegal off-roading in Crater Lake National Park last year, park officials say that they continue to see examples of visitors trampling unique and sensitive off-limits areas of the park with the same kind of activity.

In July of 2018, park rangers cited 27-year-old Evan Metz of Grants Pass for driving more than three miles off-road through the Pumice Desert in the National Park.

"The soil and vegetation were disturbed throughout the area, and in the location where he drove around in circles while a friend took pictures, the disturbance exceeded 12 inches in depth and caused widespread vegetation mortality," park officials said in a statement. "One hundred percent of the soil was disturbed throughout the area impacted and 90 percent of the plants were killed."

Metz ended up paying a $200 collateral fine after his insurance company paid $60,000 for the assessed damages. Crater Lake said that at least 15 native plant species were destroyed within the more than three-acre area criss-crossed with tire tracks.

Since then, park officials say they have seen more people illegally off-roading in the park.

"Year-to-date, there have been seven off-road cases where park law enforcement rangers contacted the individuals responsible, and five of those individuals were issued citations," Crater Lake said.

Driving off-road is banned in all national parks unless otherwise posted. Violations are considered a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 or six months in federal prison — and violators can also face civil charges for damages and the cost of rehabilitation.

"Most of the off-road violations occur in the Pumice Desert area of the park or other open pumice fields," park officials said. "These fragile environments are covered by snow much of the year, leaving only a few months during the summer for plants to grow. Driving over this fragile soil can cause damage and leave scars that persist for many years."

Restoring areas like this that are damaged by visitors can be costly and take years to accomplish.

"The process requires restoring soils and contours by using hand tools (such as rakes and brooms) to start the process of returning the site to natural conditions," Crater Lake said. "It also requires seed collection, propagation, and replanting to aid plant establishment and jumpstart vegetative recovery efforts in disturbed areas."

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