aerial-tram-mount-hood

The view sure would be sweet.

Like the idea of an aerial tram connecting Government Camp to Timberline Lodge? If so, you aren't alone.

The long-studied and long-anticipated tram project has emerged as the most popular of 40 Mount Hood transportation improvements being considered by government agencies.

More than 2200 people responded to a recent survey that asked travelers to select their top five choices from a list of 40 ideas. The most popular choice was the aerial tram, with 48 percent of respondents including a tram in their top five lists.

The results are a victory of sorts for tram supporters, who had to fight to get the most expensive and ambitious of the projects onto the list of choices. But it is still a long way from happening, with an estimated cost of $15 million and no clear funding source, not to mention a behind-the scenes property dispute involving a 300-foot-wide buffer on property that Mount Hood Meadows is trying to obtain from the Forest Service.

The basic plan is to create a park-and-ride lot in Government Camp with a tram loading area and two aerial lines for riders and sightseers: across Highway 26 to Multorpor and up Mount Hood to Timberline Lodge. The tram would operate year-round and follow the historic path of the Skiway Tram, which operated for a few years in the 1950s. A modern tram could open up all sorts of options and take pressure off the parking lots of Timberline and Skibowl.

Timberline and Skibowl are major tram supporters, along with Clackamas County and Government Camp. "The tram is going to be an attraction in itself," says Hans Wipper, operations manager for Skibowl. "It'll take Government Camp to the next level, make it an international destination."

The tram project also has the support of Junki Yoshida, a successful businessman and majority owner of Grand Lodges in Government Camp.

But Mt. Hood Meadows does not stand to benefit from the new tram in its latest version. Meadows has expressed support for an additional aerial connection linking Govy with Vista Ridge, but that development seems unlikely since it would require crossing a wild and scenic river and a wilderness area. A tram connecting Govy to Timberline could run through Meadows property without connecting to Meadows.

The story gets a little more complicated when you consider the huge land swap in the works between Meadows and the Forest Service. Meadows is inching towards receiving about 120 acres of former public land in Govy in exchange for 770 acres around Cooper Spur. The Government Camp land Meadows would receive under the deal includes the 300-foot-wide right-of-way for the tram.

Meadows has yet to agree to a 300-foot buffer for the tram line on this property. 

In March of 2013, The owners of Timberline and Skibowl, Jeffrey Kohnstamm and Kirk Hanna, co-signed a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack, expressing concern that a failure to preserve the easement would threaten the viability of their transportation plans. They didn't get the response they were hoping for. Gregory Smith, director of Lands and Realty Management for the U.S. Forest Service, responded that the law only required the preservation of wetlands and hiking trails, not lift lines.

Executives for Timberline, Skibowl and Meadows have been meeting in private to try to resolve the matter.

If the long-delayed land exchange between Meadows and the Forest Service ever does go through, jurisdiction over land use decisions will shift from the Forest Service to Clackamas County. Clackamas County planners have supported the tram in the past, but that is no guarantee they will in the future.

Jon Tullis, director of public affairs at Timberline, predicts that a tram will be built eventually, but only after a sustained effort by a "coalition of the like-minded."

"It has happened at numerous resorts all over the world," says Tullis. "I don't see why it can't happen here."

The painful irony is that 60 years ago, there was a tram connecting Govy to Timberline. The Skiway Tram was announced in 1947 but not completed until 1951, with one laborer dying on the job. Unfortunately, while the tram was under construction a new road to Timberline was built. To make matters even worse, project managers selected the wrong type of tram technology, as Jack Grauer explains in his book Mount Hood: A Complete History. After all the hype and money, the tram operated for just a few years before closing down in 1956. Investors, mostly skiers, ate the losses. The tram towers were ripped out in 1961.

Nonetheless, tram supporters can point to the latest survey results as proof that people want to see a modern tram built the right way.

The top five vote recipients in the survey were:

  1. An aerial tram, 48%
  2. Increased cellphone coverage, 43%
  3. A transit transfer hub, 26%
  4. Improvements to the Mirror Lake trailhead area, 25%
  5. A pedestrian overcrossing at Govy to help hikers across Hwy. 26.

The preferred choice of Mt. Hood Meadows management, to expand park and rides, was a favored choice for only 14% of respondents.

Almost 90 percent of the people who filled out the survey travel to Mount Hood to ski or snowboard.

Here is a link to the full transportation survey results, from the Portland consulting firm David Evans and Associates.

What do you think? A tram connecting Govy to Timberline? Another line crossing over to Vista Ridge and Meadows? Or nothing of the kind?