Ladd Marsh parking permit limits access

By Observer editorial January 11, 2012 10:30 pm
No doubt about it, Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area is a local treasure.

Ask anybody who has taken visitors to the Ladd Marsh overlook off Foothill Road. It’s a great view of not only the wildlife area but the entire valley.

But now there is a sign up warning visitors that a parking permit is required and the $7 daily fee is unfortunate.

When the white man first arrived in the Grande Ronde Valley, it contained about 40,000 acres of wetlands.

The wetlands area in the Grande Ronde Valley has shrunk dramatically to make way for modern farming.

Today, of the 6,000-acre Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area five miles south of La Grande, there are about 3,000 acres of wetlands and marshland, much of it painstakingly restored by the employees of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Ladd Marsh is a haven for wildlife and for people who love to watch wildlife. Visitors might see a Noah’s ark of species, everything from birds of prey, songbirds and waterfowl to wading birds, upland birds, reptiles and amphibians, freshwater mammals and the occasional hoofed mammal.

Yes, that iconic species of Northeast Oregon, the Rocky Mountain elk, does occasionally makes its presence felt.

The wildlife area is also a great place for game bird hunting. Hunters flock there to bag their limits of all sorts of game birds.

On Jan. 1, the area began requiring parking permits. Ladd Marsh is one of five wildlife areas across Oregon that now require a $7 daily parking permit or a $22 annual parking permit.

To some people, $7 is a drop in the bucket. But for those who can’t afford it, $7 means staying home.

Sure, the cost is nominal, less than going to a movie, and proceeds are used for habitat and infrastructure improvement and enhanced wildlife viewing opportunities.

But parking permits make access to parks, campgrounds and the forest and wilderness more difficult for those of limited means.

It would be nice if taxes already paid could cover some of these expenses, so we wouldn’t get nickled and dimed to death with fees.

Already, in Northeast Oregon, there are state SnoPark

parking permits, trailhead parking permits, wilderness visitor permits. There are wood permits and Christmas tree permits. There are edible material permits even for berries, plants and mushrooms. There are road use permits and the list goes on and on.

Admittedly, without some permits, chaos would reign. But we think that, for example, if there is a trailhead permit required, the trail should be well maintained, or if there is a park use permit, the park should have restrooms or other facilities that warrant the charge.

So what could be done? The Oregon wildlife areas could allow the public to purchase annual memberships and give generously, much like is done at Oregon Public Radio. That way, those who can afford to can give, while others who may be facing hard times can still have access to parks.

We can’t stop Ladd Marsh from charging for parking. The decision has been made. But let’s think long and hard before making access to other Northeast Oregon treasures more difficult.