Opal Pool, Opal Creek Wilderness
The Opal Creek Wilderness is possibly the West’s most accessible wilderness area, for good or bad. It is one of the rare preserves that have active roads running into and through sensitive areas. This accessibility has allowed those who normally don’t visit wilderness areas an up-close experience with pristine waters and virgin forests. Unfortunately, this access has made Opal Creek one of the most overused wilderness areas in Oregon. Day use has exploded in the past few years, with picnickers and sunbathers coming in droves and leaving mountains of trash. Opal Creek’s popularity has also attracted day visitors in high heels and flip-flops into areas that would be difficult for rescue if they fell or had a medical emergency. The Forest Service is ill-equipped to manage Opal Creek and have had to restrict parking in the most congested areas such as Three Pools and the Jawbone Flats trailhead. An inadequate number of forest rangers are spread out over a huge area and consequently most littering and destruction of natural features goes unnoticed and unprosecuted.
At the “ghost town” of Jawbone Flats in the heart of the Opal Creek Wilderness, the Friends of Opal Creek run the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. They provide conservation education and training in a charming mining town setting. The cabins and meeting rooms are powered by a small hydroelectric plant located in one of the original buildings. Vehicles from the Center are the only ones allowed to use the old road in and out of Jawbone Flats; the road is closed to all other traffic. But visitors can bike or hike the road in and spend a few hours exploring the mining equipment or swimming in Opal Pool.