news and events » news

News Header

News Item

return to News

Smokejumping and wildland fire education center proposed in Redmond

by Brenna Visser, Bend Bulletin |

A smokejumping and wildland fire education center could be on its way to the Redmond Air Center in Oregon.

Deschutes County commissioners heard a proposal from the U.S. Forest Service Monday to build a 5,500-square-foot visitor center at the Redmond Smokejumper Base.

The center is billed as a tourist attraction, as well as an educational hub to help residents and visitors understand local fire ecology and fire-management practice, said John Allen, forest supervisor for Deschutes National Forest.

If completed, it would be only one of two centers of its kind in the country — there is a similar center in Missoula, Mont. There are only 11 smokejumping training centers in the country.

“Fire is going to be a part of our lives,” Allen said. “We live in a fire region ... we are learning better how to live with fire, and we hope this smokejumper education center can add to this understanding.”

The vision for a smokejumping visitor center began a few years ago. For years, smokejumpers have given informal tours of the training center, showing people how they repair their own parachutes and sharpen their own saws, said Amy Tinderholt, deputy district ranger for the Forest Service.

But as fire seasons get longer, Tinderholt said the need arose to have a more formal process.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to continue to reach out to those school groups and those folks who are interested in touring the base and provide them that opportunity,” Tinderholt said.

The Forest Service hopes to build a facility north of the existing airfield with a fire lookout built into the center where visitors could overlook the air tanker base and watch planes that carry fire retardant come and go.

There would also be exhibits on the history of wildfire management, smokejumping demonstrations and guided tours of the lofts to show how smokejumpers work with parachutes and tools.

Fees and retail sales would sustain day-to-day operations.

“We believe this could be a premiere tourism destination in Central Oregon,” Allen said.

But the visitor center is still just a concept. How it would be funded is still in the works, with preliminary estimates showing the whole project will cost about $5.3 million.

This summer, with the help of a grant from the Central Oregon Visitors Association, the Forest Service will launch a fundraising feasibility study to gauge whether the private sector is interested in donating to the project.

The County Commission was receptive to the overall idea, but questioned the cost of the building.

“If we were looking at county funding, that seems like a lot,” Commissioner Phil Henderson said. “If we were to get involved, we would look hard at the cost of that.”

After evaluating private donation opportunities, the Forest Service hopes to come back to the commission in the fall with another update, Tinderholt said.

Tinderholt is hopeful the community will support the project.

“I think that this topic resonates with this community,” she said. “Folks aren’t just looking at the fires we’ve had here in the past, but some catastrophic fires across the West, and I think folks are eager to understand more about fire. ... I think this is a compelling story.”