GOLD HILL — Plans for a city-owned campground across the river from town aren't sitting well with neighbors of the proposed 11-acre Ben Hur Lampman Campground.
On Thursday, local resident Bill Pierce surveyed his backyard overlooking the Rogue River as a family of ducks paddled for shore and two kayakers navigated the rushing water.
The future of a proposed city campground isn't all that's up in the air for Gold Hill Parks and Recreation Director Rob Lowe.
City Council deliberated recently over Lowe's contract and monthly pay, and about paying for hours Lowe has worked beyond his standard $300 monthly stipend. Contracted for less than part-time, Lowe said his hours were "closer to three-quarters time" in recent months.
At a recent meeting, councilwomen Donna Silva and Christine Alford said Lowe should be paid for additional hours he worked. But a split council voted in July — with Mayor Bucky Steffen breaking the tie — not to pay Lowe for additional hours, leaving Lowe in limbo regarding $600 in compensation.
Council held a work session last week to discuss Lowe's job description and to consider paying him for extra hours. Silva said the problem for some council members was that the month of June, when Lowe worked extra hours, fell outside the new fiscal year.
Focused on his parks projects, Lowe said he would take a "see what happens" approach. Council is likely to discuss the matter at its Aug. 6 meeting.
Pierce has spent 13 summers watching eagles fish from the trees and otters slide down rocks on the property across the way, and he has few worries about plans for an enhanced "day use" area at the former state wayside. For years the spot has provided access for fisherman, picnickers and dog walkers.
But plans to host overnight guests at up to 10 primitive campsites, he says, would bring unwanted trash, the risk of fire and put added financial burden on an already cash-strapped city.
Once a state-owned wayside, the two parcels of county land, zoned exclusive farm use, were deeded last year to the city of Gold Hill. Rob Lowe, the city's contracted, part-time parks and recreation manager, began work more than a year ago to determine whether a campground could be developed there.
Pierce, who bought his riverfront property 13 years ago, said he'd heard nothing of the city's plans until a survey from Jackson County arrived in the mail.
"I filled it out, but it's government, so I haven't heard anything back. For me, the bottom line is that I pay a lot of taxes on riverfront property, and I don't want to look at tents, trash, dirty diapers," Pierce said.
"The main thing is I don't know how they can do it with their zoning, and I think maybe the city is biting off more than it can chew."
The property's northern end contains a lawn area, while the southern end, which includes an old well and riverfront access, is riddled with jagged rocks, snakes, poison oak and governmental red tape by way of a 75-foot riparian setback.
Adjacent property owner Mark Baird is skeptical the city will be permitted by county and state officials to utilize much of the riverfront area, and he echoes Pierce's concerns about safety and upkeep costs for the city.
"The problematic issue is that you have to follow certain procedures. In my opinion, prior to buying or being given a property like that, they need to look into the issues of what they can do with the property," said Baird, who is a property appraiser. "Ownership is a bundle of rights, and there are some big, major issues because that's resource land over there and it's zoned exclusive farm use."
Calls to Jackson County planning department officials were not returned on Friday.
Lowe said the city would take a two-step approach with the property, first "reintroducing Lampman Park as a city park" by installing picnic tables, trash cleanup, a pet-waste station, potable water and a seasonal portable toilet.
Within a year, with necessary approvals, 10 campsites, a yurt and a permanent resident camp host could be added.
"We're taking things one step at a time," noted Lowe. "We think this could really be a nice addition to the city's parks inventory.
"The truth is that Gold Hill needs economic development. Since there are no big companies beating a path to our door, if you stand back and look at what we have, our assets are recreation. We're not trying to ram anything down anyone's throat. We're going to ease into it."
Fishing near the city beach on Thursday, Stan Wade, who has a friend who lives in a mobile home park on the river, said additional access to the river and improvements to city parks would make the town more inviting.
"The river runs through here, but unless you own property that butts up against the river, you can't really access it too many places," he said. "It would be nice to see more places to camp during the summer and be able to get to the water. It's something every Oregonian is supposed to have a right to use."
City Council President Sam Blake said the project is far from a done deal. Based on the surveys sent by the county, he said, surrounding property owners are "pretty much split in half" about the campground plans.
"As far as I'm concerned, no major decisions have been made," Blake said. "There are a lot of unanswered questions as far as what we can and can't do. Until we get our questions answered and a public hearing is held, nothing is going on out there other than preliminary study."
Pierce said he hoped the city would give careful consideration to the financial aspects of adding a campground — and to neighbors' concerns about impacts to surrounding properties.
"I think if the city were a little more flush as far as money and they came up with a good plan ... but they're already struggling to keep up with what they have," he said.
"The river belongs to everyone, and I think everyone should be able to enjoy it, but having a bunch of tents across the river, dealing with the fire risks and putting in something the city can't afford to maintain ... I just don't know that's a good idea."
City officials said a public hearing would be scheduled in the next week to gather and provide additional information about the project.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.