JACKSONVILLE — Land will be exchanged, off-road motorcycle riders and park users will be separated and the city will gain $684,000 in cash as a result of a grant approved by the state.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously in Baker City Wednesday to award $684,000 to the Motorcycle Riders Association to complete the purchase of 380 acres in the city's upper watershed. The city also gains 40 acres with an improved parking site next to Forest Park in the lower watershed.
The deal, which will happen when the money is available after July 1, follows more than a decade of sometimes contentious debate on the future of the 1,800-acre watershed. Hiking and mountain-bike trails have been created in Forest Park over the past seven years.
"I couldn't be more thrilled. It closes the book almost," said Mayor Paul Becker, who attended the Baker City meeting with City Manager Jeff Alvis.
"It's a win-win-win for everyone involved," said Becker. "We have been through this thing for about 11 years. Now we are beginning to see feedback from virtually everyone about how happy they are."
MRA President Steven Croucher also attended the Baker City meeting.
"We wanted to be on hand if they had any questions," said Croucher. But the commission, which had ranked it as the top priority for land acquisition, didn't have any.
Money for the grant comes from taxes collected on off-road vehicle gas purchases.
"Now some of the real works begins — to re-educate the users," said Croucher.
The 380 acres is adjacent to a 180-acre parcel the organization purchased in the 1970s. Counting other nearby parcels, the group has just more than 700 acres in the area. Riders have been parking at the lower site and riding through the lower watershed to access the upper sites.
"We have a management agreement with the city of Jacksonville. We are going to continually try to improve the road," said Croucher. The agreement also covers land management.
"We'll also evaluate that we have enough parking available," said Croucher. "We need to make sure we can accommodate those folks.
On a busy weekend during the winter, Croucher said, 25 to 30 vehicles may be seen in the parking lot. Activity decreases during the summer because of heat and dust, and fire restrictions preclude use.
An impromptu trail in the area will be used initially with some minimal adjustments, said Croucher. Over the long term, the group will design and build a trail system for the site.
Jacksonville's Budget Committee already has tentatively allocated use of much of the payment, which is going into a separate fund.
Next year, $50,000 is designated for engineering studies on work needed on the reservoir dam in the watershed, said Becker. Another $150,000 would be set aside for dam work.
About $300,000 of the proceeds may be used to pay off debt on a house just south of City Hall that was converted into Police Department headquarters following its purchase by the city.
Tony Hess, a volunteer city park ranger, spoke in favor of the grant at the Baker City meeting. No one spoke against the award.
"We look for grants that show good collaboration and provide benefit for people and provide outdoor recreation," said Chris Havell, with the Parks and Recreation Communications and Research Division.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.