Ravaged by looters over the years, Jackson County's worst-kept secret is ready to go public.

Ravaged by looters over the years, Jackson County's worst-kept secret is ready to go public.

Fort Lane, built in 1853 after a treaty was signed establishing the Table Rock Indian Reservation, is officially being transferred to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Jackson County commissioners decided Wednesday.

Even though many maps show its whereabouts, state and local officials have tried to guard the location because of vandalism and looting, but all that's about to change.

State parks officials will invest $135,000 to repair fencing, build a bathroom, parking area and improve access from Tolo Road and to trails. The parks department will install interpretive signs and other features to call attention to the former fort. No plans are in the works to rebuild the structures that were on the property.

"People should realize why we're transferring the property over to state parks — they have more cash than we do," said Commissioner Dave Gilmour.

The total area for the day-use park is 19.26 acres, except for a 10-foot by 10-foot tract of land owned by the Oregon Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The DAR has a 10-foot tall stone monument with a plaque that had been stolen and remained missing for many years. County surveyor Roger Roberts said the bronze plaque was in east Medford, but he's not sure how it will be displayed at the park.

Illegal digging at the site from looters looking for artifacts has led to stepped-up patrolling by sheriff's deputies recently.

Chris Havel, spokesman for the parks department, said, "When we take ownership, we start right away protecting the site."

The commissioners have signed a quitclaim deed which should mean ownership should transfer quickly.

Havel said his department will improve fencing, add signs, improve visibility on the property and patrol it. Parks officials also will work closely with neighbors to help keep a closer eye on the fort, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

He said he couldn't say how long it would take to make the improvements and open the park to the public.

The short-lived fort, which housed the U.S. Army's First Dragoons based in Benicia, Calif., represented the Rogue Valley's only civil authority. It was established shortly after a clash between American Indians and European settlers and was named after Oregon's first territorial governor, Joseph Lane, who also led military campaigns against the Indians in 1851 and 1853.

Shaped like a giant horseshoe, the original fort had more than a dozen buildings, including infantry quarters, officer quarters, kitchens, a small medical building, guard house, blacksmith shop and store.

No remnants of the buildings remain above ground now. The stone monument built by the Daughters of the American Revolution was erected 1929. A brass plaque placed on the stone monument was removed years ago but a local resident gave it to Mark Tveskov last year to be included in Fort Lane artifacts that have been recovered.

Tveskov, an associate professor at SOU and director of the laboratory, has conducted an excavation of a trash dump at the site that yielded bottles, dishes, buttons, remnants of shoes, horse tack and a fragment of a domino, along with an 1854 U.S. silver quarter that had been shaped into a spur.

Havel said the state has invested more in recent years on historical sites in Southern Oregon, including at Wolf Creek and the nearby ghost town of Golden, which had 200 inhabitants in its mining heyday.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.