JACKSONVILLE — A decrepit dam and possible land sales or trades will be among the issues the City Council will face when it considers a master plan for Forest Park, the town's former municipal watershed.

JACKSONVILLE — A decrepit dam and possible land sales or trades will be among the issues the City Council will face when it considers a master plan for Forest Park, the town's former municipal watershed.

Jacksonville City Council discussed the park's future during its work session this week. Jackson County approved designation of 880 acres of the 1,800-acre site as a park in March and also approved improvements to the park acreage. A draft park plan was created by the City Parks Committee a year ago to accompany the application to the county, but the council has never formally adopted that plan.

Jacksonville "has never really had a policy discussion on where we want to go with this," Councilman John Dodero said. "We need to inform the people and see what they think."

Over the past several years, volunteers have worked in the watershed, building nearly five miles of trails and erosion-control structures. They plan to add picnic shelters, interpretive signs, sports fields and other improvements.

Most work has been funded with grants and donations of materials and labor.

"A lot of well-meaning citizens want to develop it into more intensive use," said Dodero. "From my perspective, I think we should treat it as a watershed, and anything inconsistent with that use should be discouraged."

City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen said he expects the council to give formal direction for a planning process in the near future. Mayor Bruce Garrett said he expects the effort to be under way before winter.

Jacksonville used the watershed and its reservoir for its municipal water supply until the 1950s. The city has since lost its water rights and the reservoir has partly filled in.

Over the years, the area became popular for off-road vehicle use and the Motorcycle Riders Association acquired 40 acres with a parking lot adjacent to park land.

City officials said the dam and the land owned by the motorcyclists offer both opportunities and challenges.

A state dam inspection in June determined that the emergency spillway is in poor condition and that trees and woody brush are growing on the dam. As a result, the dam needs to be reclassified as "high hazard" structure because it could cause serious damage downstream, according to a state report.

The dam would need to be restored if the reservoir were to be refilled. Last year the state approved $500,000 for a spillway project to prevent the collapse of the reservoir, which is about two miles west of town. Removal of the dam could be another option, Garrett said. Cost of removal is estimated at $300,000, but a study would also need to be done on sediment that is behind the dam.

City officials and members of the motorcycle club have discussed a swap of the cyclists' 40 acres for land higher in the watershed that would connect with other land the group owns.

"That would give the city a contiguous park so there wouldn't be a little blank spot in the middle," Garrett said.

Dodero said he doesn't favor losing watershed land.

"Why would we want to take the top of the watershed, where a lot of the water is generated, and create erosion problems up there?" said Dodero. "Speculatively, it could fill in the reservoir more."

During Monday's study session, a group that surveys woodlands for their ability to sequester carbon and sells the capacity to industry as pollution offsets, gave a presentation. Based on a rough survey, a representative estimated, the park might yield between $20,000 and $45,000 annually from carbon-offset sales.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.