Jackson County plans to sell Table Rock Park near Cascade Christian High School to the Medford school, then use the money to buy park land elsewhere.
Putting the undeveloped grass field in the school’s hands will end a long saga of disputes over use of the property.
The county originally bought the land in 1982, paying for the purchase, in part, with federal Land and Water Conservation Fund money that comes with regulatory strings attached.
The idea was to use the land for part of the Bear Creek Greenway, but when it became clear the property wasn’t needed for the paved pathway, the county transferred the land to the city of Medford for use as a public park, according to county officials.
The city allowed Cascade Christian to use the land for sports activities, which limited public access to the property.
The state parks department notified the county that the public wasn’t able to access and use the park, a violation of federal funding rules.
Fearful the county could lose its ability to win future Land and Water Conservation Fund money for other projects, the county approached the city about doing a land swap, County Administrator Danny Jordan said.
After failed mediation attempts, the county filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the city and Cascade Christian, asserting the school blocked public access to the park, according to court records.
The county won the lawsuit and reacquired the land.
“We didn’t want to have to take the property back,” Jordan said, but added the county had to protect its ability to win future Land and Water Conservation funding.
The county paid almost $160,000 to the school for improvements Cascade Christian made to the property, county officials said.
By selling the land to the school, the county will recoup those public funds and also earn money to buy land elsewhere, Jordan said.
Jackson County Commissioner Bob Strosser said Cascade Christian tried to operate in good faith but got tangled up in the controversy over the legal use of land purchased with federal funds.
“There was no ill intent by any of the parties involved, but Cascade Christian got caught in the middle,” Strosser said.
If the school and county can reach a sales agreement, commissioners will approve the terms at a future meeting.
Jackson County Roads and Parks Director John Vial said the county is looking for replacement property.
Buying new land will be easier once the county has money from the sale of Table Rock Park, he noted.
Jordan said there is no regulatory timeline for buying a replacement piece of property.
The county could look for land to help extend the Bear Creek Greenway, which stretches from Central Point to Ashland. Greenway supporters hope the pathway will eventually reach Emigrant Lake east of Ashland.
Replacement land also could create a section for the newer Rogue River Greenway, which could eventually stretch 30 miles from Central Point to Grants Pass.
The county, city and school aren't the first to get mired in problems about the use of property acquired with federal funds.
The city of Ashland opened The Grove building in 2000 as a youth center, but lost federal funding because it could not meet a quota that 51 percent of the youths it served be low-income.
In 2005, the city repaid the federal government $215,000 to be released from the federal requirements — a move that allowed Ashland to use The Grove for a greater variety of activities, according to city records.
The Grove is now home to the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department's recreation division and hosts community classes, dancing and other events.
— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.