Jackson County has agreed to sell parkland near Cascade Christian High School to the school for $473,000 and will look for land to buy for public recreation in another location.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners authorized the sale to Grace Cascade Christian Schools Wednesday. The property is known as Table Rock Park.
"It's in the best interests of our residents, and it's the right thing to do," Commissioner Bob Strosser said.
Cascade Christian has financed the purchase through fundraising and is continuing to raise money for other projects, said Christopher Smith, a volunteer on the fundraising campaign.
Through an agreement with the county, the land is being used for school athletics and will continue to be used for that purpose.
The sale marks the end of years of efforts to use the land legally.
"It's been a long time coming. A lot of good people have been wanting to do good things with this property," Smith said.
The county bought the land in 1982, paying for the purchase, in part, with federal Land and Water Conservation Fund money that came 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.
The violation jeopardized the county's ability to win future Land and Water Conservation Fund money for other projects.
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, reacquired the land and paid almost $160,000 to the school for improvements Cascade Christian had 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, county officials said.
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.
Meanwhile, the sales agreement for Table Rock Park includes an easement on the edge of the property for a potential future path.
Construction of a bridge over Bear Creek and the path would connect the nearby Bear Creek Greenway with Table Rock Road. The county doesn't currently have construction plans for that project, said Jackson County Roads and Parks Director John Vial.
— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.