Operation and maintenance of Cantrall-Buckley Park has reverted to Jackson County after the tasks were performed for two decades by a community nonprofit organization.

But Greater Applegate, formerly Greater Applegate Community Development Corporation, will remain involved with efforts to upgrade park facilities.

“The county was finally able to take back the park,” said Seth Kaplan, chairman of Greater Applegate. “As a nonprofit it puts us in a lot better position. We can really focus on park enhancements versus making sure the restrooms work and maintaining the roads.”

In the late 1990s Jackson County was talking about selling the 88-acre park when county finances were tight. But community members didn’t want to lose one of the few public access spots to the Applegate River.

“We are just not at the same place we use to be. I think it’s a benefit for us and better for them. We are more financially secure,” said John Vial, Jackson County roads and parks director. “The group should really be commended. They have done a great job of operating the park in the interim, but it’s hard to manage the park with volunteers. They had one paid staff.”

Over the years the group got grants and did work to maintain and enhance the park. A $57,000 renovation and upgrade of the playground area was completed in 2016. An educational kiosk was added. Collaborating with the county, the group secured funds to update the day-use area restrooms, a $150,000 project. Those facilities are now ready for use. A Blue-Sky grant obtained by Greater Applegate will bring installation of a solar array that is anticipated to produce two-thirds of the park’s electricity.

“There are all sorts of park projects we have going on or planned, all in support of the county,” said Kaplan. “We will do art in the parks. We’ll start a pollinator project.”

Besides physical improvements, the group is organizing a 50th anniversary celebration of the park’s opening July 14. The event will include music and community business and organization booths.

Greater Applegate also has worked with the Ruch School to bring students to the park for outdoor classes

“We’re going to be able to do more of that than before,” said Kaplan. He’d like to create an education center where programs related to the park could be conducted and for use by other educational institutions.

Current camping facilities do not include hookups for RVs. Adding those amenities have been discussed for a decade, and the group and the county will continue to have that as a goal. Greater Applegate has done some fundraising toward the goal, but the county is taking over responsibility for that, said Kaplan.

Greater Applegate will turn its attention toward other community needs. Among ideas are a local farmers market in the Applegate and creation of a rural caucus to make sure they area’s voice is heard by regional and state government.

Applegate Connect, a new community website, is the first project launched from a $51,000 Ford Foundation grant the group received. The grant will allow for some part-time staff support.

In 2016 a Greater Applegate representative said more than a half-million dollars in improvements and maintenance had occurred during the group’s tenure. Park improvements over the years have included new waterlines, paving, new restrooms in the campgrounds and development of a septic system with natural treatment. Groups have also cleared trails and paths.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.