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Plan calls for Willow Lake makeover

Willow Lake Park near Butte Falls could receive a makeover — including new cabins, a lodge and campground improvements — over the next 10 years if the Jackson County Board of Commissioners next month adopts a master plan that has been languishing in county files for the past two years.

"It's a very well-used park, especially with the Butte Falls community," said John Vial, county roads and parks director. "If you visit it, you will see it needs upgrading."

Two years ago, the county and the Medford Water Commission jointly commissioned a study by the University of Oregon Community Planning Workshop in Eugene to find ways to refurbish and improve the popular 927-acre park, located off Butte Falls-Fish Lake Highway. The water commission owns the park, and from the lake provides Eagle Point Irrigation District with its share of water rights to Big Butte Springs, the main source of drinking water for the Medford Water Commission, said commission spokeswoman Laura Hodnett. The county leases it for a nominal fee and is responsible for maintaining it.

The study recommended a master plan with about $4 million worth of improvements, including resurfacing roads, upgrading and adding paths and trails, adding play areas, renovating and expanding campgrounds and building a lodge and visitors' center.

The water commission adopted the master plan immediately after it was released in April 2007, but the county hasn't done anything with the plan until now.

Vial said he will recommend that the commissioners adopt the plan in August. An exact date for consideration has not yet been set.

Once the commissioners adopt the plan, the county would be able to apply for grants and endowments to help fund some of the projects, Vial said. He said the county wouldn't use general funds to pay for Willow Lake Park improvements but could use some revenue from system development charges.

Recommended upgrades include resurfacing existing roads and adding more access and surface roads to improve traffic circulation, new walking and nature paths, a new playground and swing sets and renovating the existing 80 camp sites, including cabins, walk-in and group camp sites and vehicle-tent sites.

Other improvements would include adding 39 recreation vehicle camp sites, five yurt camp sites, an unspecified number of group and walk-in camp sites, three new cabins and a $1.75 million lodge and visitors center.

What is built first will depend on the grants that are available, Vial said.

Willow Lake was created by the construction of a dam in 1953, Hodnett said. Willow Creek Dam was meant to make more water available for irrigation after the Medford Water Commission built a second pipeline to tap drinking water from the Big Butte Springs. Because the Eagle Point Irrigation District had water rights in that drainage area, the water commission had to guarantee that the irrigation district had sufficient water when the new pipeline started diverting more spring water.

"The lake enables us to utilize the high quality water from the Big Butte Springs while making sure we keep the Eagle Point Irrigation District's rights whole," Hodnett said.

Paris Achen is a Medford Mail Tribune reporter. Reach her at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.