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Old Fort Lane could become a state park

The site of historic Fort Lane near Central Point could soon become part of Oregon's state park system, a designation that could help protect the site from the depredations of amateur artifact hunters.

"It's been looted like mad," said Mark Tveskov, director of the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission recently agreed to accept the 19-acre property from Jackson County and to create a plan for protecting the site and making it more accessible to the public.

Officials have declined to disclose the exact site of the fort to prevent more looting.

Fort Lane was built in the fall of 1853 after a clash between American Indians and European settlers earlier that summer. It was named in honor of Joseph Lane, Oregon's first territorial governor, who also led military campaigns against the Indians in 1851 and 1853.

Kegs of nails and window glass were hauled in from Crescent City to build the fort, which was manned by dragoons, mounted soldiers who were forerunners of the more lightly-armed cavalry.

A plaque commemorating the fort was erected in 1929 by the Daughters of the American Revolution, but it has been stolen.

Karen Smith, Jackson County's Bear Creek Greenway coordinator, said details of transferring title of the property to the state are still being worked out, and it could take several months before the arrangements are concluded.

She said the state has the resources to properly manage the property that the county lacks.

"It's been badly exploited and vandalized," said Smith.

The state parks department will develop a management plan for the property that will include interpretive signs and panels, walking trails, a parking lot and possibly restrooms, said Cliff Houck, property and resources manager for the state parks department.

Houck said one of the primary goals would be to build fences and create other protective barriers around the area, which is rich in archeological significance.

"One thing the property lacks today is secure fencing and a barrier around the property so we don't have any digging that is not authorized," he said.

A similar park was created at Fort Yamhill in Polk County at a cost of $1.2 million. Money for the park came from state park user fees and Oregon Lottery funds. Houck said the state hasn't yet determined how much it will cost to turn Fort Lane into a park.

The site could also become part of the Rogue River Greenway, a trail being built along the Rogue River in Jackson County, said Houck.

"That's another reason for us to support this effort," he said.

Houck said it's doubtful the state would try to rebuild the 18 buildings, which included a hospital, barracks, quartermaster store, commissary store, blacksmith shop and kitchens.

The Southern Oregon Historical Society has the original plans for the fort. In 2005, the historical society organized an archeological dig at the fort undertaken by the SOU Laboratory of Anthropology.

Tveskov, director of the laboratory, said the researchers found remains of the fort's hospital along with pieces of guns and munitions. The building were small, measuring 15 to 20 feet on any one side. They had wood floors, glass windows and fireplaces.

Excavation of a trash dump yielded bottles, dishes, buttons, shoe pieces, horse tack and a fragment of a domino, along with an 1854 U.S. silver quarter that had been shaped into a spur. Bone fragments in the dump indicate the soldiers ate chickens, cows and wild game such as duck and rabbit, said Tveskov.

"We've found a lot of stuff out there," he said.

Remnants of a pioneer cabin owned by Albert Jennison and predating the fort have also been uncovered. The cabin was burned down by Indians, according to historical documents, along with a number of other settlers' cabins in the area.

The soldiers were called in to restore order and negotiated the Table Rock Treaty with the Indians, said Tveskov.

Looting has been a problem at the site for many years. In 2005, the archeological team did its research during the weekdays only to find evidence of looting over the weekends, he said.

The fort site was chosen because of its vantage point, a view similar to what motorists see when they enter the valley traveling south on Interstate 5 just past Gold Hill.

"It's a really nice piece of property with good views and a significant portion of Jackson County history," said Tveskov.

For more details on the fort and archeological information go to www.sou.edu/SOCIOL/arch/ and click on "Current Projects" and then choose "Fort Lane Archeology Project."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.