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Items found in Emigrant Lake prompt archaeological study

The federal Bureau of Reclamation is moving to quantify and protect from disturbance artifacts exposed this fall along the bed of drought-plagued Emigrant Lake.

The bureau has hired Ashland archaeologist Jeff LaLande to inventory and document the remnants of what was known as Klamath Junction, a gas station, store and other buildings at the intersection of Highway 66 and the old Siskiyou Highway that dates back to the 1920s.

“We’re hoping to at least get it documented, know what’s out there and see if it should be part of the (National Register of Historic Places),” said Douglas DeFlitch, manager of the bureau’s Bend field office.

However, LaLande said what little is left of the junction likely will render it historically insignificant. 

"What's here today is just a tiny archaeological remnant," said LaLande, a retired archaeologist with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. "In my opinion, it's not by any means a significant historical site."

The bureau is required by federal law to analyze and protect historic and cultural resources on its property. DeFlitch said bureau officials had no idea about Klamath Junction until they viewed a Monday article in the Mail Tribune detailing some of the items found at the junction site.

A hazardous materials team also will be called in to inspect what was suspected to be a petroleum leak at the old junction site, exposed because the lake is now less than 10 percent of capacity.

The bureau also has asked the Jackson County Parks Department to patrol the area to ensure people don't drive on the lake bed or loot any artifacts now exposed along the reservoir east of Ashland.

Bureau officials also considered canceling a Phoenix man's plans for a lake bed cleanup Saturday, one with which Jackson County was scheduled to assist, DeFlitch said. Instead, cleanup crews will be steered clear of the junction site, he said.

Also, preliminary testing suggests that the suspected petroleum is likely iron bacteria, DeFlitch said. Tests on soil samples, however, probably won't be available until next week, he said.

The Klamath Junction site was inundated with lake water in 1960 after the bureau increased the reservoir's capacity by nearly doubling the size of the original Emigrant Dam built by the Talent Irrigation District in 1924.

Part of one of the building's foundations or part of a retaining wall, along with several pieces of glass, spark plugs and other gas station-related debris, were found on the lake bed. Some stones that looked like tools used by American Indians were also discovered at the site.

LaLande said he visited the site Wednesday and tallied artifacts and took photographs, measurements and GPS coordinates of what is left of the junction.

When the reservoir was expanded to 806 acres, the bureau bought out homesteads and removed the graves and tombstones of the old Hill Cemetery to higher ground.

LaLande said he will write a report that likely would be referenced the next time the lake level is down so low that the junction is exposed.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.