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Jackson County nears Stewart State Park takeover

TRAIL — Jackson County is on the cusp of taking over Lost Creek Lake’s Stewart State Park, a move that would turn this Top-10 Oregon recreation lake into the new flagship of the county parks system.

County parks officials are in the final stages of negotiating an agreement to take over operation of the park’s marina and 201-space campgrounds as early as this spring, as well as management of Casey State Park adjacent to Highway 62, 31 miles north of Medford.

The marina has been dormant since New Year’s Eve, when a 20-year lease agreement expired, leaving some owners of boats still in slips there high and dry.

County officials have been mulling the transfer since September, and a draft agreement is in the works, says state parks spokesman Chris Havel.

The park facilities at Lost Creek Lake roughly mirror the size and scope of the county’s assets at Howard Prairie Lake east of Ashland. However, Howard Prairie’s marina has been plagued with low water that left marina docks high and dry last summer.

The consistent and predictable water levels at Lost Creek Lake, which is the Rogue River’s main reservoir, would provide predictable conditions for watersports enthusiasts.

“It gives us a level of consistency that we’re just not getting at those south county parks,” says county parks Manager Steve Lambert. “It would provide that flagship level of consistency.”

The park has been operated by Oregon State Parks under an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the marina has been run by a concessionaire the past 40 years under two 20-year agreements. The previous agreement expired Dec. 31.

Havel says state parks officials have been looking for partnerships with other park managers like counties when contracts expire, hoping to get better service for the public.

“It’s a matter of matching expenses and resources for the public good,” Havel says. “Agreements like this preserve the public services and potentially improves it.”

Any agreement between the state and county must be approved by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

The marina has fallen into disrepair and would need immediate attention to be open again to boaters before the traditional Memorial Day start of boating season.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Lambert says. “If it’s going to happen, it needs to happen in three to four weeks tops to give us a chance to get the place ready to rock and roll by spring.”

A Stewart State Park acquisition would be the latest in a string of moves the county has undertaken to make its facilities more financially viable while beefing up its role in regional camping-boating possibilities.

Lambert says operating Stewart State Park would allow for continuity among upper Rogue, Lost Creek and Willow Lake county operations for continuity of service to campers and day-use visitors.

Visitor use, and the money that it generates, could become a boon for Jackson County.

State parks records show that recent gross revenues, not including the marina, range from a low of $383,000 in 2016 to $467,000 in 2019, which includes $38,000 in federal money for serving as a fire base camp in previous years. Even during the COVID-damaged camping year of 2020, the park generated about $360,000, state records show.

The marina, which has been run by a private contractor, has generated between $5,500 and $22,000, records show.

Lambert says the county is still looking into staffing numbers should it take over Stewart State Park.

If it happens, the county likely would take over on an interim level and determine its viability, Lambert says. If the numbers pencil out, the county would seek to negotiate directly with the Corps for a long-term contract.

Running Stewart State Park could become the biggest financial coup for county parks since it built its RV park at The Expo in Central Point in 2016. It generated $741,182 in revenues in 2019, with income dipping about $100,000 in 2020 amid COVID-related closures, records show.

Revenues are all poured into loans to create the RV park, and Lambert says he hopes to have that debt paid off in the next four years.

The county took over Howard Prairie Lake Resort in 2013 after a concessionaire folded.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Lost Creek marina and boat ramp Thursday.{ }Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Lost Creek marina store has no access Thursday.{ }Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune