Cascade Christian High School football players practice Monday at Table Rock Park, a Medford-owned park now at the center of a controversy between the city and Jackson County over public access and ownership. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell

This land is whose land?

Jackson County and Medford officials are clashing over Cascade Christian High School's exclusive right to a city-owned park built by the school at a cost of more than $100,000.

Jackson County has sent the city notice that the public has been excluded from Table Rock Park, citing a long-standing deed restriction on the 7.5-acre property. In fact, the county asserts the property already belongs to it because the deed restrictions were violated.

The only access to the city park is through the school's parking lot, but the county found the gate leading to it had been locked.

School officials told the city the gate was locked to allow the grass to grow, but county officials took photos of Cascade Christian's football team practicing on the grounds, according to County Administrator Danny Jordan.

Cascade Christian and the city signed a 25-year lease in 2008 after the school spent six years trying to come to some agreement over the property, which is next door to the high school and was previously unused. During a hearing, the county didn't raise any objections about the exclusive lease agreement.

Cascade Christian Superintendent Ray Johnson said the school has spent at least $100,000 on the project, not counting lots of volunteer time.

He said he didn't want to comment on the ongoing negotiations between the city and county.

"We've tried to stay completely out of it," he said. "We have told the city of Medford and Jackson County we don't want to get in the middle of it."

The agreement allows the school exclusive use of the park during the school day, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Public access is allowed after 5 p.m., and full access is allowed during most weekends and summer months. The park was originally purchased by the county for $60,675 using Land and Water Conservation grants and other county dollars.

Access to the park is through Cascade Christian's parking lot, then down a dirt road. Another gate off Gilman Road, which has a sign saying Table Rock Park, is normally locked as part of the city's permit for the park.

In exchange for the $12-a-year lease, the school agreed to build a track and other athletic fields.

County attorney Ryan Kirchoff said the county believes it has a legal position that will stand up to a court challenge.

In his letter to the city on June 17, Kirchoff wrote, "It is the position of the county that it is the present owner and entitled to possession of the property pursuant to a reversion that has occurred automatically by operation of law."

At the same time, Kirchoff said the county is willing to work with Cascade Christian toward a resolution that would benefit the school and the public. He did indicate that the county doesn't have the same deed restrictions as the city on the property.

The city sent the county a letter on June 25 expressing surprise because the city's intentions with Cascade Christian were well-known by county officials in years past.

In the letter, the city requested commissioners consider a resolution declaring that the city's lease agreement with Cascade Christian does not violate the deed restrictions. It pointed out the city did the county a similar favor by waiving deed restrictions at the Medford airport.

Another letter sent from the county to the city on Aug. 16 offered to split the proceeds from any future sale of the property, with the sale price subject to approval by the county. The property had been appraised in excess of $1 million.

The letter, written by Kirchoff, indicates the county would be willing to waive the deed that reconveys the property back to the county if the city agrees to split the proceeds from a sale.

Brian Sjothun, director of Medford parks and recreation, said the issue over the park arose after a county official incorrectly assumed the park wasn't open to the public.

Sjothun said a gate to the park off Gilman Road is closed because many of the residents in the area didn't want cars parked on the street. Sjothun didn't refer to the other gate cited by county officials that leads from Cascade Christian's parking lot.

According to a conditional use permit developed after receiving public comments, the Gilman Road gate must be closed to prevent people from parking on the residential street, he said.

Another issue the county raised is concern that a bike or pedestrian trail through the park would not be available if the city swapped the parkland with the school for another property in Medford.

Sjothun said if the property were sold to the school or some other arrangement were made, there would be language in the sale agreement allowing a public trail.

So far the city hasn't scheduled any events at the park since the grass was installed in summer 2009. Sjothun said the city plans to hold events for a youth lacrosse league this winter and a NFL flag football league in the spring.

Jackson County Commissioner Jack Walker criticized the city for not understanding the deed restrictions on park property.

"What is wrong with the city of Medford?" he said. "The city has talked about selling a piece of property that doesn't even belong to it."

City Councilman Bob Strosser said there are different interpretations of the agreement between the city and the county over the land.

"We have always sought to do what is right, and I am somewhat puzzled by the posture of the county given the timing and facts as I know them," Strosser wrote in an e-mail.

Strosser said the county made its concerns known recently, even though there were extensive publicity and discussion among city officials and Cascade Christian prior to the 2008 lease agreement.

The city argues the property was undeveloped and hadn't been used as a park, and now, thanks to improvements the school has made, the land is available to the public.

"The length of time, publicity and openness of this discussion in the community back when the agreement was first reached somewhat boggles the mind that at this late date, years down the road, county officials now have concerns," Strosser wrote.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

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