Jacksonville makes plan to secure its watershed

JACKSONVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a strategic plan to secure control of its watershed, called Forest Park.

Stepped up police patrols, a property exchange with the Motorcycle Riders Association, gating of a road through the watershed, creation of a park master plan and interim management techniques are among the goals for short- and long-range objectives.

Past managed and unsupervised activities in the 1,800-acre watershed have damaged the environment. Logging, off-highway vehicle use, neglect and vandalism are cited as reasons for the damage. Restoration efforts would aim to improve water quality, fish habitat and recreational opportunities.

"To me, this is a start," said Councilman Dick Ames.

"What this strategic plan does is pave the way for a true master plan," said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen. "We've basically been deadlocked for years not having a direction to go."

Council members Bruce Garrett, Chris Gilman, Ames and Bill Leep voted for the plan. Council members John Dodero and Donna Schatz were absent.

An exchange of property with the MRA could allow the city to prohibit OHV use in the reservoir, Norling Gulch and Jackson Creek areas as part of a goal for "passive use" in the watershed.

MRA President Dave Lexow indicated after the meeting that he would not want to see OHV use banned in the watershed, but is optimistic that his group will be able to work with the city.

"It's forward motion, it's another step," Lexow said of the council's action.

MRA wants to repair and improve trails, water crossings and other features, but the city has prevented such work, Lexow said. He also noted the group has experience securing grants for park land improvements.

"There's so much we want to do on Jacksonville's land, and they need it," said Lexow.

As proposed, the land swap would give the city 40 acres at the base of the watershed in exchange for land higher up that would connect MRA's Lilly Prairie area with Bureau of Land Management acreage. Complicating the exchange is $140,000 worth of parking improvements on the lower site that were funded by state OHV fee grants. State regulations require that any exchange include an equal OHV value.

"If the MRA takes another section of land in trade ... a staging area is not required," said Ron Price with Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation. "The negotiation is between the MRA and the city."

Increased police presence in the area around the reservoir should start in the near future, said Wyntergreen.

"I think that (the council action) really indicates to me that if we all put our heads together, we will do the best for the land and the people that will use it," said John Gerritsma, field manager for the Ashland Resource Area of the Medford District BLM. "I hope we can come to a resolution outside the courts."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland.

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