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Fire recovery – Marion County commission plans vote on $24 million park plan

By James Day

The Marion County Parks Commission plans a January vote on a proposal to restore and update county parks damaged by the 2020 wildfires.

County officials have been working with consultants Walker Macy and EcoNorthwest on the plan to address fire damage and upgrade Packsaddle, Minto and Niagara along Highway 22 and North Fork, Bear Creek and Salmon Falls in the Little North Fork area of the North Santiam River. The county also is working on upgrades at a seventh Santiam Canyon facility, North Santiam, after taking over its operations from the state, but that project has its own funding sources and timelines.

North Fork Park salvage timber will provide some of the resources for the recovery plan.
North Fork Park salvage timber will provide some of the resources for the recovery plan.

Packsaddle and North Santiam are open, but the other five parks remain closed.

The staff report for the commission’s Nov. 17 meeting included a 129-page final report from the consultants. Commission Chair Wayne Rawlins suggested commissioners not use the meeting to go through it page by page but instead directed the nine-member group to review it before the next meeting on Jan. 19 and to be prepared to vote on a recommendation.

Any recommendation made by the commission must be approved by the Marion County Board of Commissioners. That likely will occur sometime in the spring, said Tom Kissinger, the chief parks planner for the county. The county also hopes to do public outreach on the plan in the spring as well, with at least one meeting likely for the Santiam Canyon.

The county plans to begin using its $1.2 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for road and other infrastructure work on the parks upgrades beginning in the summer of 2023.

The county hopes to use grants, revenues from camping and day-use activities, $560,000 in one-time only funds from salvage timber sales as well as the state’s annual allocation $300,000-plus in annual RV fee allocation from the state to pay for the restoration and upgrades.

The plan as it currently exists might cost as much as $24 million over a three to ten-year period.

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