TENMILE — Busenbark County Park had no parking lot, no bathrooms, no trails, not even a sign to alert passers-by it was a park.
Its amenities were more the natural sort. They included thick woods, with a few trees being at least 500 years old, and a natural spring from which area residents drew water by the gallon, especially when their wells turned sulphury in the summertime. Locals say memorials and weddings have been held there.
Between July and September this year, the park was dramatically changed. All the trees were cut, leaving nothing but piles of sawdust and slash, and a lone standing snag. A tributary to Tenmile Creek, now unshaded, winds its way through the sawdust.
A 7-foot wide stump at the park’s edge bears the initials TDW.
Tenmile resident John Hunter was devastated when he discovered the clear cut. It looked, he said, like a bomb had been dropped.
To Hunter, Busenbark was “a very special friend.”
Douglas County officials said the Busenbark timber sale was necessary to help the cash-strapped parks department maintain its other parks. Environmentalists say the county has lost an irreplaceable treasure.
Hunter worries his other favorite park could be next on the chopping block.
Iverson Park is a 33-acre park just half a mile up Coos Bay Wagon Road from Busenbark. It’s a bit more developed than Busenbark, with trails and a parking lot, and its forest is a little younger. But it contains plenty of mature trees. Hunter walks there a couple times a week with his dog Archie, in sleet, rain, snow or hot weather.
Walking in the park is peaceful, he said. Worrying about its future isn’t.
“I wake up in the middle of the night, and I can’t get back to sleep,” Hunter said. “What I would hope is we could save this park.”
After discovering Busenbark had been logged, Hunter called Camas Valley resident and Umpqua Watersheds Conservation Chairman Pat Quinn, who said he about fell off his chair when he heard the news.
“When I called other people, their reaction was similar. They couldn’t believe they would do this to a county park,” Quinn said.
Parks Department Director Gary Groth said the county had good reason to log the park. Busenbark was undeveloped, out of the way at the edge of the county, and as far as he knows, little used. If weddings or other events were held there recently, no one was filing for county permits, he said. The revenue from the timber sale will fund planning and improvements for the county’s other parks. It’s cash that’s vital to the parks department’s survival and could prevent more heavily used parks from closing, Groth said.
“To me, it’s the greater good for the greater number of people, honestly,” Groth said.
The parks department, like many county departments, faces the loss of general fund monies as the county government tightens its belt due to cuts in federal timber payments.
Herbert Lumber in Riddle paid the county about $400,000 for the timber at Busenbark. The money will go toward a master plan for the county’s parks, as well as funding most of the county’s $535,000 in capital improvements in 2015-16. Some of those improvements, like parks fee collection stations and campsites, will in turn generate revenue to help keep the parks going.
Francis Eatherington, Umpqua regional advisor for Cascadia Wildlands, said Busenbark was home to something much more valuable — an ancient and irreplaceable old-growth forest. It was the only one of its kind in any county park, she said.
“We should never be cutting down 500-year-old trees, no matter where it is. These trees are so rare,” Eatherington said. “This was such an asset, public asset.”
No one is alleging the county violated any laws.
Quinn said he doesn’t believe the county did anything “nefarious or underhanded.”
“We’re saying they used poor judgment,” Quinn said.
The land will be replanted for continued timber harvest, but Quinn said it won’t be the same.
“It’ll be turned from a forest to a fiber farm plantation. It’ll never be allowed to be a forest again,” Quinn said.
Groth disputed whether the forest was old growth. There were already stumps in the area, indicating parts of the park had been previously logged, he said.
He said the 22-acre parcel included 2,200 trees, with an average diameter of 21 inches. Six trees were over 60 inches and could have possibly been 500 years old, and 89 trees were over 39 inches. The latter group likely included trees around 100 years old, possibly as old as 200, Groth said.
Groth said the cut was a trade-off. In the bigger picture, it made sense to log a less-used park to benefit better-used parks, he said.
“You ask 95 percent of people in the county if they’ve heard of Busenbark Park and you’ll get a blank stare,” he said.
The county received the land through a tax foreclosure in the 1930s. It was later named for Douglas County Judge Dave Busenbark, a Melrose fruit and vegetable farmer who had been born in Kansas in 1880, and moved to Oregon in 1910. He served as county judge from 1940 to 1950. The park was dedicated to Busenbark in 1950, the year he retired from office.
Iverson Park is a bit more developed than Busenbark. It has trails, a parking area and picnic tables. However, Groth said he couldn’t rule out the possibility the county’s Parks Advisory Board might recommend some logging there as well.
Groth said the county’s Parks Advisory Board is beginning discussion of the parks master plan, which ultimately will determine what parks are active, passive or surplus. Surplus properties, mostly irregular properties gained through tax foreclosures, would be more likely to be logged. Active parks would include parks with campgrounds, or developed, well-used parks like River Forks. Passive would include boat ramps and less-developed parks.
A proposed parks department classification list issued in September labeled both Iverson and Busenbark as passive parks.
Groth said public input is welcome as the county begins creating its parks plan, which ultimately will go to the planning commission and the Douglas County Board of Commissioners for final approval.
The parks board meets at 9 a.m. every third Friday of the month in the Douglas County Courthouse, usually in room 310 or 311.
The Umpqua Valley Audubon Society will also discuss an overview of the master plan at a public meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 in the Ford Room of the Douglas County Library, 1409 N.E. Diamond Lake Boulevard, Roseburg.