Given Douglas County’s budget situation, it was inevitable the Parks Department would be told it needs to become self-sufficient.
The department, like most, has been scaling back. Six years ago, it received $1 million from the general fund. Next year, it’s expected to get $380,000.
That means every park in the county’s extensive and beautiful park system must be evaluated. Eight waysides have already been closed.
Swiftwater County Park came up for discussion at the February meeting of the Douglas County Park Advisory Board.
Board members were told the 215-acre property in Idleyld Park is being appraised to determine its value. The appraiser is expected to make suggestions for the best use of the park.
One option might be to add campsites and spaces for recreational vehicles. The park, located on the south bank of the North Umpqua River, currently offers a pavilion, picnic area, barbecue pit, restroom and access to the North Umpqua Trail. The only income is from the $25 per day pavilion rental fee.
Another option might be to sell the park. We’d hate to see that occur. We’d much rather see it enhanced as a campground so it could bring in enough revenue to cover its maintenance costs.
The location appears ideal to attract campers. It sits less than one-quarter mile from the beginning of the 79-mile North Umpqua Trail. It’s also located near one of the most popular fishing areas on a gorgeous river. It’s not unusual to see bait fishermen lined up on the rocks just west of the park, hoping to hook a salmon or steelhead before the fish enter the fly-angling-only waters.
Douglas County has done a good job of increasing revenue opportunities at its other parks, by increasing fees and adding yurts and cabins that bring in additional income. It’s also successfully applied for grants to make park improvements, like adding restrooms.
We’d encourage the parks department to explore such ideas before looking to sell the park. Once it’s sold, it’s gone and that revenue potential is lost.
If it must be sold, it should remain public land. The Bureau of Land Management’s interest in the park is encouraging, but that agency’s funding may be questionable because of sequestration.
We understand the county’s priority for its dwindling funds is to maintain the sheriff’s office and the jail. But before the county decides it’s necessary to sell off public park land, we’d hope the entire general fund budget gets more scrutiny.
Some of us would prefer to pay a reasonable fee to dump our trash at the landfill — a county service that eats up a couple million dollars annually — before we see our parks sold.