As of Wednesday, Busenbark Park is no longer a park.
In 1936, the Douglas County government obtained a 28-acre parcel of formerly private timberland along the Coos Bay Wagon Road through a tax foreclosure.
In 1950, The News-Review reported the parcel was dedicated as Dave Busenbark Park. It was one of the county’s first parks, established before the county even had a parks department. It was named for a recently retired county judge, who served in a position roughly comparable to today’s county commissioners.
On Wednesday, the current county commissioners voted to end Busenbark’s status as a park, returning it to the designation forestland. Its purpose, here on out, will be that of other county forestlands — to be a site where timber is grown and harvested to support county government programs.
Busenbark has been a flashpoint for controversy since the county clear-cut it in 2015. Opponents of Busenbark’s reclassification told the commissioners Wednesday that community residents have hiked, camped and held memorials there for decades. They also worried about local spring water being contaminated by sprays related to logging the land. They said the water is routinely collected by residents because their own properties have poor water quality.
Commissioner Tim Freeman said the property would remain in public hands and could still be used for those purposes, just like any other public lands.
Commissioner Chris Boice liked a suggestion by Richard Chasm of Olalla, who asked that members of the neighboring communities of Reston, Tenmile and Camas Valley be allowed to put together a proposal for purchasing the land from the county to maintain it as a park. The commissioners said Wednesday’s decision still leaves that possibility open, though Freeman was less enthusiastic than Boice, saying he’d like the property to remain public.
Many opponents of the change shared copies of The News-Review stories from the 1950s and ‘60s about the park. The News-Review also conducted a search this week for articles revealing the park’s history.
An Aug. 24, 1950 article covered the park’s dedication.
“The heavily wooded acreage with sparkling streams and springs will be dedicated to the 71-year-old judge who has for almost ten years devoted himself wholeheartedly to the county service,” it said.
The following day, then-editor Charles V. Stanton wrote he could “think of no finer tribute to any person, living or dead, than a spot where people may find relaxation and enjoyment in one of Mother Nature’s playgrounds.” He said the park would “forever be a monument” to Busenbark.
In the 1950s, the park was described as second-growth fir timber with trees representing most indigenous varieties, and as having a splendid picnic area. In the 1960s it was described as semi-wilderness with picnic tables, at least one of which was stolen in 1962. Scout picnics, a soapbox derby and other activities were mentioned sporadically in the news that decade.
John Hunter of Tenmile said county leaders in the past had the foresight to see Busenbark Park’s potential, but that current county leaders have destroyed their vision.
“Your efforts today are an attempt to erase Busenbark and its history, in the hopes that we will forget about it and go away. But as I stand here today, I can assure you that we will never go away and we will never be intimidated,” Hunter said.
Joseph Patrick Quinn of Camas Valley said many people in the southwestern part of the county greatly regret what happened to Busenbark. He said Busenbark served as a place where locals memorialized lives well led. It was, he said, viewed as “sacred, cool in the summer, lovely in all seasons.” Now, he said, it’s “gone, turned into a stump field.”
It will be just “one more fiber farm” like all the other timberlands that blanket the area, he said.
Some said parks are important for public health.
“There’s a huge body of science that says that natural areas are a prescription for healing and staying healthy,” said Cindy Haws, a wildlife biologist and teacher from Myrtle Creek.
Boice said he was most touched by the testimony of 25-year-old Zach Farrand, who is new to Roseburg and said county parks are important to him because he suffers from depression and spending time outdoors is therapeutic for him. However, Boice said there’s a lot of public space in Douglas County, with about 53 percent of the county being public lands available to meet his needs.
Boice also acknowledged the park’s spring is “a big deal,” and said more than 50 percent of the time he’s been there someone has been collecting the water. He suggested it could be designated the Dave Busenbark Memorial Spring and public access retained.
But he noted the park wasn’t donated by the Busenbark family, and said the memory and honor of Dave Busenbark is not at stake here.
“We absolutely recognize the contribution he made to Douglas County, and we are very grateful for that, and we plan to continue to honor him in the same exact way that we always have,” he said.
He said a lot’s changed since Busenbark became a park.
“In 1950, Busenbark was one of, if not the first, piece of property designated as a park. Since that time, a very robust parks department has been developed, and the focus that was once on Busenbark has now changed to other parks properties,” he said.
Freeman said the county today has 4,793 acres of parkland, and Busenbark represents just over half of 1 percent of that land. He noted the Oregon Recreation and Parks Association recently recognized the parks department for outstanding management of those assets.
“The Board of Commissioners has made it a priority to make parks and park assets better than they have been in a long time,” he said.
He said Busenbark originally came to the county because the owner had logged it and then failed to pay property taxes, having abandoned the land as no longer valuable.
Whatever it was in the 1960s, it had for the past 40 years been considered primarily a timberland whose trees would be logged to pay for improvements at other parks, he said.
He said it was months after the 2015 clear-cut before anyone raised objections about it.
He contrasted Busenbark with nearby Iverson Park, which has a parking area, picnic table and the “appearance of a park,” whereas Busenbark did not have any signs of development, at least in recent history. Nonetheless, he said county residents can continue to use the area for camping and hiking, even with its change in status.