June 26, 2019 — A crowd of about 80 residents was in attendance at Monday evening’s public forum held by Lane County Parks at Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue Station No. 1. The topic of the open house was Lane County’s development of a plan for the future of North Jetty Park, a 250-acre beachfront property near Florence at the outlet of the Siuslaw River.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) currently has a lease agreement with the Department of State Lands to manage the property, and that lease is about to expire.
Lane County has agreed to manage the property — at the expiration of the existing lease — for one year to ascertain the viability of a long-term agreement to manage the popular park.
Lane County Department of Public Works Parks Supervising Analyst Charlie Conrad led the discussion, opening with a brief statement that laid out the goal for the meeting.
“Lane County Parks wants to hear what you guys have to say. Hopefully, we have neighbors, users and interest groups represented in the room, because that’s what we are here for — we want to hear how the park is used and we want to have a discussion about what is the best use for the North Jetty Park,” Conrad said.
Conrad explained that the input he was soliciting was simple: what is currently working well at the park, what should change and what the community’s thoughts are on what the future of the park should be. He also said changes to the park could take on a number of different forms.
Some of Conrad’s suggestions included a possible expansion of the rudimentary trail system at the North Jetty, the introduction of an interpretive aspect to the park, the construction of ADA accessible areas for those with mobility challenges and other possibilities.
“This might be an opportunity for habitat restoration. The park already has an informal trail system and one of the options to consider is whether to have a more formalized trail system,” said Conrad. “There are also site amenities throughout the park that we can provide so that people can go on a nice nature hike there.”
The decision to take over long-term management of the park would ultimately be left up to the Lane County Board of Commissioners. The next year will be spent analyzing the potential benefits and challenges related to the acquisition, with data and public feedback received at meetings like the one on Monday shared with commissioners.
The discussion that followed was rather free-form, with Conrad emphasizing the open-ended nature of the work being done by Lane County Parks in order to determine whether the acquisition of the North Jetty property makes sense for the community and the county.
One of the main concerns expressed during the public’s comments was the need for better overall maintenance at the North Jetty location. Specifically, residents mentioned the terrible state of the parking lot, including multiple large and potentially hazardous potholes, and the untidy nature of the park’s restrooms.
“It’s such a beautiful piece of property and it provides a lot of opportunities for us and we have a lot of ideas,” Conrad said.
He added that one of the first things that would take place during the trial phase of the new relationship between the county and park users would be closer attention to cleaning and maintenance.
“If Lane County Parks does decide to take this over, a lot of things can happen in the next 20 to 30 years. Currently, the park is owned by the Department of State Lands and, for the past 10 years or so, they have had an agreement with Oregon State Parks to maintain it. One of the things we are going to do at Lane County Parks is to have a maintenance agreement with State Lands to maintain the bathrooms and collect the litter. That does not mean we have acquired the park,” Conrad said.
Feedback from the public included a number of complaints about the parking lot at the North Jetty, which then prompted a discussion of the second most voiced concern of the meeting: the need for fees at the site in the future.
Wade Helm attended the meeting as the representative of the Department of State Lands (DSL) and he agreed with the overwhelming public opinion that the parking lot at the North Jetty needed immediate attention.
“We are working through a long-term agreement with the county, and part of that agreement would be to repair and re-do that parking lot completely,” Helm said. “I have talked with my supervisor and I have made my opinion very well known — that we need to have a permanent fix for this. The public is not happy about the lack of annual improvements at the park and we really do need to address this issue.”
The most contentious part of the discussion revolved around the subject of fees. Many in attendance felt the introduction of a fee structure in any form at the North Jetty was fundamentally wrong. Those expressing this opinion cited the long-standing law that allowed for beach access all along Oregon’s coast, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Others in the audience believed that there should be funding in place to assure proper upkeep of the park.
“I think it is unreasonable to expect Lane County to pay to maintain that parking lot and also maintain restrooms and keep the place clean, out of whatever their budget already is,” said one member of the audience.
Conrad was clear that in order to address the maintenance concerns expressed at the forum and the potential improvements at the park that were being considered, there was a strong likelihood that some form of revenue enhancement would be needed.
“If Lane County Parks was to take over this property, we could not afford this with our current budget,” said Conrad. “A lot of people have mentioned fees, and for our budget and the way we structure it, fee revenues are a significant portion of our budget.”
There will be additional opportunities available for public input on the issue of the future of North Jetty park. These public meetings will be scheduled soon. There is also a short survey available at forms.gle/zJ1cJ4iZHEmxs5Tg8.