Curry County commissioners have delayed until June their decision to swap county-owned land adjacent to Floras Lake with land the state parks department owns to debate the inclusion of 20 more acres of county land and the possible placement of a conservation easement on another 90 acres.
The county and state originally hoped to trade 70 acres of county-owned land adjacent to Floras Lake with a 34-acre state-owned lot across U.S. 101 from Pacific High School north of Port Orford.
The state would now like to add 20 acres to the east of the 70 acres and place 90 more acres under a conservation easement to protect it in perpetuity.
The issue has been talked about for almost a decade, and numerous North County citizens told commissioners in their regular meeting Wednesday morning that they would prefer the swap take place sooner than later.
“The property has no development potential,” said Floras Lake resident Gary Garman. “It is brutally, wonderfully natural.”
“In the early ‘90s is when we were first aware (of possibilities),” said former Curry County Commissioner Peg Regan. “Since then, I don’t know how many proposals there have been. Every time it’s been rejected. This is the closest we’ve come to a resolution to the property. Don’t start over again. Don’t put the residents through this again.”
Zoe Bradbury of Langlois said she returned to her hometown after a 16-year absence relieved to find the area as it was when she left and not filled with “strip malls and ticky-tacky hotels” she has seen sprout up in other communities.
“People are not coming here to see a Best Western on Floras Lake,” she said. “They come here to see wilderness, to see something that doesn’t look like where they just came from.”
Floras Lake history
The Floras Lake State Natural Area, between Port Orford and Langlois, extends from the southwest corner of Floras Lake to the ocean, and south to the Sixes River. The additional land would allow for the inclusion of two creeks that feed the lake, along with vegetation that blends with that in the nature area.
Hikers enjoy walking to the beach, but the most spectacular location is Blacklock Point, 1.5 miles farther south and reached by a trail through thick coastal woodland. The grassy promontory is between steep, rocky hillsides that drop to a dark sand beach.
Several small islands are off at sea, sheer cliffs are to the north and beaches stretch another 2 miles to Sixes River and Cape Blanco State Park.
A state botanist last fall also discovered a “plant community” that, while comprised of plants common to the area, have never been seen growing amongst one another — notably Port Orford Cedar and huckleberry.
“The beauty is enhanced by the general remoteness and the contrast with the lush forest just inland, where the trees mingle with ferns, rhododendrons, mushrooms, strawberries, orchids and other varied plant life,” according to The American Southwest, a website that features unique places to visit.
The state proposes to use the 70 acres it hopes to acquire for passive recreation — hiking and nature viewing. The parcel near the high school, while originally intended to be a highway wayside, could have its timber cut for sale or sold as a homesite.
The county has no need for the western parcel adjacent to the lake, commissioners agreed, as it is accessible only by boat, has limited timber value and features wetlands that make it impassible. The parcel on U.S. 101 has two roads by which it could be accessed and timber that could be cut and sold.
Two years ago, the county made a list of all the properties it owns to determine if it could sell or develop them. The Floras Lake property was deemed a good fit for the neighboring Floras Lake State Natural Area.
Appraisals conducted last fall on that parcel valued it at $150,000 and the highway frontage land at $200,000, including the estimated $65,000 in timber that could be harvested from it, said Chris Havel, associate director with the parks department.
That parcel has been logged about three times in the past and more recently was intended to be used for high school environmental studies, which never really took off, Havel said.
There is about 347 million board feet of timber on the land.
Two options on table
After years of studies and discussions, Havel said the county and state had winnowed down their options to two.
The first would involve increasing the number of acres from 70 to 90 of Floras Lake land, which would make the appraisals more equal. A second would add a 90-acre conservation easement to the east of that to protect in perpetuity.
The second alternative, however, could drag out the process longer, as it can take years to work out how such land is to be managed and developed — if at all. Additionally, there are four private landholdings on the parcel whose owners would have to be included in on discussions.
“It’s a valuable tool,” Havel said, “but it makes it more complicated.”
He had hoped to present the proposal and commissioner decision to the State Parks Commission April 17 and have a final action completed in June. Commissioners voted to discuss the proposal at its first meeting in June, in time for the parks commission to consider it at their next meeting in September.
Havel said delaying a decision is possible, but that he was unsure what the composition of the state board would be after summer during which it doesn’t meet — or worse, that it might send a message that the deal is too complicated.
But he sounded hopeful, too, for future cooperation with the county in other endeavors.
“We have a long tradition of investment in this county,” he said. “This transfer is another roadmark toward better cooperation with the county. It’s not our final destination.
“I view it as kind of a first date,” he continued. “We’re entering into a longer relationship that requires heartfelt conversation. This proves we can work together, look at all the properties and see how missions overlap, not just in local interest, but for the people of the state.”
Havel said the state system was not created to exist in isolation and works with other agencies and governmental entities to benefit outdoor users throughout the state.
“It’s all about how people in Oregon connect with the landscape,” he said. “It was never ‘the state’s coming in and developing.’ It’s about relationships with people on the ground. It’s that conversation we need to have to maintain a viable state parks system. We don’t float alone.”
Commissioner Chris Paasch said he was definitely in favor of conserving the land in its present state, but reminded the board that conservation easements — he has one on his ranch land — can be cumbersome and time-consuming to craft.
Havel noted that enlarging the Floras Lake State Natural Area would benefit not only tourism by providing more terrain between the county’s Boice-Cope Park to the north and Cape Blanco State Park to the south, but for businesses in North County, as well.
“I spoke with people in Port Orford,” said Commissioner Court Boice, “and they’d like to see a trail all the way through. Good places for kids to go are dwindling and we have the opportunity to help.”
The county board will consider the proposal — and hopes to decide — at its June 5 meeting.