County Parks Face Millions in Repairs

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ASHLAND, Ore. – As he walks along a road in Emigrant Lake Park, Steve Lambert stops, stoops down, and picks up a triangle-shaped chunk of concrete.

“We’re looking at pavement at Emigrant Lake that is just an inch and a half thick,” he says. As he motions with the chunk, bits crumble to the ground. “Not very thick to be lasting 50 years.”

It’s a bright morning Wednesday, and Lambert is taking a walk around the park, looking for anything that needs to be fixed.

It’s not hard to spot. Lambert quickly spies broken wood, rusty drinking fountains, patched pavement, and of course, the crumbling concrete.  The Jackson County Parks Manager says they’re all examples of aging county parks, and the effects of decades’ worth of delayed maintenance.

According to a report by the Oregon Parks Association, county parks across Oregon are facing an $80 million backlog in deferred maintenance. Almost $10 million of that total comes from Jackson County alone. The county operates 18 parks, but because of budget cutbacks over the past 10 years, much-needed repairs have been put off until more funding is found.

Jackson County Parks operate as a “self-sufficient” entity, meaning they do not receive money from the county’s general fund. Much of the budget is funded through user fees and grants. Workers want to make sure the county’s parks are hospitable to their visitors each year, and employees do what they can to keep the parks clean and working. But Lambert says there’s not nearly enough in the budget to cover the cost of 20 years of repairs.

As we approach one of Emigrant Lake’s bathrooms, Lambert points out several rotting support beams, worn down by age, water, and pests. Later inside a picnic shelter, Lambert walks over to a stovetop and runs his hands over rusty burners that no longer work.

“These are things that pile up when you have a parks system of 18 facilities,” he says.

Also adding to the backlog, Lambert says, are repairs park visitor don’t see, like electrical lines, sewer systems, and water systems.

“We need to have nice, safe facilities for people to want to come back and recreate.”

Lambert and other county parks manager are now supporting a bill in the Oregon legislature they hope will bring more money for repairs. The bill would change the split in RV licensing fees that are shared between county and state parks. Under the proposal, counties would receive 45 percent of those fees, which would bring in more than $131,000 for Jackson County. All of those funds would be specifically earmarked for maintenance.

As Lambert takes a final lap around Emigrant Lake Wednesday, he looks at a broken curb that lies in pieces on a hill, then follows the cracked road back toward his truck. He admits much of those problems will still be there even with a few extra thousand dollars.

“But it’s better than nothing,” he says.