John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Two:

Subsequent land acquisition near Sheep Rock

State parks officials worked toward assembling a relatively contiguous core area around Sheep Rock from 1935 to 1965, though five outlying tracts also represented significant acquisitions. Transfer of public domain land using the Recreation and Public Purposes Act continued to be a preferred method of building this park, though the OSHC also bought property from private landholders when the opportunity arose. In terms of size, this park maintained its position as second largest in the system, even though Oregon's state park acreage grew six-fold over a 30 year period ending in 1965. [30]

Land acquisition for Picture Gorge State Park actually began with a 1.5 acre gift from the Eastern Oregon Land Company (lineal successor to The Dalles Military Wagon Road Company) on January 31, 1931. Effective administration of this parcel as part of the larger park, however, did not prove to be practical because it is located seven miles east of Dayville. [31] Boardman made two more acquisitions in 1935 after some consultation with Merriam and Sawyer. The first came as a 3.8 acre gift from William R. Mascall for an easement leading to what later became known as the Mascall Overlook just south of Picture Gorge. Merriam spurred this acquisition, of course, having highlighted the site in a 1901 paper on the upper basin's geology. [32] At roughly the same time, Boardman also obtained a 4.5 acre viewpoint on the John Day River south of the Cant Ranch near State Highway 19. [33]

Boardman continued to buy several relatively small tracts of land near Sheep Rock for the next decade. In December 1937 he obtained the 40 acre Cathedral Tract through GLO. [34] A month later Boardman utilized the R&PP Act to acquire 200 acres in a place that Merriam and other members of the 1899 University of California expedition named Blue Basin. [35] World War II brought a hiatus to Boardman's land acquisition program until 1945, when the state purchased two small parcels. That year Boardman obtained the 40 acre Kennedy Tract one mile northeast of Sheep Rock, as well as three acres south of Kimberly which included a geological formation called the Davis Dike. [36]

Larger acquisitions eluded Boardman, despite the OSHC having approved their purchase. When he attempted to buy another 1600 acres from GLO in 1945, a stock driveway and grazing lease appeared to nullify, or at least postpone, the application. [37] Negotiations for 1000 acres of private property also stalled, largely because James Cant wanted twice what the OSHC had approved for three parcels totaling more than 800 acres. [38]

Map of land acquisitions
State park land acquisition in the Sheep Rock area, 1931-1965. Tracts are shown with date of acquisition and in relation to the main highways. Note the emphasis on consolidation around Sheep Rock east of SR 19. The Davis Dike, a thre acre parcel near Kimberly obtained in 1945, is north of the area shown on map.

Chester Armstrong succeeded Boardman in 1950 and served ten years as state parks superintendent. During this period land acquisition continued statewide, but at a slower pace because Armstrong emphasized developing the parks for overnight camping and other uses. [39] Even so, park acreage around Sheep Rock increased almost as much under Armstrong as it had under Boardman.

In 1951 the state bought 878.91 acres from James Cant, its largest single purchase from one holder other than GLO. This acquisition included three tracts of land located along the John Day River between Goose Rock and Picture Gorge. [40] The state turned to the Bureau of Land Management as successor to the GLO in 1956 to buy three parcels out of what Boardman had targeted a decade earlier, though these totaled only 640.44 acres. In spite of this acquisition amounting to only one section of land, it helped with infilling a core area begun with public domain land in 1931. [41] The purchase consisted of 40 acres in Picture Gorge, 160.44 acres that included Sheep Rock, and two other adjoining tracts totaling 440 acres. The state also obtained a portion of the Foree Ranch, that being a peripheral parcel of 69 acres north of the Cathedral Tract, before Armstrong retired in 1960. [42]

The remaining acquisitions near Sheep Rock took place from 1961 to 1965. This is a period when three different superintendents headed the state parks organization. All of them attempted to keep pace with rapidly escalating visitation by acquiring more land, something made possible through substantial budget increases from the Oregon Legislature during those years. [43] As a result, park acreage in Blue Basin grew in 1961-62 with the addition of 22.37 acres from the Munro Ranch and 40 acres from BLM. [44] The state made two additional acquisitions from BLM in 1965, transactions which further filled out the park's core area. It finally obtained the 160 acre reservation for a dam site in Picture Gorge, as well as 641.12 acres located in sections just north of Sheep Rock. By the end of 1965, the park totaled 4,344.68 acres, of which 3,323.24 acres had been acquired through use of the Recreation and Public Purposes Act.

Cathedral Rock, ca. 1955
Visitors viewing Cathedral Rock, about 1955.
(Oregon State Highway Division photo #5887)

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Sheep Rock | Painted Hills | Clarno

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002