John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Two:

Establishment of a park at Painted Hills

Efforts to bring about a state park in the Painted Hills area lagged behind those at Sheep Rock largely because of the need for negotiations with private landowners. Despite this, the site appeared to have a secondary status to Sheep Rock in the minds of Merriam and Boardman. Neither of them attempted to acquire public domain land in the vicinity of Painted Hills as they had with the other state park. Nevertheless, each of them recognized that the Painted Hills locale could tell a story of evolutionary change through fossilized plants. Together with the scenic formation that provides this area with its name, both of them saw its scientific and scenic aspects as blending together in one state park.

Paleontologists have long known the vicinity of Painted Hills as the Bridge Creek locality. In the 1920s paleobotanist Ralph Chaney began comparing the fossilized Bridge Creek flora with modern redwood forests, work which soon linked his name with the area. [105] The park project began when Merriam mentioned a "redwood fossil area" located in the vicinity of Burnt Ranch during a three day trip with Boardman in 1938. [106] Merriam referred Boardman to Chaney, who gave him specifics about this locality, one which happened to be located near the Painted Hills. [107] Boardman inspected the area in May 1939, noting that almost half of the access road required widening, but appeared genuinely enthused about the suitability of Painted Hills as a state park. [108]

To establish the park, Boardman needed to do two things. The first involved obtaining OSHC approval. As a preliminary step, he solicited testimonials for Painted Hills from Chaney and Merriam before presenting this proposal to the commission. [109] Both letters alluded to how the geological past, as symbolized by fossilized redwood, contrasted with the juniper and sagebrush of the Painted Hills at present. Obviously these endorsements pointed to the proposed park's scientific value, but they also hinted at a link with the financing and public support behind California's redwood state parks.

Unlike the situation in California, however, Boardman could not call upon the Save-the-Redwoods League when attempting to acquire parkland. He soon found the asking price of two key landowners to be more than he or the OSHC found feasible, so park establishment had to be kept in abeyance until World War II ended. [110] Boardman kept himself informed about the situation through a contact in Mitchell, whereby he received notice that the two ownerships had been consolidated in early 1946 through sale to Lossie T. Howard. [111]

Boardman targeted a total of 2,822 acres owned by Howard to be included within the park, and also showed interest for a time in another 280 acres of public domain land. Fee simple acquisition of a picnic area along Bridge Creek became his highest priority because this could trigger improvement of a county road connecting Painted Hills with the Ochoco Highway. He selected an area of 13.2 acres for development, a site which supposedly coincided with where an expedition led by Merriam had camped in 1899. [112] Boardman did not object to continued grazing on the remaining 2,800 acres as long as Howard granted public access through a lease or some other means.

Since OSHC membership had changed since Boardman last presented the Painted Hills proposal in 1939, he found it advantageous to obtain another testimonial in addition to those previously submitted by Chaney and Merriam. Boardman recruited Phil Brogan, who worked for Sawyer as a newspaper reporter in Bend. Brogan had a long-standing interest in the upper John Day Basin and his articles on geology regularly appeared in several papers around the state. [113] Once OSHC members read Brogan's letter supporting Painted Hills as a state park at their meeting on October 28, 1946, they formally authorized Boardman to negotiate with Howard. [114]

Another six months elapsed before Boardman and Howard reached a final agreement. The state paid $66.00 for the 13.2 acre picnic site on condition that OSHC fence this area with woven wire and provide the entrances with cattle guards. OSHC also obtained full use of a private road one-eighth of a mile in length that connected the picnic site with the county road. The state also agreed to install no more than four additional cattleguards if and when necessary at points to be designated by Howard. [115] As for the remaining 2,822 acres, the state obtained a recreational easement since Howard feared that a long-term lease might cloud his title or interfere with a subsequent sale of the property. [116] Howard retained grazing and mineral rights, but the public obtained access to the land under easement. Fossils and "other objects of interest" could not be removed for commercial purposes. [117]

Painted Hills State Park
Painted Hills State Park about 1950.
(NPS files)

Next> Land issues at Painted Hills

Sheep Rock | Painted Hills | Clarno

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002