John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Two:

Land issues at Painted Hills

State control and public access to the park became problematic as soon as Howard sold his property in 1951. Periodic difficulties with the subsequent landowner came to a head fifteen years later, with the OSHC opting to buy acreage under easement as a result. When negotiations eventually broke down, the state initiated condemnation proceedings which culminated in 1971. Acquiring fee title to the 2,822 acres in dispute, however, did not put an end to concerns about -protection of scenic and fossil resources.

The trouble began when a state park field examiner reported part of the picnic area to be under cultivation in April 1952. In addition, some 500 feet of fence separating the tract from adjacent farm land had been removed by landowners Charles Lang and Clarence Hudspeth. [118] Ownership of the fence continued to be an issue throughout the following year and became something which Lang and Hudspeth saw as related to having access to Bridge Creek for their cattle. [119] The state responded by fencing along property lines of the picnic area and appeared to have resolved the matter.

In 1960, however, Hudspeth posted a "No Trespassing" sign along the county road in an attempt to stop public access to the land under easement. [120] State parks superintendent Chester Armstrong asked him to remove the sign, which eventually reappeared in the form of a barrier in 1965. [121] At this point Hudspeth claimed that repeated incursions by hunters forced him to close the county road. After contacting the Wheeler County Court, deputy state parks superintendent L.V. Koons effected removal of the barrier. Although Koons tried to express his sympathy about Hudspeth's problems with hunters, their telephone conversation became confrontational once Koons maintained that the park would remain open. [122]

The situation escalated in May 1966 when a member of the state parks advisory committee reported Hudspeth using bulldozers to shove down tops of the Painted Hills. [123] Field inspection revealed that roughly five to ten acres had been leveled on a hill about one mile southwest of the state's lookout point. Excavation ceased where Hudspeth hit rock, but Koons treated this activity as harassment and contacted the highway department's legal division to see what could be done about it. [124] Upon review of the transaction with Howard, they advised Koons that the state's hold on the property might be tenuous if a case concerning control of the easement went to court. [125] The state thus began negotiations to buy the property contingent on OSHC approval of a purchase price. [126]

The commission granted approval to acquire the land under easement by condemnation because a change in ownership and failure to agree on a price hindered negotiations. [127] Although the Circle Bar Cattle Company (CBC) had since succeeded Hudspeth as owner, abuses related to off-road vehicle use continued. [128] Receipt of a $30,000 Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to acquire the property in 1967 made the state's pursuit of condemnation proceedings easier, but it took until early 1971 to secure final judgment. [129] For $37,200.00, the state extinguished all encumbrances on the land under easement except for public utility rights of way and an easement granted to CBC for passage of stock and equipment along the county road connecting Painted Hills with US 26. [130]

After assuming control of the property, the state fenced it against off-road vehicles. Little could be done to stop visitors or wildlife from climbing the Painted Hills, however, because the state did not have a resident caretaker. [131]

Map of Painted Hills State Park
Painted Hills State Park. The shaded portion is the state's picnic area, where it had fee title, but only a recreational easement on the remaining 2,822 acres until 1971 when it secured full title through condemnation. Bridge Creek is represented by a broken line because that portion of it is intermittent. County roads are shown by double lines, while unimproved access is indicated with dashed lines. Leaf Fossil Hill is identified because it represents the Bridge Creek Flora's type locality.

Next> Park planning and development at Painted Hills

Sheep Rock | Painted Hills | Clarno

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002