John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Six:


The Cant Ranch complex dominated cultural resources management before and after approval of the monument's GMP in 1979. Despite it containing language urging maintenance of "a ranch scene spanning three-quarters of a century," the GMP stated that none of the park's buildings and structures met criteria for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. [67] This state of affairs changed abruptly in late 1982, when termination of the livestock operation at the Cant Ranch coincided with issuance of NPS guidelines on leasing historic properties. [68]

Some 74 acres of irrigated hayland held the potential for continuing agricultural use on a lease basis, thereby maintaining part of the ranch scene, while also allowing the NPS to defray the cost of rehabilitating the bottomland. [69] Since granting any such lease had to be preceded by a National Register listing, Ladd thereby sought this designation for the Cant Ranch. [70] Revision of the monument's List of Classified Structures in mid 1983 began the process. This changed the eligibility of 12 buildings associated with a 200 acre Cant Ranch "complex," something which also included the prospective lease along with other bottomland upstream almost to Picture Gorge. [71] NPS regional historian Stephanie Toothman subsequently drafted a National Register nomination which placed all remaining ranch structures, ditches, and irrigated fields in a 200 acre historic district as of June 21, 1984. [72]

The National Register listing allowed an almost concurrent issuance of a lease for the 74 acres of irrigated hayland. In being only the second lease completed by the NPS under its new-found authority, Toothman found it to furnish an enlightening case study of how to handle similar agricultural properties. [73] Revenue generated from annual leases over the first three years went toward renovating hay fields and irrigation ditches so that a longer term lease became feasible. [74] A four year lease on three fields took effect in 1987, with it being reissued to the same lessee for an additional eight years in 1991. A multi-year term lowered the government's administrative costs and seemed to provide additional incentive for the lessee, but a lack of interest plagued the arrangement. [75] Park staff attributed this to a combination of factors which included isolation of the fields from other agricultural operations, the irrigation system's deteriorated condition, and a perception of unreasonable restrictions on leased land. [76]

Although results associated with the leasing program had been somewhat disappointing, the fields remained an important part of the historic district. In response to a need for information about past use and appearance of the fields, the NPS funded an in-house cultural landscape report on the historic district beginning in 1993. [77] This study sought to define landscape features, patterns, and relationships which contributed to the district's character so that potential impacts of new development on the site could be assessed. [78] More specifically, this meant delineation of historic periods for the landscape and identification of existing features related to those periods. Recommendations could then follow for how to manage agricultural land, orchard trees, and ornamental vegetation associated with the ranch house. [79]

Park staff also sought guidance on how to maintain and preserve the ranch buildings once they became part of a historic district. A contracted historic structures preservation guide completed in 1986 originated from concerns about the barn's structural integrity and changes brought by adaptive use of the ranch house. [80] These two buildings became the focus of a Historic American Buildings Survey documentation project which produced measured drawings as well as narrative on their history and architecture. [81] A decision by Regional Director Charles Odegaard in 1991 to make the ranch house serve as park headquarters led to funding for a structural analysis of the building. Measures to reduce the weight load on upper floors followed from the analysis in 1992, even though the NPS did not move headquarters from John Day until two years later. [82]

Measured drawings of structures at the Cant Ranch, 1984
Measured drawings of structures at the Cant Ranch, 1984.

As representative of early 20th century agricultural development in this part of Oregon, the 200 acre Cant Ranch Historic District gave ranching a conspicuous place among historic themes represented at the park. Other themes (such as the Indians of north central Oregon, entry and settlement by homesteaders, historic transportation corridors, and 19th century paleontological exploration in the John Day Basin) commanded comparatively little attention from park staff, mainly due to the lack of baseline information. Without the guidance of a historic resource study, little was accomplished in preserving resources related to these other themes. [83]

Despite this shortcoming, the NPS found itself able to provide some assistance to local preservation efforts for the Kam Wah Chung Museum in John Day. The former store building had been loosely associated with the monument since 1967, when one member of the NPS study team suggested it be incorporated as part of park headquarters. [84] That year Gordon Glass began to inventory its contents, though formal restoration efforts did not begin until the city obtained funding for a feasibility study in 1972. [85] After the store's listing on the National Register in 1973, the NPS and Oregon State Parks provided a total of $60,000 in funding so that the city could open it as a museum four years later. [86] Concerns from Glass and others about long term care of the site led to a request in 1992 that the NPS conduct a study of preservation alternatives. [87] The study remained unfunded through 1994, but acting superintendent Jim Morris participated in planning for future operation of the museum in conjunction with other interested parties. [88]

Management of the monument's archeological resources largely took the form of limited ground survey during the course of developing park facilities. [89] Most of the terrain in all three units has not been systematically surveyed, though a contracted document in 1993 supplied general direction for future research, interpretation and management. [90] Efforts aimed at protecting pictographs in Picture Gorge constituted the main thrust behind management of the monument's prehistoric sites due to potential harm from graffiti and bird droppings. As a first step, the NPS funded a conservation survey of the pictographs in 1985. [91] It fell short of comprehensive inventory and analysis of their significance, but park staff did make subsequent efforts to remove some graffiti and discourage nesting near the drawings. [92]

Visitors examining rock art in Picture Gorge
Visitors examining rock art in Picture Gorge, about 1955.
(Oregon State Highway Division photo #5242)

The pictographs also provided an initial focal point in the development of formal procedures for tribal consultation. This started in 1990, when Ladd requested an ethnographic study of the monument after being informed that tribal members on the Warm Springs Reservation considered the pictographs to be spiritual objects. [93] The study had not materialized two years later, but the NPS contacted tribal governments for the three closest reservations to the monument. Representatives of each (Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Burns Paiute) wished to develop ongoing consultations about management of cultural resources with heritage value for the tribes, future developments at the park, as well as the documentation and interpretation of tribal histories in the John Day Region. [94]

US 26 in Picture Gorge about 1965
US 26 in Picture Gorge about 1965.
(Oregon State Highway Division photo #7110)

End of Chapter 6

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002