John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Seven:

Park development

At the close of his superintendent's annual report for 1980, Ladd stated that the monument "has the potential of becoming one of the most significant parks in the system to both the visitor and the scientific community if properly developed." [7] By this time he had an approved general management plan which provided a framework and gave some specifics for development, which the NPS confined to relatively small-scale projects over the next 15 years. Wayside exhibits and interpretive trails aided visitor understanding of the monument's fossil and scenic resources. Other projects resulted in improved vehicular access near trailheads, but a few had the sole purpose of enhancing recreational opportunities near the John Day River or simply supporting NPS operations.

Installation of permanent interpretive wayside exhibits took place in 1978-79 in accordance with a subsidiary plan approved prior to the GMP. [8] Executed to a park-specific design standard, the bases consisted of concrete aggregate with modulite dye transfer panels mounted on top. [9] Although Ladd expressed satisfaction with them at the time, an interpretive planning document drafted by the NPS in 1991 pointed to the need for extensive revision of text in existing wayside exhibits. [10] It also recommended locations for more of them, especially in the Sheep Rock Unit. As a result, the NPS constructed one wayside exhibit adjacent to State Highway 19 just north of Picture Gorge in 1994. It consisted of a standard fiberglass embedded panel mounted to an aluminum base, and represented a conspicuous break with the park-specific design precedent set 15 years earlier. [11]

Construction of interpretive trails within the Sheep Rock Unit began with work to improve a footpath into Blue Basin in 1978. [12] By 1985 what the NPS called the "Island in Time Trail" included a number of bridges so that hikers could avoid the fossiliferous streambed. [13] It also contained several trailside exhibits and three displays consisting of fossil replicas protected by plastic bubbles. [14] NPS crews started building Blue Basin's other trail in 1979. [15] Originally envisioned as a loop, it could not circumvent the area as planned without crossing private land. The trail remained a mile in length until the NPS secured permission from adjacent property owners. [16] When completed in 1988, the "Blue Basin Overlook Trail" totaled three miles in length, but lacked the number of interpretive devices its complement possessed. [17] The only other formal trail building in the Sheep Rock Unit took place at Foree. [18] Much like the situation at Blue Basin, the NPS wanted to restrict visitor use to two well-defined and maintained trails. This stemmed from perceived safety problems as well as potential damage to fossils from indiscriminate foot traffic. [19] Park employees responded by constructing the comparatively short "Flood of Fire" and "Foree Loop" trails in 1986. [20]

Visitors on a hiking trail at Foree
Visitors on a hiking trail at Foree, August 1986.
(NPS photo)

Similar thinking about restricting hiker use to well-defined trails prevailed in the Painted Hills Unit, beginning at the overlook. In seeking to relocate the viewing area, the NPS wanted to obliterate one-quarter mile of old road. This resulted in a trail from a new parking area beginning in 1978. [21] Park technician Dale Schmidt built a new, but equally short, path around Painted Cove the following year. [22] The NPS subsequently developed a self-guiding nature trail and added 200 feet of boardwalk there in 1989. [23] A desire to provide more hiking opportunities in the Painted Hills Unit drove construction of a three-quarter mile long trail to the top of Carroll Rim in 1981. [24] In being somewhat analogous to the Blue Basin Overlook Trail, this project furnished visitors a spectacular view of Painted Hills and nearby Sutton Mountain. Park crews built a shorter loop trail in 1988 at Leaf Fossil Hill to allow for self-guided interpretation of the Bridge Creek Flora. [25] They added an exhibit to the trail over the following year as well as 200 yards of two-rail wood fence to better manage visitor use. [26] The NPS also approved construction of another interpretive loop in 1988, through which it hoped to highlight modern plants of the Painted Hills, but this project has yet to be undertaken. [27]

Painted Hills Overlook
Painted Hills Overlook, before conversion to hiking trail, September 1976.
(NPS photo by Francis Kocis)

All three trails in the Clarno Unit appeared in 1980. [28] Interconnected to allow visitors access from either the picnic area at Indian Canyon or via a small pullout on State Highway 218, each extended for roughly one-quarter mile. Park employees found the loop trail particularly suited to self-guided interpretation because it allowed visitors with opportunities to see actual fossils in situ. [29] This "Trail of the Fossils," however, represented a much smaller project than the original proposal to build a four mile loop through the unit to include the nut beds and mammal quarry which depended upon acquisition of the Maurer tract. [30]

A few relatively small-scale projects resulted in improved vehicular access to several localities. The largest project tied Blue Basin and Foree together, so that a single contract let in 1992 funded the paving of entrance roads and parking areas. [31] Road surfaces at Painted Hills remained unpaved, but the NPS improved parking areas associated with trailheads at Painted Cove and Leaf Fossil Hill in 1987. [32] Relocation of the Painted Hills picnic area took place in 1983 to improve circulation and allowed the development of handicapped facilities. [33] This site subsequently received an information station once park crews relocated a kiosk. [34]

Some developments could be categorized as purely to provide recreational access or solely to support NPS operations. A prominent example of the former took place in the Sheep Rock Unit with improvement of three parking areas in 1988. Each represented access to the John Day River from State Highway 19, so the NPS provided a gravel surface and delineated them with wood rail fence. [35] Establishment of seasonal quarters at Painted Hills in 1980 constituted an important example of the latter. [36] Once the NPS upgraded the facility seven years later, it provided housing for a permanent ranger on a 12 month basis. [37]

Next> Interpretation and site planning at the Cant Ranch

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002