To comment

What: Public comment will be taken, but speakers are limited to three minutes

When: 10:15 a.m. June 12

Where: Crook County Library

A 38-acre parcel of private land abutting the southeast corner of Smith Rock State Park, already used by hikers and climbers, could soon be formally acquired by the park, protecting more land at one of Oregon’s most popular natural wonders.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission will consider the land purchase during a meeting scheduled for June 11-12 in Prineville, according to a statement. The property is valued at $285,000.

The acquisition would be a win for public land supporters as the fight for open spaces heats up in Central Oregon and real estate developers eye land for acquisition.

“That land could have been sold to whoever they wanted, and it could have been sold to a developer — from that standpoint, to preserve it from development, I am all for that for sure,” local climber and instructor Mike Rougeux said.

Smith Rock State Park is one of Central Oregon’s biggest attractions, particularly popular with rock climbers eager to scale its towering cliffs of welded tuff. The Travel Oregon website included Smith Rock on its list of the state’s top seven natural attractions.

The 650-acre park welcomes some 900,000 visitors every year, according to the park’s website. Parking lots and surrounding roads are jammed bumper-to-bumper when the summer travel season arrives.

“It used to be that you could just roll up and get a spot in the parking lot anytime,” said Rougeux, climbing director for Bend Endurance Academy. “Now with more climbers, having more access to other parts of the park, it will be nice in terms of dispersing that use.”

Land for the state park was donated and acquired between 1960 and 1975, but a number of tracts surrounding the park remain in private hands.

Alan Watts, the preeminent climbing pioneer of Smith Rock and the author of a climber’s guidebook to the area, supports the purchase of the 38-acre tract and believes it’s a good step in acquiring other land adjacent to the park.

“Some of the most remarkable vantage points at Smith Rock have zero public access — for instance, 100% of the area across the river from Monkey Face,” Watts said.

“It is my hope that eventually, some of this land and adjacent areas will become part of Smith Rock State Park. The purchase of the 38-acre tract of land is a move in the right direction.”

The McFarlane Property — as the parcel of land is known — was identified in the 1990 Smith Rock Master Plan as a property of interest, according to OPRC documentation.

The property owners approached the state two years ago with a desire to sell, said M.G. Devereux, deputy director for state parks in Oregon. If the commission agrees to buy the property, completion of the sale could happen “pretty quickly,” said Devereux, declining to give a specific time frame.

For climbers, the area is known as the Lower Gorge. It contains a rock climbing area along a 1,000-foot section of the Crooked River.

“It’s cool because its so close to the river; it has a different fee; it is coming through a steeper area; it’s narrow; you can hop from boulder to boulder and climb on the other side,” Rougeux said.

The basalt columns in the area have a much different look and feel, compared to the welded tuff in other parts of the park, said Jeremy Bowler, president of the nonprofit High Desert Climbers Alliance.

Cruel Sister, Pure Palm and Dark Star are a few of the popular climbing routes here, he said.

“It’s less crowded, offers a different climbing style and brings more variety,” Bowler said. “It would be wonderful to secure continued access.”

Former park manager Scott Brown said the private landowners have not objected to hikers and climbers entering the area. Brown, who left his position Friday after nearly nine years on the job, described the area as having steep cliffs, a rugged riparian zone and sagebrush steppe.

The property acquisition will protect the land from development and ensure recreational use of the area for future generations, Brown added.

“It is being acquired for the purposes of protection,” he said. “It puts the land in the public trust.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, mkohn@bendbulletin.com

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