Home Opinion Editorials Be proud about MERA — and take care of it
Be proud about MERA — and take care of it
Ask anybody in Portland, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago or New York if
they’ve got a 3,500-acre back yard to play in, and they’ll have to tell
Ask the people of La Grande and Union County the same question, and they’ll give a resounding yes. The Mount Emily Recreation Area, less than 15 minutes from downtown La Grande, is bought, paid for and now open for everybody to enjoy. As back yards go, it’s hard to beat.
The face of Mount Emily has been used for many years for recreation, but only because the former owners, Forest Capital Partners, and before that Boise Cascade, allowed access. That access likely would have been closed off for good if Forest Capital had sold the land to private buyers, which was a very distinct possibility a couple of years ago. Fortunately, local recreational groups and Union County government took a hand.
The county got involved at the urging of the Mount Emily Recreation Coalition. The board of commissioners polled the public, asking in a county-wide vote whether people thought the county should pursue the purchase. By a convincing majority, the people said yes.
With voter approval, the county forged ahead, applying for and landing a $4.4 million grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s ATV program.
It wasn’t enough money to swing the deal everybody wanted, purchase of all the land and all the timber. Forest Capital retained some timber harvest rights. Still, the mission was accomplished.
The land will be open for people to use and enjoy, and will be managed wisely for recreation and natural resource use. People who like to play in the great outdoors have an accessible and beautiful place to do so, for all time.
Already, the area is in better shape than it has been in years. Brush has been cleared, trails groomed and marked, trash and junk hauled away. Steps have been taken to protect wetlands within the area’s boundaries. More improvements will be added as grant money becomes available.
It’s nice to know too that recreational use on the mountain won’t be the free-for-all it has been in the past. Motorized vehicles will stay on designated roads and trails. Target shooting is prohibited. People damaging resources will be subject to stiff fines. Law enforcement presence will increase.
It’s about time. A small minority of users did big damage to Mount Emily over the years. They dumped trash, vandalized trees and property, tore up delicate habitat with four-wheel-drive vehicles. They did it without much fear of being caught or prosecuted.
The message here is, the MERA really is our back yard, owned by us and there for us to play in any time we want. Let’s take care of it, and make it a place we’re proud to show off to visitors.