Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

JOSEPH — With an eye to the future, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department is preparing a new master plan for the Wallowa Lake, Minam and the Wallowa River Canyon parks. Sept. 7 members of the public got a first glance of some of the possibilities.

The focus of the new plan, according to David Stipe, Integrated Park Services manager, will include mostly modest improvements to the sites while making park management more efficient.

Referring to drawings displayed around the Joseph Community Center for the evening public meeting, Stipe said, “Improvements you see in the concept proposals may become part of the plan and may take 15 years to implement.”

Stipe told those at the meeting that the lifespan of a state parks master plan is 10 to 20 years, and Wallowa County’s, last revised in 2001, was in need of revision.

The new plan will take into account recreation trends, like building more biker/hiker campsites as well as ever-growing requests for electricity at campsites, even those designed for tent camping.

Ian Matthews, a planner with Oregon Parks and Recreation, said the final designs will be modified based on input from public meetings and correspondence, and a draft plan document will be presented next spring or summer. Following a 30-day public comment period after that presentation, the plan could go under more revisions based on comments.

In late 2018 the final draft, which Matthews said will attempt to balance ecological health and users’ needs, will go in front of the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners for approval and adoption into the county’s land use plan.

“The recreation opportunities out here are amazing, and we are responsible for the natural resources, cultural resources and scenic resources of our properties,” Matthews said.

At the Minam State Park, visited by 56,000 people a year, some of the proposals include increased parking, an expanded day-use area near the boat launch, biker/hiker campsites, more ADA accessible river access and more campsites outside of the current Minam Campground’s 21-site footprint.

Matthews said because the river has both state and federal scenic corridor designations, the state is somewhat limited in the amount of development it can do. Approximately 5,000 boaters launch at Minam annually.

Three day-use areas, or waysides, in the Wallowa River Canyon — Johnson Timber, Wallowa River and Fountain — are managed by the state park are also included in the new master plan. These day-use areas are used by 60,000 people each year. For the most part, Stipe said, the waysides will be maintained as they are with possible improvements for river
access. The plan will address illegal camping and calls for the installation of signs identifying the scenic river corridor.

Wallowa Lake State Park, the county’s crown jewel of its state parks, hosts 400,000 visitors and 69,000 overnight campers a year. First opened in 1951, the park now has 212 campsites.