Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald



For Gary Bloomer the matter was never just about a bunch of rocks.

It was about history.

And so he was pleased to learn recently that some stony symbols of Baker County's past will return here, to what Bloomer considers their rightful place.

"I'm thrilled," said Bloomer, who owns a cattle ranch near Durkee.

The collection includes about 40 samples of precious metal ore and gemstones, most of which were mined in Baker or adjacent Grant County.

The samples belong, appropriately enough, to the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI).

When the state agency decided in 2009 to close its Baker City office due to budget cuts - it's one of just two regional offices, the other is in Grants Pass - DOGAMI lent most of its rock and mineral collection to the Baker Heritage Museum.

That collection includes about 300 samples from around the world.

Although the Baker County Board of Commissioners persuaded DOGAMI to retain its local office by offering office space in the Courthouse, the agency's new quarters lack display space for the collection.

Bloomer didn't object to moving some samples to the Museum.

What irked him was DOGAMI's decision to drive those 40 local specimens from Baker City to the agency's headquarters in Portland.

Bloomer contends the collection should have stayed inBaker County, which owes its existence to Henry Griffin's discovery of gold in October 1861 a few miles southwest of present day Baker City.

"We have the Miners Jubilee, Portland has the Rose Festival," he said.

Bloomer's interest in the collection is personal as well as historical.

The collection taken to Portland in 2009 includes an opal that was mined more than a century ago on the ranch he now owns.

Bloomer enlisted help from the county commissioners as well as Greg Smith, the county's contract economic development director.

Smith said Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the board of commissioners, asked him to get in touch with DOGAMI.

Smith knows the agency's director, Vicki McConnell, who formerly worked in Baker City.

McConnell said Wednesday that although she hasn't talked with Warner to figure out the details, she intends to return some of the 40 samples, including the opal, to Baker County.

"We're working on that," McConnell said.

Among the items on her agenda, she said, is deciding where to display the local samples. Both the Courthouse and the Baker Heritage Museum are good options, McConnell said.

Warner also mentioned the Baker County Library and U.S. Bank as possible display sites for some of the samples.

U.S. Bank already has one of Oregon's best gold displays, including the famous 80-ounce Armstrong nugget.

When DOGAMI closed its Grants Pass office in 2009, the agency moved some of that office's gem and mineral collection - it's larger than the Baker City collection - to the Josephine County Courthouse, she said.

The main purpose for assembling the Baker County collection was to promote the area's mining potential, Mark Ferns, retired regional geologist from the Baker City office, said in a 2009 interview.

The collection was displayed at international expositions in San Francisco in 1899 and St. Louis in 1904.