New state park to open

By Jayson Jacoby September 14, 2011 06:47 pm

By JAYSON JACOBY
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A property near Northeastern Oregon’s youngest ghost town will officially become the newest state park during a public ceremony Sept. 20.

The grand opening of Bates State Park, in Grant County about 50 miles southwest of Baker City, is set for 10 a.m. to noon.

The park, which includes a 28-site primitive campground, vault toilets and more than three miles of hiking trails, is along the Middle Fork John Day River.

To get there from Baker City, drive Ore. Highway 7 toward John Day for about 48 miles. One mile from the intersection with U.S. Highway 26 at Austin Junction, turn right (west) onto the paved Middle Fork Road. The 131-acre park is just to the west.

Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen will read a poem during the grand opening.

Bates was founded in 1917 and its post office established in 1919.

It was a company town — the company, in Bates’ case being the Oregon Lumber Company, which built a sawmill at the site.

The company owned the mill as well as stores, homes and other buildings in Bates.

The town’s namesake was Paul C. Bates, an insurance salesman from Portland who helped negotiate the Oregon Lumber Company’s acquisition of forests in the area, according to McArthur’s “Oregon Geographic Names.”

Bates was a prominent town in Grant County for more than half a century, with a population of about 300.

The town essentially folded, though, in October 1975 when the Edward Hines Lumber Company, which had bought the mill from the Oregon Lumber Company, closed the business.

The Hines firm moved the sawmill to John Day and sold most of the other buildings, including several dozen homes.

Many of those were hauled to either Prairie City or John Day, where they’re still used as residences.

A private nonprofit group, Bates Park and Museum Foundation, bought the 131-acre property in December 2006 and later transferred it to Grant County.

In 2008, at the urging of the newly formed nonprofit, Friends of Bates State Park, many of whose members are former Bates residents, the Oregon Parks and Recreation department, using money from the Oregon Lottery, bought the 131 acres from the county for $407,000.

The property includes the site of the sawmill but not the town itself.

Over the past three years the state has spent about $900,000 to develop the park, including a $275,000 grant from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board also awarded a $119,000 grant to the North Fork John Day Watershed Council for restoration work on the floodplain along the Middle Fork.

The Watershed Council plans to plant more than 4,000 native trees and shrubs there this fall.

Every two years, former Bates residents gather for a reunion.

Norm Rasmussen, who lives in Michigan, is one of the caretakers of Bates history. He moved with his family to the town in 1951, when he was 5.

Although Rasmussen moved from Bates after he graduated from Prairie City High School (Bates had an elementary school, but never a high school), he said in a 2008 interview that he has always cherished his years in Bates.

“The best years of my childhood,” he said. “Tons of memories.”

Rasmussen reminisced about the unpleasant drive over Dooley Mountain  — “I threw up every time,” he said. “My parents hated to take me.”

He also remembered that the trip to Baker City was always a significant journey

“To us Bates kids, John Day was big but Baker was huge, just a huge city,” he said.


MORE INFORMATION:

• 541-932-4453, 1-800-551-6949

• www.oregonstateparks.org/park_263.php


AN ONLINE HISTORY OF BATES, OREGON

www.precious-testimonies.com/Bates/Docs/BatesAustinHomePage.htm