Panning for gold: Tourist draw?

By By Terri Harber May 03, 2013 10:21 am

By Terri Harber

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Baker County Commissioners heard an idea that would allow people to pan for gold in the Sumpter Valley Dredge Tailings and Moonshine Mine.

Karen Spencer, county parks director told the commissioners on Wednesday that “gold fever is in the air.”

And reality television shows such as “Gold Fever” (yes, that’s the name), “Gold Rush,” “Jungle Gold,” “Bering Sea Gold,” and, of course,“Ghost Mine”  — filmed in Sumpter — are helping prompt the interest, Spencer said.

Debi Bainter, executive director, Baker County Chamber of Commerce, approached Spencer with the idea.

Both believe it would be good for promoting tourism to the area.

The Baker County Chamber of Commerce has been receiving up to 15 inquiries a day from would-be tourists wanting to pan for gold.

“It’s something we’re going to try to accommodate,” Spencer said.

Spencer was the Oregon State Parks ranger at the Sumpter Valley Dredge for more than a decade before becoming head of Baker County parks in 2007.

In some instances, people can just grab a pan and start dipping and shaking. Locations such as this would be reserved for this activity.

Wilderness or national recreation areas and locations within a wild river corridor aren’t among these sites. Neither are places where someone holds a mining claim.

Health inspections

The commissioners approved a 5-percent fee increase for health inspections of restaurants.

Limited service restaurants, mobile food units, and bed and breakfast providers also would bear these increases. Also sought is a $5 increase for swimming pool inspections. 

No restaurant owners came to the meeting to voice their opposition.

Malheur County’s Environmental Health Office conducts these inspections for all of Baker County. 

A portion of the extra money collected would cover cost hikes to the county from the state, Geddes said.

The rest of the new money would offset other expected increases in operating costs, such as for travel to and from points in Baker County.

The last raise was in 2008.

This one would take effect July 1.

Zoning ordinance

Dozens of county residents attended a public hearing about the proposed Baker County Zoning Ordinance.

The goal is to reach a balance between property owners’ legal rights and the needs of the community, said Mark Bennett, planning director.

Updated explanations are supposed make the process simpler for those who want to divide, develop or purchase property in the county’s unincorporated areas. 

It doesn’t change actual comprehensive land use, state law or zoning, Bennett said.

What does it do? The ordinance explains “how the process unfolds,” he said. 

Wayne Wall, a city planning commissioner, asked for rules in the section concerning signs (Chapter 760), that would require cell phone towers be camouflaged as pine trees or other regional objects, for example, so viewsheds are preserved.

Other sections discussed were road standards — especially what’s needed for emergency vehicles to travel without impediment —  and home occupation rules, for example. 

The next public hearing is scheduled at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 5. The county will accept written testimony about the document until May 15.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved a liquor license application submitted by Kimala Parret for the Waterhole Cafe and Mercantile in Unity. It would be for full-on premises sales.

• Appointed Dean Defrees, Chris Dunn and Mark Johnson to the Baker County Fair Board.