One of Baker County’s unique attractions will soon close for the season in advance of winter’s deep snows, but plans are afoot to open more of the Sumpter Dredge to visitors in the future.
There is no timeline, but the long-term goal is to allow visitors to tour sections of the upper two stories of the hulking gold-mining machine, said Garrett Groth, ranger at the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area.
That could include the third-floor winch room, where a worker controlled many of the functions of the 1,240-ton behemoth.
Groth said he hopes the park will have up to $250,000 available for work inside the dredge, although the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department might need to divert some of that money to other park properties in Harney County.
Any project inside the dredge, which operated from 1935 until 1954, is challenging because of potential conflicts between modern safety standards for stairs and other facilities, and the need to preserve the historic nature of the machine, Groth said.
Maintaining accessibility under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act is another issue, and visitor safety is always paramount, he said.
“The dredge wasn’t made to give tours in,” Groth said with a chuckle.
Brian McBeth, the historic architecture project manager for the Parks Department, visited the dredge for the first time in September.
“It’s a great piece of history that our kids and grandkids can learn from,” McBeth said.
He echoed Groth’s comments about the potential difficulties of both accommodating visitors and maintaining the dredge’s historical integrity.
“We want visitors to come in and enjoy a piece of history,” McBeth said. “But first and foremost we want to preserve history. Every stick of lumber, every piece of steel tells its own little story.”
Groth said he’d like to start on interior work next summer, including replacing sections of the flooring, but 2020 might be a more feasible target.
Elsewhere in the park, Groth said an $8,000 grant will help pay to elevate a section of a hiking trail that is seasonally flooded by a beaver dam.
He said he’s also seeking other grants to build a bridge across Cracker Creek in the same area to create a new hiking loop.
The park has abutments for the bridge but not money for the bridge itself, Groth said.
Spooks & Sweets At The Dredge
The Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area is hosting its second-annual Trunk-or-Treat from 3 p.m. to dark on Saturday, Oct. 27. Also, head ranger Garrett Groth will be giving a guided ghost-filled tour of the dredge. The Interpretive Center will be open late for guests to warm up and enjoy coffee and hot chocolate. For the event, the parking lot will be full of local businesses giving out goodies and candy.
Visitors can also choose to take the historic Sumpter Valley Railroad to the park. The Halloween Express will run on Saturday, Oct. 27 and Sunday, Oct. 28. On both days a round-trip train will leave the McEwen Station at 4 p.m. Passengers are invited to wear costumes. The train will be decorated, and there will be gift bags for all passengers. The adult fare is $25, with seniors 62 and older $22.50; children 5 to 15 $17.50; and a family pass (two adults and two children ages 5 to 15 available for $75.
See more in the Oct. 24, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.