Could City park shelter homeless?
Last updated 10/26/2022 at Noon
The Sisters Fire Community Hall was packed to overflowing, with people spilling out the doorways, for the October 20 town hall forum “Houseless in Sisters.” Panel members, all of whom are engaged in providing services to those lacking stable housing, provided salient information, and one man spoke representative of those living in the forest.
A suggestion, which has come up numerous times over the years, surfaced once again at last week’s meeting. Why not allow forest dwellers to camp during the winter at the Creekside Campground? They could be closer to services and employment.
There are bathrooms and showers there, dumpsters for garbage, Wi-Fi, and electricity. However, as with many municipal situations, what appears simple to the average citizen is fraught with complexities upon closer examination.
A little history of the campground is in order: No one knows the exact date, but it is believed the campground was established in the late 1930s by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Parks and Recreation Division (PRD), before Sisters was even incorporated as a city.
On July 7, 1983, the state of Oregon, through ODOT-PRD, conveyed to the City of Sisters the property that now constitutes the Creekside Park and Campground along Whychus Creek. There were expressed conditions, reservations, and restrictions that accompanied the deed, and would forever bind the City and its successors. Several of those conditions are relevant to the running and use of the campground/park.
If the campground/park, or any portion of it, is used for purposes other than public park, scenic, and recreation purposes, title to the campground or any portion used for other purposes, would automatically revert to the State. A master plan for the campground/park was to be prepared by the City and approved by the State in writing before any improvement or alterations could be made to the premises.
In 2014, then-City Manager Andrew Gorayeb had plans to make changes to the campground, but they were halted because no master plan could be found. The City had minutes from 1990 indicating the Planning Commission approved a draft master plan for the property. The minutes indicated the City Council subsequently approved the plan. The City has a draft of that agreement, but there was nothing in the City or State records indicating approval by the State. ODOT and OPRD had split into two agencies by 2014, and there were questions as to which one had the responsibility for approving changes to the Creekside Campground.
Since that time a Parks Master Plan and several updates have been prepared. Right now, in the works, is a new Parks Master Plan which should be ready for adoption by the end of the year. Creekside Park and Campground has a separate master plan, adopted in December 2015, which guided many of the improvements which have been made in the campground, including the new bathroom facilities and the Whychus Creek restoration project and bridge improvement.
Anything proposed for the park/campground must be part of a master plan, which is then incorporated into the Parks Master Plan, which in turn becomes part of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Any changes or improvements must be approved, in writing, by the OPRD, and that all takes time.
Over the years, the campground has grown in popularity and is often fully booked between April 1 and October 31, the period it is open for camping. Camp hosts are hired every year to monitor and maintain the campground during the season. The income generated by camp fees helps to support all the parks in the city.
In April 2017, a new precast concrete restroom/shower building was installed in the campground. The building was constructed to provide ease of assembly, ease of maintenance, and indestructability, making it extremely cost-effective in the long run.
The building came fully equipped from CXT of Spokane, Washington, and was trucked to Sisters in three sections of 37.5 tons each. It had toilets, sinks, showers, and light fixtures ready to be hooked up to the in-ground water and sewer lines and power. The total cost of the building was $280,000, half of the cost reimbursed by a grant from OPRD.
According to Public Works Director Paul Bertagna, the building was constructed to be used only during the warmer months, which coincide with the campground dates. The water lines must be blown out at the end of the season to avoid freezing damage during the cold winter months and the building is closed.
If the campground was open during the winter, public works crews would have to regularly monitor it.
The bathroom would be unusable.