CANYON CITY - The Grant County Court at its Feb. 9 meeting announced its interest in buying the old Bates sawmill site.

The court scheduled two public hearings to hear comments from the community on whether the county should proceed with the acquisition and development of the site: Feb. 23 at the Grange Hall in Prairie City and March 16 in John Day.

No time was set for the start of the hearings, although both will likely be in the evening. A place for the hearing in John Day wasn't decided.

Those decisions were expected to be made at the court's regular weekly meeting at 9 a.m. Feb. 16. Court meetings are open to the public.

The court also moved to entertain bids for appraisal of the land.

The Bates property east of Prairie City near Austin Junction lies on a strategic spot on the Journey Through Time Highway, "and there isn't a railroad-themed campground in Eastern Oregon," said County Court Judge Dennis Reynolds, the county's chief administrator.

"In fact, I don't think there's one in the whole state of Oregon," he said.

The area's zoning allows sites for recreational vehicles, with limited access to water, sewer and utilities.

"Not all the sites can be hooked up," Reynolds said.

The idea is to create an outdoor attraction around the sawmill and the area's historic connection to logging and the railroad.

A submerged fish observatory is a possibility, and the county may use some of the land to store sand and gravel for the County Road Department.

An appraisal done sometime ago valued the Bates property at approximately $300,000. The county's interest is in a 131-acre parcel.

"The real value is the water impoundment," Reynolds said.

A submerged fish observatory is a possible addition.

The sawmill was closed and torn down in 1964. Parts of it were taken to other cities, including John Day.

The county has had its eye on the property since at least last summer, but delayed announcing its intention until it was determined that there wasn't a substantial evonronmental challenged associated with the site.

The campground would be run under a management plan developed by the county and a concessionaire and would offer fishing, walking paths, picnic areas, fish watching, historic logging exhibits and overnight RV accommodations.

The purchase and development of the site will be funded by private donation, grants and reinvestment of day-use fees.

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