The North Fork area of Grant County has several forest projects in the works, North Fork District Ranger Paula Guenther told the county court, but fire danger is always a concern.

Guenther started work as the district ranger in Ukiah last May. She came to the Umatilla National Forest from the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests in Saratoga, Wyoming, where she served as an environmental coordinator since 2016. She has a bachelor’s in zoology and a master’s in water resource management.

Olive Lake dam

A plan with options for the failing Olive Lake dam should be completed early this summer, according to Joe Neer, an integrated watershed staff member at the Umatilla National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Pendleton.

The discharge gate installed at the base of the 30-foot dam in 1979 stopped working properly in 2016, and the lake has drained close to its natural level. The log crib and rock dam and an 8-mile wood and metal hoop pipeline were built in 1908 to drive generators at the Fremont Powerhouse, which powered the Red Boy Mine during the gold rush days in the North Fork.

Located about 12 miles west of Granite, Olive Lake’s 149 acres when full has become a popular tourist destination, especially around Fourth of July. The Forest Service maintains a campground at the lake, but a lower level and smaller surface area could impact recreational opportunities, Guenther told the court.

Professional consultants investigated the integrity of the dam over the past few years, Neer told the Eagle. One option that could be considered is “notching” the dam so the lake would maintain a natural and safe level, he said. The lake’s depth changes naturally with seasonal runoff, he added.

A decision on the dam would follow a public process, with a special focus on historical values, Neer said. A decision might not be made for several years, he said.

Guenther told the court that if the stumps and debris on the exposed lake shore were cleaned up, more recreational space would become available, but there would be less lake to use. The lake provides good fishing, and boats with trolling motors are permitted.

Commissioner Jim Hamsher stressed the importance of water storage in Eastern Oregon for firefighting and recreation. Helicopters could lower their buckets in a lake if the thick lodgepole forest surrounding the lake caught fire.

He also suggested trying to rebuild the dam using the same log crib design used a century ago. Guenther, who recalled seeing otters at the lake during a visit, said rebuilding the dam could be a multi-million dollar project and would require partners.

Ten Cent project

Guenther said visitors to the North Fork area this summer can expect to see trucks and equipment working on the Ten Cent Community Wildfire Protection Project, which seeks to address fire risks on about 37,800 acres around the Granite and Greenhorn communities, Olive Lake and the Fremont Powerhouse.

The project, which was approved in June 2017, calls for 7,859 acres of commercial thinning, 3,557 acres of small-diameter thinning on riparian habitat conservation land and 1,227 additional acres of small-diameter thinning.

Iron Triangle won two of the project contracts. The larger Nickel sale calls for thinning on mixed stands, while the smaller Penny sale consists mostly of small-diameter lodgepole pine, Guenther said.

Dale demolition

Demolition of six of the remaining 15 buildings at the closed Dale administrative site, north of Ritter on Highway 395, took place in May. Guenther said a tub grinder the size of the county court room was brought in to reduce the structures to mulch.

The 20-acre sloped site served as a district office and compound for 40 years, but after a large portion of the Dale Ranger District became wilderness in 1984, the district was combined with the Ukiah Ranger District to form the North Fork John Day Ranger District.

The Dale site was closed in 2002, and 10 buildings were offered for sale in 2016, but no bids were submitted and the buildings continued to degrade. Some of the flooring was reused at the Fremont Powerhouse and some cabinets were transferred to the Tupper Guard Station. A small gas house will be moved to the ranger office in Ukiah for interpretive use, Guenther said.

The Forest Service is still open to suggestions for how to make good use of the Dale site, Guenther said. The site has good roads and power, but water and sewer are no longer available. A highway rest stop is one suggestion, Guenther said. Hamsher suggested constructing some small corrals for horse campers.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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