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All hail COCC, public access


   The seventh time was the charm, and it was well worth the wait.
   Longtime Central Oregon Community College board member Don Reeder mused that it took about seven major hurdles -- a few failed levy requests, an odd election law that mandated a 50 percent voter participation, expected grants drying up, private financing going awry -- for the COCC Madras campus to see the light of day.
   But finally, over the spring and summer of 2011, Madras watched the impressive structure rise on the hillside off Ashwood Road. On Saturday, after these hurdles were cleared and more than a decade of diligence, the Madras Education Center was dedicated.
   Reeder had the honor of cutting the dedication ribbon (along with former school president Bob Barber). He gave praise to many key local people who had served the college since its inception in the early 1960s, those now gone like Sumner Rodriguez and board members Bill Robinson and Fred Christiansen, and fellow longtime board member Jim Ramsey. He also lauded the Bean Foundation, which donated land to the project, and has been key in so many community projects.
   The region Reeder represents, we Jefferson County residents, also deserves some kudos. The county has historically been a consistent, strong supporter of the community college at the ballot box. That support was reflected in the nice crowd at Saturday's dedication.
   The COCC board past and present, certainly the 14-year board vet Reeder, and all the people behind the new Madras campus, deserve a hearty pat on the back. Welcome to town, COCC. You'll serve as an engine for our present, and a beacon for our future.
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   What if we had this wonderful federally designated wilderness area in remote eastern Jefferson County, and the only way to enjoy it was to trespass on private property, float into it on the John Day River, put on a scuba suit and swim the river, or maybe parachute in?
   These are about the only ways I can think of that area residents and (could it be?) visitors to Jefferson County could put their feet on the Cathedral Rock Wilderness Area, if and when the federal government approves its creation as the request now stands.
   Before any wilderness area agreement gains federal approval, access to the wilderness area off Muddy Creek Road needs to be established.
   The federal government (you and I) exchanged thousands of acres of land with the Young Life ranch to have this wilderness area created. It's a win/win situation only if the public can access the area, and I don't mean via that scuba method. If the government lets this go through without vehicle access, then they will have let down the public.
   The county was under the impression that access off Muddy Creek Road was in the agreement. However, the wilderness area request that, in 2009, went before the Senate (submitted by a Young Life representative no longer with the organization) limited access to the river. Young Life issued a letter stating they were "sorry for the confusion" but didn't back away from their access stance.
   Young Life deserves praise for its role in the land swap creating the wilderness area, but the ranch benefited by absorbing several checkerboard tracts of federal land, making their holdings unbroken. They were ready to create a parking lot and trailhead into the wilderness area and allow access if the county would close the Muddy Creek Road for half the year. With an abundance of public backing, the county refused to close the road.
   Young Life should consider creating that lot and access trail anyway, maybe through a partnership with the county.
   It would be a bad move for the federal government to approve this land swap and wilderness area designation without public access by vehicle. Without such access, it might as well remain in private ownership.