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Wilderness Act topic for county

Cathedral Rock, Horse Heaven proposal

   After withdrawing its support for the proposed Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven Wilderness Act, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners is set to hold a work session on the project on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 1:30 p.m.
   The commission has invited U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, State Sen. Ted Ferrioli, State Rep. John Huffman, and Gov. John Kitzhaber to the workshop. By Tuesday afternoon, Ferrioli and a representative of Wyden's office had committed to attending the meeting in the county's conference room.
   At issue is legislation to create two new wilderness areas pending before the U.S. Senate.
   Under terms of the legislation, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the Young Life Washington Family Ranch, and other private ranches would exchange land to consolidate holdings.
   The legislation would create the Cathedral Rock Wilderness on 8,686 acres, with no roaded access, and the Horse Heaven Wilderness on 9,400 acres, with two public access points. Cathedral Rock would be accessible along nearly 10 miles of the John Day River.
   The commission withdrew its support for the legislation, which has already been introduced, because the public road access to Cathedral Rock was eliminated sometime after the wilderness was first proposed.
   A county road -- the Muddy Creek Road -- passes by the proposed western border of the proposed Cathedral Rock Wilderness, but doesn't touch the area.
   "The Board of Commissioners is in support of consolidation of public and private land, but only if it will lead to equal or increased public access," wrote Chairman Mike Ahern, in the letter to the officials.
   An alternative proposal, which would have created a trailhead on property owned by Young Life was considered, but ultimately turned down by the commission.
   "That proposal would have re-established public access, through a trail easement and parking lot, but the proposal requested seasonal closures that would no longer provide for thru-traffic," he wrote.
   Because the closure would have cut off the historic, direct route from Antelope to Mitchell during part of the year, the closure was opposed by the commission and area residents.
   "The board is contemplating switching its position from that of nonsupport to proactive opposition, but we want to discuss this matter with your office's active participation," Ahern wrote.