The Crooked River National Grassland was shaped by a history of pioneers in the late 1800s who built homesteads and tried to eke out a living by agriculture in the rolling hills just south of what today is Madras.
Thanks to some generous donations by local cattlemen and others, a couple pieces of that history remain intact: the only two functioning windmills left on the Grassland.
On Nov. 25 and 26, 2017, a group of workers affiliated with the Gray Butte Grazing Association raised the two restored windmills to their original places above traditional wells. Both windmills are visible from U.S. Highway 26, south of Madras. One stands above the Joe Weigand well, and the other is located at the Dalton Grant well.
The project started in 2013, when the public took notice of the deteriorated condition of the two windmills following a windstorm, said Tory Kurtz, rangeland management specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. After many years of exposure, some of the blades were missing and the tails in disrepair. The windmills were chained to keep them from spinning, she said.
The Forest Service then asked the Grazing Association if they'd like to take on the task as a service project, since the association continues using wells today. With funding provided by both the Forest Service and the Grazing Association, the group accepted the task in order to honor the pioneering legacy of the area, said Jo Guiney, treasurer of the Grazing Association.
"We obviously have an interest in preserving the history of the Grassland," she said.
Another inspiration for completing the restoration work was to honor the memory of recently-deceased president of the association, Kaye Corwin. Corwin was the first member to champion the project, and she asked Jake Koolhaas to tackle the restoration work in 2015, Guiney said.
"In March of 2017, former president and longtime permittee Kaye Corwin passed away and it was the desire of the association, the Forest Service and Jake to get the windmills completed in Kaye's honor," Guiney said.
Despite the challenges of weather, finding spare parts, and finding the time to complete the volunteer work, Koolhaas and others got the job done. The blades, tails and motors on the two windmills are now rebuilt and the windmills functioning, although they are no longer used to pump water from the wells.
The volunteers only invoiced the association for parts and rental equipment, Guiney said, but all of their labor was donated.
"His note on the invoice was: 'I did this project for Kaye and others in our community to enjoy. I am not concerned about profit. Thank you to all for helping with this project,'" Guiney said.
"I truly thank the Grazing Association for their willingness and persistence in taking on this project," said Slater Turner, district ranger on the Crooked River National Grassland and Ochoco National Forest. "It's important for both the Forest Service and the Grazing Association to honor the history and heritage of where we came from, because water was an important part of the pioneer lifestyle and remains very important today."
What is today the Crooked River National Grassland was first homesteaded in the 1880s and more than 700 homesteads were eventually established there. But by the 1930s, inadequate rainfall and poor economic conditions had caused the farms to fail and the homesteaders to abandon their land. By 1935, federal land banks and private mortgage banks had taken over 35 percent of the homesteads in foreclosures.
The land came under management of the federal government through New Deal era debt reduction programs and came under management of the U.S. Forest Service in 1954. The Gray Butte Grazing Association has been grazing the land under permit since the 1950s and works closely with the Forest Service on shared stewardship projects.