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Local group hopes to persuade Crook County Court to take over ranger station

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY PATRICK LAIR - People gathered during a ceremony in November 2012 when Ochoco National Forest closed the Rager Ranger Station.

The Rager Ranger Station officially closed more than three years ago, but a recent effort has emerged to reopen the facility under new oversight.

The facility, located about 15 miles northeast of Paulina on the southeast corner of the Ochoco National Forest, is currently owned by the U.S. Forest Service and is under the jurisdiction of the Ochoco agency.

The ranger station once served the ranger district in that particular portion of forest.

“Ochoco used to have multiple ranger districts,” said Patrick Lair, public affairs specialist for Ochoco National Forest. “It was broken up into smaller administrative units and they each had their own ranger station and district ranger.”

Rager is comprised of an office building and living quarters for employees, as well as other buildings that provided storage space and housed meeting rooms.

“If you were to go back 20 years or more, there were probably upwards of 20 employees living out there, at least seasonally,” Lair said.

However. in more recent years, the Forest Service has consolidated into bigger ranger districts, and now the Ochoco has only two — the Paulina Ranger District and Lookout Mountain Ranger District. Staff for those ranger station now live in Prineville, eliminating the need for housing in other locations.

Ochoco staff opted to close Rager in November 2012 not only because of its limited use, but because of the back log of maintenance needed on its structures.

“We are talking more than half a million dollars of deferred maintenance, and those are costs that the Forest Service can’t pay just to keep the facility open.”

Because the Rager facility is going unused and is too expensive to repair, plans are in place to remove some of the buildings, Lair said.

“We have three historic buildings that we are maintaining. The buildings are these really nicely crafted buildings. Those are building we will maintain. They will stay,” he said. “A lot of the other houses will not remain. They are slated to be decommissioned and removed over time.”

Those building removal plans have caught the attention of the Central Oregon Patriots and prompted the organization to explore reopening the facility.

“It would be such a loss. We want to keep it intact as is,” said Patriots spokesperson Pete Sharp. “What we are hoping is to literally get the (Crook) County Court to take Rager over.”

Sharp stressed that such an effort is not simple and would require several steps to achieve.

“The first thing that we have to do is write a letter to the forest to put a stay on them destroying anything else — taking more buildings out.”

After the initial step, the group would look into Crook County taking over the facility.

“If that’s agreeable, we would put something together that would be on a short-term basis, and we would have to take care of it under the Forest Service’s standards, which we would definitely do,” Sharp said. “Then, we could prove ourselves with the Forest (Service) and then it could be moved into a long-term (arrangement).”

Sharp plans to broach the topic with the county court next week at its weekly public work session. While he hopes the governing body will agree to the idea, he said the Patriots are prepared for other options if needed.

“Other organizations could also do it,” he said. “If the county backs down, we are going to go other directions. We are not going to give it up.”

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