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Sutton Mountain Wilderness Proposal Moves Forward

PHOTO: A 58,000-acre parcel of public land, Sutton Mountain could be protected as federal wilderness now that local government has signed off on a plan that includes adding amenities to Wheeler County services. Photo credit: Copyright Jim Davis. Used with permission.
PHOTO: A 58,000-acre parcel of public land, Sutton Mountain could be protected as federal wilderness now that local government has signed off on a plan that includes adding amenities to Wheeler County services. Photo credit: Copyright Jim Davis. Used with permission.
November 10, 2014

MITCHELL, Ore. – A potential new wilderness area for Wheeler County appears to have the support it needs to get it to Congress after a decade of discussion, but no legislation.

The Sutton Mountain area near the town of Mitchell is adjacent to the Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and the Mitchell City Council and Wheeler County Court have voted unanimously to support protecting it.

County Judge Chris Perry says the proposal includes a plan to develop an RV park, airstrip and police facility. He thinks it could attract more visitors and perhaps even new residents.

"We'd like to keep people in the area a little while longer, because we've got lots of public land to recreate on, spend more time on,” he says. “So, currently we don't have amenities for that, and this will help give us a tourism-type economy in the area."

The amenities would be built on almost 2,000 acres now managed by the Bureau of Land Management – land to be transferred to Wheeler County. Perry says the county's population has dwindled and thinks the move would help diversify the economy and improve the tax base.

The Painted Hills area is already among the Seven Wonders of Oregon, touted by Travel Oregon, the state's tourism department.

Ben Gordon, John Day Basin coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, says his group has helped forge the plan to protect 58,000 acres of Sutton Mountain for its combination of wildlife, rare plants and scenic vistas.

"The rich geologic history, the canyons, the uplands that have 360-degree views of the whole John Day country,” he says. “It's this incredibly vast, interesting landscape. For birders, for wildlife lovers, for geologists, it's a paradise."

Perry adds there's more negotiation to be done before the legislation is drafted, and then introduced by a member of Oregon's congressional delegation.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR