News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Marion County parks chair prioritizes Canyon recovery

The new head of the Marion County Parks Commission said his priority will be restoring what he called the natural beauty of the Santiam Canyon amid ongoing wildfire recovery.

On Nov. 29, the Marion County Board of Commissioners appointed Herschel Sangster as chair of the Parks Commission through Nov. 29, 2025.

Sangster, from Keizer, has served on the Parks Commission since 2022, and when former Chair Wayne Rawlins stepped down earlier this year, the commission chose Sangster to lead the body.

Sangster told county commissioners he was excited to help restore the recreational opportunities in the Santiam Canyon, which were devastated by wildfires in 2020. He said park improvements would help preserve the natural beauty of the area and would also drive economic development.

“We have an opportunity that we can create great recreational opportunities for every citizen in Marion County and really the world,” said Sangster.

He said he wants to see park improvements similar to work performed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, whose projects Sangster said have withstood the test of time.

“They built beautiful things that really benefited people [decades later],” he said. “That’s what my vision and the [Parks] Commission’s vision is.”

Sangster also expressed appreciation for Rawlins’ contributions as chair, calling him “a wonderful mentor,” as well as for the hard work of county parks staff.

County Commission Chair Colm Willis thanked Sangster for his willingness to step into the role, calling Sangster “quite a community guy” who chose parks over other volunteer opportunities.

“I’m really grateful that you’re giving some of your time to Marion County Parks [Commission], because I know you’re not short of other ways that you volunteer in our community,” said Willis.

The Parks Commission approved the Santiam Canyon Recovery Plan in January, which defined short- and long-term development goals for the county’s six parks in the Canyon. These include Packsaddle, Minto, Niagara, North Fork, Bear Creek and Salmon Falls parks, which suffered severe damage from the Santiam Fire in 2020.

So far only Packsaddle Park has reopened, while North Fork and Bear Creek parks could potentially re-open in May of 2024. All county parks are seasonally closed between Sept. 15 and May 15.

The plan includes roughly $24 million in improvements over a ten-year period including new campgrounds, trails, river access and parking spaces. The county has secured a $1.2 million pandemic relief grant, $560,000 from salvage timber sales and $300,000 in state RV fees, and additional funding sources are being sought.

“We have an opportunity that we can create great recreational opportunities for every citizen in Marion County and really the world.” 

– Herschel Sangster

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