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

Zoom meetings to discuss how to spend $12 million

Marion County is gathering public comment on how to spend $12 million in the Santiam Canyon on community assistance, recreation and other projects. 

The money is the final piece of the $15 million Opal Creek plan that in the 1990s aimed to reimburse the Canyon for lost timber revenue once the 37,500 acres of the Opal Creek Wilderness were set aside. Although Opal Creek is in the name of the plan, the project boundary covers the entire Santiam Canyon and not just Opal Creek.

The first $3 million in funds already has been allocated to a North Santiam River trail and community planning.

The final $12 million will be spent on $8.4 million in construction projects such as road improvements and $3.6 million in non-construction projects, mainly business and technical assistance. The U.S. Forest Service has released the funds, with Business Oregon acting as a pass-through entity and Marion County charged with program administration.

Two Zoom settings are set for Wednesday, Jan. 31 to discuss how to spend that $12 million. Lari Rupp, an economic development specialist with Marion County, said the meetings will have a presenter walk participants through some info boards, and there will be an opportunity for Q & A. The meetings will be at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., with the link to register for the first meeting at and for the second session.

In addition, residents also can participate on an online survey on the project at

An earlier open house was held Monday, Jan. 22 at the fire hall in Gates.

“This is an exciting and promising opportunity to keep working together for community-led recovery,” Rupp said. “We feel confident about completing the implementation plan in about six months.” 

Marion County officials will develop a list of projects/priorities for the funding, then narrow those down to a final list for consideration and approval by the Board of Commissioners, according to a project memo produced by Rupp and Kelli Weese,  Marion County’s economic development program manager.

The $15 million has been a long time coming. 

The Rupp-Weese memo outlined the frustrating history of that $15 million promise that seemingly never would be kept. And please note that a simple online inflation calculator spits out $29 million for how much $15 million in 1996 dollars is worth today. 

At one point, in March, 2015, as then-Governor Kate Brown resubmitted an economic opportunity plan aimed at releasing the $15 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, she was advised that “the mechanism to distribute the authorized funding no longer existed.”

In 2021, with the Santiam Canyon in a grueling fire recovery phase amid signs that federal assistance would be forthcoming, Marion County and Business Oregon saw an opportunity to go after the $15 million. 

A year later the first $2 million was allocated, with another $1 million approved as part of a 2023 supplemental disaster appropriation. A Sept. 21, 2023 news release from Sen. Jeff Merkeley’s office noted the successful securing of the final $12 million via an agreement between the Forest Service and Business Oregon.

The area eligible for the Opal Creek Promise is approximately 670 square miles and includes Lyons, Mill City, Gates, Detroit and Idanha as well as the smaller communities of Mehama, Breitenbush, Niagara, Elkhorn, Fox Valley and Marion Forks.


Santiam rail trail $2 million

Community planning $1 million

Construction projects $8.4 million

Non-construction projects $3.6 million

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