Heritage center bill passes

<p>Rocky Wilson/Chieftain</p> <p> </p> <p>Legislation has been passed unanimously in both the U.S. House and Senate that will convey the old, long-vacant U.S. Forest Service complex in Wallowa to the city of Wallowa for use by the Maxville Heritage Center.</p>

WALLOWA – Last week legislation to transfer the old U.S. Forest Service complex in Wallowa to the city of Wallowa for use by the nonprofit Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill, along with one that transfers federal land to local control in La Pine, was ushered through the House by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

Both bills were introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate, and passed by the Senate in late 2011. Rep. Walden worked with the House Natural Resources Committee to pass them in the House. The bills were due to go to the White House to be signed into law by President Obama, the final step in a legislative process which started in 2009.

“I don’t think it’s entirely sunk in yet,” said Gwen Trice, founder and executive director of Maxville Heritage of the long-anticipated transfer. “I’m very excited.”

She said there has been a lot of back-and-forth discussion with Wallowa city officials, and said a long-term lease agreement would likely be drawn up between her nonprofit and the city.

The Maxville Heritage center is located in the former city hall in Wallowa, across from the Wallowa Post Office.

The U.S. Forest Service complex, which has been vacant for many years, consists of five buildings, and Trice said that putting a new roof on a couple of them will be top priorities.

 “Senator Wyden and I worked together with the citizens of La Pine and Wallowa on these two common-sense proposals that will boost economic opportunities in these areas by giving control of land from the federal government to the local community,” Rep. Walden said in a press release after the bill passage on Aug. 1.

“The Wallowa Forest Service Compound Conveyance Act will return a small parcel of land from the federal government to the city, allowing them to convert the existing Forest Service compound – which has fallen into disrepair –into an interpretative site to teach history about Maxville, a railroad logging town that existed 15 miles north of Wallowa. Passing this plan today will allow the community to attract tourists and tell this unique history to visitors and residents alike,” Rep. Walden said.

The transfer of the compound to the city of Wallowa is long overdue – in 1936 Wallowa donated the land to the federal government for the creation of the ranger station.

While quietly celebrating the good news, Trice said that she and community volunteers are preparing for the 4th annual Maxville Gathering on Saturday, Aug. 18,  at the original Maxville townsite north of Wallowa.

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