By DAMIAN MANN
Jackson County officials have seized the operations of Howard Prairie Resort and changed the locks after the operator failed to make lease payments dating back to 2012.
“The concession agreement has been terminated,” said John Vial, director of Jackson County roads and parks. “To protect our assets, like any good owner, we have padlocked the facility.”
The county sent a letter on Feb. 14 to Holly LeGrande, owner of Advansense Inc., that the county would take over operations of the resort, which is scheduled to open on April 15 in time for the first day of fishing on April 26. The resort, about 25 miles east of Ashland, is closed during the winter.
“Our plan now is to open the park as usual,” Vial said.
He said the county has decided it would run the operations of the resort rather than leasing the facility out to another concessionaire. The county does expect to find someone who will operate the restaurant and store, which Vial said could open by April 26.
Any reservations or payments for boat moorings should be handled through Jackson County Parks at 541-774-8183.
The county estimates that LeGrande owes $60,000 in lease payments, plus another $10,000 in back taxes. The lease payments are based on a percentage of revenues, but the county has found irregularities in the accounting at the resort based on an audit by the county in 2012. As a result, the county has been able to make only an estimate of the back lease payments.
“In all honesty, they were struggling,” Vial said.
The county also had received complaints about customer service issues and problems with maintenance, he said.
Holly and her husband, Joel LeGrande, took over the operations of Howard Prairie in 2007, and had planned to have their son, Andy LeGrande, help with the operations. But he died in a skiing accident in Minnesota before he could move to Oregon.
In 2012, Holly LeGrande became the sole operator of the resort.
Despite the difficulties, Vial said the resort should be ready for full operations after it is cleaned up over the next month. Vial said LeGrande was at the resort on Thursday collecting some of her belongings.
“We’re grateful for the efforts the LeGrandes made in providing one of the premier camping experiences in Southern Oregon,” Vial said.
The county discovered in January that LeGrande might not be able to make the payments on her lease. The county has sent four letters that LeGrande was in default of her contract.
Vial said county parks are a financially self-sufficient entity that generates a $3 million budget from fees and leases.
He said he expects that the public will notice little difference in the operations, though he expects some minor adjustments in fees at the resort to bring it in line with fees charged at other parks.
The county also expects to replace bathrooms at the north campground this summer, Vial said.
Jim Johnston, whose family started and ran the resort for 47 years, said it has been a difficult situation for the LeGrandes.
“It is unfortunate what happened,” the 71-year-old Ashland resident said.
Johnston said he thinks the county should be able to run the facility well.
“It will be the biggest revenue producer that they have,” he said. About half the revenue came from the campgrounds with 180 hookups. Johnston said that after the campgrounds, the marina provides the second largest revenue stream, followed by the restaurant, store and overnight lodging.
Johnston said he never borrowed money or incurred any debt in the years he ran the concession. He said the most important thing to keep an eye on was ensuring that expenses didn’t outpace revenues during the 120 days that the resort is open every year.
He said he thinks it is probably a good time for the county to take over the aging facilities at the resort and invest some money in repairs.
“They can get the grant money to do these things,” he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.