A Christian-based summer camp run by Young Life is working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on a land swap that incorporates a former site of the Rajneeshee commune. The land exchange is part of a federal effort to create two new wilderness areas in central Oregon near the small town of Antelope, Oregon.
Currently, 15,000 acres of popular hunting grounds that is accessible to the public is intertwined with land owned by Young Life creating a checkerboard effect. Hunters have accidentally wandered onto camp property creating potentially dangerous situations. The land swap would allow boundaries to be better defined and consolidated.
Under the proposal, the BLM would give 12,323 acres to Young Life. In return, the Christian camp would give 8,821 acres to the BLM.
Two ranchers in the area will also be part of the land swap. One rancher would give the BLM 494 acres, for 594 acres in return, and the other landowner would give the BLM 1,057 acres in exchange for 1,158.
Ultimately, Congress must approve the land exchange. If lawmakers in Washington D.C. approve the trade, the land acquired by the BLM could eventually be used to establish two new wilderness areas, the Horse Heaven Wilderness and Coffin Rock Wilderness.
The history behind the land is quite fascinating. In the early 1980s, thousands of followers of the late Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh gathered on a 62,220-acre commune that spread across Wasco and Jefferson counties. The cult followers attempted to overtake local elections by poisoning salad bars at public restaurants with salmonella culture.
The cult collapsed in 1985 and the land eventually became the Young Life’s Washington Family Ranch. Over the years, many adolescents have participated in Young Life’s nondenominational Christian summer camp.
“In the end, it’s really about the wilderness protection and leaving high-quality habitat for a wide variety of species,” said Aaron Kilgore, a coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, which has been working on land-management issues along the Lower John Day River.
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