The 3,670 acre Mount Emily Recreation Area (MERA) was purchased by Union County in 2008 with Oregon State ATV funds after a successful grassroots drive to keep the formerly private timberland from being subdivided into 240 acre parcels.
The land is located only 2 miles from downtown La Grande and had been used historically for multiple types of recreation. The proximity to La Grande, which has half of the county population, provides a convenient venue for year round recreation, events, and education.
MERA is comprised of a motorized section of about 3,000 acres and a non-motorized section of about 700 acres. Development of the motorized side has been driven primarily by the Oregon ATV Fund administered by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department while the non-motorized side has been developed primarily with Recreational Trails Program (RTP) funding from 2009 to the present. Six RTP grants have been completed since 2010 with a total value of $460,819 with in-kind, labor, and material donations comprising $128,479 of that amount.
The annual RTP funding format has allowed for the systematic and progressive development of the non-motorized infrastructure and trail system following a carefully conceived Master Plan. A commitment to recognized sustainable trail standards, and the early decision to pursue true multi-use trails has proven to be quite successful. The system, which allows all uses on all trails but designates some trails as "preferred" for a particular user group, has kept conflicts to a minimum while providing diverse recreational opportunities for all abilities.
Community partnerships have included the local mountain bike club, local horse club, Boy Scouts, and Eastern Oregon University Outdoor Program for ongoing maintenance and improvements. The mountain bike club sponsors an annual MERA Spring Cleaning Day which is often structured around progressing and maintaining RTP projects and attracts about 25 volunteers each year.
Educational opportunities have been an important part of MERA. Eastern Oregon University regularly uses it for biology classes as well as the Outdoor Club for K-6 Outdoor School. A partnership with the local land trust has protected some critical water sources and downstream habitats in addition to the only remaining aspen stand on the east face.
Events on MERA have been staged by a number of organizations in coordination with MERA management. Mountain bikes had had races, shuttle days, and group rides; equestrians have had group rides, competitive trail rides, and poker rides; the La Grande Chamber of Commerce has had 5k and 10k races.
2020: Pine Street Woods
2015: Boardman Bridge - Idaho