DANA MERRYDAY - Cottage Grove

To balance spending time in the past, reflecting on Cottage Grove’s history, these are some more recent bits of things happening in our town. …

If you have taken a run down South River Road recently, you may have noticed a missing landmark. The log and wood shake picnic shelter in Prospector Park next to Dr. Snapp’s House is gone. The structure was built in 1990 by a Boy Scout group directed by Roy Spriggs as a project for his Eagle Scout award. It had provided a picturesque setting for picnics and family gatherings overlooking the Coast Fork. The Prospector’s and Golddiggers Association, rose to the challenge, in 1966, of rescuing the Snapp House from being used as a practice burn for the local fire department and moved it to its current location. The pending construction of Riverview Terrace had threatened to turn it into tinder. The original vision was to create a village of vintage homes and buildings to fill the area around Prospector Park, but greenway restrictions prevented that from happening; however a park was born. 

The association had hoped that the picnic structure could have been repaired, replacing the timbers that had rotted. But on closer inspection by a contractor who specializes in log frame construction determined all the supports had some level of rot involved and recommended that it be taken down. That sad demolition took place on Wednesday, Jan. 26 by city utility crews and members of the Prospectors.

When one chapter ends, often another begins, and so it is in this case. Hardly had the decaying wood been removed when a donation of a very similar log structure was offered by Weyerhaeuser to replace it. The Prospectors and the City will work out a plan to take it apart and rebuild it on site of Roy’s Eagle Project.

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On Thursday there was a neighborhood meeting to review the plans for the next reincarnation of the Village Green Resort. It was, I’m sure, bittersweet for many Grovers as they remembered the glory days of the famed hotel, resort, and convention center. At its founding, the five-star accommodation and celebrated restaurant made quite a splash and was certainly a big deal in Cottage Grove, putting the town on the map for travelers heading up and down the newly constructed I-5.

But through a series of owners and a change in tastes and traveling styles, the Green’s star had tarnished. Along with the announced change in ownership last September, came the news that the institution would be closing its doors and undergoing changes to morph into a more workable economic model. 

The plans presented at the meeting showed the iconic garden and a number of the wings of guest rooms replaced by 120 two-bedroom apartments. It is hoped that some of the beautiful garden vegetation will survive in the nearly 1.5 acres of open community space that is planned to wrap around the apartments.

Other changes that showed up on the plans were two commercial lots cut out and facing Row River Road. Good news for affordable housing is the expansion of the Village Green RV Park. Being houseless is not the same as being homeless but parking can be a problem.  

The Main Hotel is shown on the plans as still standing along with the courtyard and three wings of guest rooms. The new owners hope that by downsizing the hotel it can be run profitably. A walk around the grounds reveals several banks of rooms that had already been abandoned. One partially dismantled, another used as a depository for garden debris. Those will be slated for demolition and replacement under the proposed plans. 

Come what may it will be an entirely new wrinkle while preserving the central core of the “monument to wood” – as it was originally envisioned 60 years ago. The posted public meeting was just one step in the journey. 

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One of the most missed events taken down by the Covid pandemic is the annual “Trashion Show” held at the Opal Center for Arts and Education. Timed to appear around Earth Day, creative artists and their models have, in past shows, trumpeted fantastical creations made entirely out of items snagged from our waste stream and turned into wearable art wardrobes. The creations that appear on the catwalk serve both as a visual spectacle and a powerful statement about our disposable society.

The good news for 2022 is that trash is back in fashion as the show is coming back after its forced two-year hiatus. The call has gone out for both creators and models to participate in the 13th running of the event. Head fashionista Michele Rose hopes participants will have a hard time finding material to create their art for the show, indicating society is taking a light approach to living on Earth. The Trashion Show will take place at the Opal Center on Friday, April 22 (Earth Day) and Saturday, April 23. For more information or to get involved, contact 541-623-0513 or [email protected]

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In addition to heated comments and responses at the Jan. 24 City Council meeting regarding the Bohemia Park vaccination clinic, a report was made on a community survey conducted on the Skate Park. Assistant city planner Matthew Laird shared some history of this volunteer-driven community project that can be traced back to 1999. That was the year when the idea of creating a safe place for local kids to ride skateboards first reached the City Council. 

It took five years, with some fits and starts in between, for the Cottage Grove Recreation Association and a diverse group of volunteers to raise the money and build the first phase of the two planned parts of the current skate park. Major contributors were the City of Cottage Grove, donating both money and a plot of land, along with The Tykeson, Ford Family, and Woodard Foundations. (For a more detailed history see story in July 14, 2021 Chronicle issue). 

This recreation facility has had its share of controversy and maintenance issues over the years. Different groups have taken on the management of the skate park at various times, but then faded away. The original design was not made by professionals and the nearly 30-year-old concrete, that is not sealed, is showing its age.

Interest in seeing what could be done to improve the park – both in its physical condition and in the park’s perception in the eyes of the community – led to discussions at a City Council meeting last June.

Councilor Greg Ervin and Public Works director Faye Stewart both spoke about the desire for improvements. Council directed the Planning Department to conduct a survey of skate park stakeholders over the summer. 

This survey was online and promoted through flyers and posters with a QR scan along with announcements on the City website. The survey was open July-September 2021 and attracted 126 responses to the 14 questions along with opportunity for additional commentary. 

In looking at the data, nearly 85% of the respondents were skateboarders, BMX riders, or parents and friends of park users. That speaks loudly of the responders having a strong connection to the park. When asked about how often, weather permitting, users visited the park, the majority said “weekly” with smaller numbers replying “daily” or “monthly.”

The breakdown of “How do you roll” reads like this: Skateboard 48,4%, BMX (bicycle motocross, I always wondered exactly what those letters stood for) 26.6%, scooters 19.4%, rollerblades or skates 10.5%, and a smattering of other wheeled users. In addition to the survey, a close inspection of the skate park was made by Public Works employees, fact-finding trips made to six nearby skateparks by city planning staff, and consultations with two skate park design companies took place.

All the survey input and research point to a park that needs work and improvements while still having a number of dedicated users. In the analysis, Laird emphasized these observations: The lack of annual coating has led to problems with the concrete, a condition common to many parks in the Northwest built in the same time frame, the improvements requested by respondents could be grouped into short, medium, and long-term goals, the costs of new construction of skate parks is between $35 and $50 per square foot, and that some of the suggested improvements have been offered before, such as adding a table and portable toilet, but have been destroyed by vandalism. Many specific recommendations by the participants of the survey were mentioned in his report, such as a redesign for a better flow, lighting, and expanding the area with features to offer more separation of users by ability groups, along with amenities such as a water fountain, seating area, and bathrooms.

Looming large over the question is who would be responsible for the development and management of the facility. Currently the City mows the grass, picks up the trash, has made some improvements to the steps up to the park, and works to make sure the drainage in the bowls functions. But for the park to function well it would take a dedicated group of volunteers with staying power. Previous groups have made commitments and have come and gone, leaving the park in limbo.

After hearing the results of the study several Councilors spoke up. Ervin, who had been drawn to the park originally by wanting to teach his sons about BMX riding, has held an interest in improving the park. After observing that he feels the skate park is at a crossroads and that in its current state makes a certain statement to youth, not entirely positive, Ervin clarified his vision for a path forward. “It is my hope that we provide a year-round facility with a roof and well lit, something that invites all age groups … and that you have some responsibility and accountability in just the maintenance of it all together, because of the history of the volunteer groups, I think it's going to have to be something that is managed by a more consistent entity so figuring that out whether it be the City or something more than a group of parents where the age-out issue is very real, and just looking around at which parks do well,” he said.

Councilor Jon Stinnett also spoke to the issue and pointed out that it would be difficult to capture all those affected by the skate park in a survey, but the number and type of responses indicate a fairly high use and connection to the facility.

 “To me this points to a significant number of people who see value in the park … It would be nice to make the improvements and to gather the energy and momentum that are going to see it into its next phase.”

Stewart, the Public Works director, responded to an inquiry on next steps following the report. “At this time we have reached out to ODOT about acquiring additional land for a possible expansion to the south. We will be looking at potential small improvements we can make such as removing the pyramid and grinding the concrete to improve transitions between obstacle features. We will be adding new garbage cans and a possible picnic table. I am hoping a volunteer group will form to assist in future large upgrades.”

All paths forward for the skate park point to the need of a champion for the aging park.

Calling out to an individual or group who will be that hero, leading in forming the vision, planning, and fundraising, and figuring out the maintenance issues for the next evolution of our local park.

The need and desire is there, who can fill those shoes?