A History of City of Eugene Recreation
by Bruce Steinmetz Layout and Design by Anne Borland
First Printing, June 2015 All rights reserved Copyright City of Eugene 1
Chapter Index Chapters Pages 1 A City Sprouts 8 2
The People Step Up
War Years and Birth of Parks and Recreation
Recreation’s Big Boom
1970s – Growth Continues
Weathering the Economic Storms
The Nineties Bring More Challenges
A Glimpse of Extinction
Recreation Starts the 21st Century
Appendix Willie Knickerbocker (1868-1960) was a leading Eugene bicyclist for whom the Knickerbocker bicycle bridge over the Willamette River is named. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historical Museum, c. 1925.
Chronology of Significant Events in Eugene Recreation History Recreation Facilities 2014
Selected Bibliography, Readings and Resources
Bicyclists, c. 1900s. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historical Museum
The bicycle was still in its developmental stages in 1846 so Eugene Skinner, man of vision that he was, could not have foreseen the system of bike paths that would one day run past the site of his cabin. From a small settlement of people scraping a living from the land, the town bearing his name has grown into a sizable city whose residents often look to the land for recreation, and to public centers for activities, enrichment and community purpose. Now a century and a half after the Skinners set up housekeeping near the Willamette River (Mary Skinner and daughter joined dad in 1847), the City of Eugene manages 4,506 acres of parkland including 143 parks, and maintains six community centers, three pools plus other related facilities. Note that this is titled a history, not the history of Eugene Recreation. Some events proved difficult to document while a wealth of detail was available for others. Sources occasionally conflicted and some, both written and oral, took pains to disavow certainty. The subjects interviewed relied on memory and expressed personal views. And all history is selective. It would be impossible, not to mention tedious, to account for every significant program, event or person in Recreation history. It is hoped that any factual errors are few and minor, but this history is open to revision if inaccuracies are found. This account is focused on the development of City of Eugene Recreation, its programs and facilities. As a convention, upper case â€œRâ€? Recreation in the text refers to the City of Eugene Recreation Division. Because Recreation history is entwined with that of Parks, and, more recently, Library and Cultural Services, some important milestones in those services are mentioned. The Parks and Open Space Division has historical information on individual parks in much more detail. 5
The community centers, pools and other buildings managed by the Recreation Division are discussed here chronologically as they were built or acquired. An appendix summarizes information about these facilities. Dollar figures for land purchases, levies, construction costs, etc. are for the most part not included in the narrative so as not to clutter it with numbers that, because of 150 years of inflation, have little meaning in a comparative sense. Present tense references such as “currently” refer to the time around 2014 when this was written. Present-day Eugene people value an active lifestyle, community connections and access to nature and the outdoors. City of Eugene Recreation, while relatively new in its current form, has roots going far back into city history.
Author’s Note The author, Bruce Steinmetz, rolled into Eugene by bicycle at the end of summer in 1986, a tent serving as home. Much like Eugene Skinner (well, maybe not that much like), he was a guy in his late 30s looking for a place to settle after many months roaming the world. The riverfront bike paths, local hiking trails and early encounters at Amazon and Westmoreland Community Centers persuaded him that this might be a good place to live. These things matter. The author appreciates the importance of a community’s recreational opportunities, services and infrastructure, and was pleased, so many years after arriving, to be offered this assignment.
Bruce Steinmetz sits with Eugene Skinner in the front of the Eugene City Public Library. Photo by Chris Pontrelli.
Chapter 1 A CITY SPROUTS The Cabin on the Hill A pair of prominent buttes bookend the land that would become Eugene and Mary Skinner’s new city. This Willamette Valley living space was in 1846 already occupied by native people, of course, and the story goes that some friendly advice from Kalapuya fishermen dissuaded Eugene Skinner from building his first cabin too low and near to the river. Put your home up on Ya-Po-Ah, they told him, the High Place, indicating the nearer of the two buttes. The advice was heeded and the cabin went up in the area of the current rock-climbing columns. The Skinners were unaware that they staked their claim in a future park that would bear their surname, as would the butte. Perhaps, though, they did imagine that more settlers would come, and that they, as the first, might offer their modest dwelling as a community center of sorts. And, indeed, the Skinner cabin functioned as a trading post, as the area’s first polling place in the elections of 1849, and a year from then as the post office. Sadly, the Kalapuya who shared food and knowledge with the newcomers to the Willamette Valley did not similarly thrive. Already decimated by diseases brought by European-American pioneers, they were soon compelled by an 1855 treaty to cede their homeland to the United States government before being sent off to reservations elsewhere in Oregon. Prior to their departure, however, at least one Kalapuya man was said to be involved in a matter involving both the buttes.
A Tale of Two Buttes The origin of the name Skinner Butte is obvious, but less clear is the genesis of the label attached by settlers to the taller, south-standing Spencer Butte (Champ-a te, or Rattlesnake Mountain to the Kalapuya). One popular story, related by 19th century historian A.G. Walling, ties the name to an Englishman working in the area with the Hudson Bay Company. This Spencer decided to seek some recreation by climbing to the top of the butte for a view, and didn’t return. After a search his companions found his scalped and lifeless body and named the hill for him - not the preferred route to geographic immortality. The 1949 book, The Story of Eugene, asserts that the Skinner family nearly met the same fate. This account was written by Lucia W. Moore, Nina W. McCormack and Glady W. McReady, daughters of Francis M. Wilkins, 1848 pioneer baby and early Eugene mayor (remember him for later), and it should be noted that early sections of the book sometimes read more like historical fiction than history. It states that a Kalapuya man called Tyee Tom boasted of the Champ-a te butte killing and threatened to dish out the same treatment to the squatters in the Ya-Po-Ah butte cabin, causing a worried Eugene Skinner to take up his musket for an all-night vigil. However in the end, the sisters write, “Chief Tom and the Old Settler smoked the pipe of peace.” In an earlier version of the Spencer Butte tale, the eponymous, semi-anonymous Spencer is not killed by Indians but chased up a tree by wild cattle and held captive by cows for two nights, until rescue. Still another account contends that Dr. Elijah White climbed the butte in 1845 and named it for Secretary of War John D. Spencer. This rendition comes with a persuasive, detailed narrative that, unfortunately, includes reference to an impossible view from the summit to Mount Hood. Take your pick. In any event, both buttes in this tale would become significant in Eugene park and recreation history. 9
Out of the Ooze….. Eugene Skinner relinquished to Mary the right to choose the name of the town they were helping to found, as his preference, Marysville, had already been snatched up by another Oregon community (now called Corvallis!). She went with her husband’s first name, which proved to be unique not only in Oregon but globally. The original Eugene City site was platted out along the Willamette in 1852 but, thanks to rain and the river’s freedom-loving ways, it soon earned the nickname “Skinner’s Mudhole.” Historian A.G. Walling later wrote, “Indeed it is said that the mud there was of so fine a quality that two hogs that were rooting about in the semi-aqueous street sank out of sight to be forever lost from view.” And we complain about potholes. In any event the town was wisely re-platted farther south of the river in 1853, leaving the original riverside land free for its eventual reincarnation as Skinner Butte Park. Eugene City was designated the seat of the newly formed Lane County. The county took its name from Oregon’s first territorial governor, Joseph Lane, whose strong pro-slavery views render him a disreputable namesake in most modern eyes. The 1850 Donation Land Claim Act granted single pioneers 320 acres of land and couples 640. (This led to a rash of sudden marriages, some, at least on paper, to girls as young as 12, by men looking to double their claims.) In 1856 the Skinners donated 40 of their allotted acres for the county courthouse, matching 40 adjacent acres donated by fellow pioneers Charnel and Martha Mulligan. The courthouse tract became a locus for public meetings, concerts, fairs and cookouts so the Skinners and Mulligans gave the Eugene community its first de facto park and social center, on county property. (A city park later named for Charnel Mulligan is smaller than the Skinner namesake, but Mulligan also got a street named after him: Charnelton.) Some of that original donation now survives as a park in the downtown 10
Park Blocks, which were deeded by the county to the city in 1988. The first courthouse was built straddling the border of the two donated tracts, but later had to be moved to the Skinner side when it blocked 8th Avenue. The Skinner land donation has re-emerged in the news in 2014 as Lane County considers swapping part of it to the City of Eugene for a nearby city parcel – ironically for the purpose of building a new county courthouse on the currently city-owned land. Some contend that trading the tract to the city (for an expanded farmers’ market) would violate the Skinners’ deed restriction that the gift be used for “county seat purposes.” Lawyers from all sides are busy studying this. Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859, during the run-up to the Civil War, as a “free” state. While it prohibited slavery, the state constitution also barred any additional free Negroes from taking up residence. This exclusion clause, while generally not enforced, wasn’t officially repealed until 1926.
Incorporation Legal incorporation of the settlement into the municipality of Eugene City began in 1862 and was completed two years later. In a minor change of identity, Eugene City was re-branded as the City of Eugene and the name has remained thus ever since, even if the city logo gets tinkered with periodically.
Chapter 2 THE PEOPLE STEP UP Some Early Parks In 1905 the City adopted a charter stating that the “City of Eugene may purchase, hold and receive property for use as city parks upon recommendation of the Library Board.” It did not take long for citizens to come through, and in 1906 Thomas and Martha Hendricks donated 47 acres for a park in the southeast hills, a gift bolstered by the city’s purchase of an additional 31 acres. “The creation of Hendricks Park necessitated the creation of a City Parks Department,” says the Lane County Historian in an article printed in 1981. It counts “the birth of the City Parks Department in 1906” as a key event in the city’s landscape development. Hendricks Park, the city’s first, remains to this day one of its finest. In 1912, two literal, four-legged elk were reportedly brought to town for a fraternal Elks convention and stayed as permanent residents at the park. Over the years more elk and deer were added to the collection. Eugenean George Melvin Miller probably grew tired of being asked if he was the brother (he was) of swashbuckling scribe Joaquin Miller, who gained international fame as the roughhewn “Poet of the Sierras.” In 1910, “Melvin” Miller secured for himself a modest local legacy when he and his wife Lizzie (Cogswell) Miller donated two acres for the city’s second park, far up in the southwest hills. Although 10 acres were added in 1958, Melvin Miller Park remains undeveloped today, a littleknown enclave of forest amidst modern residential development.
In time the land between Skinner Butte and the Willamette River came under the authority of the Eugene Water Board. In 1908 a bond measure enabled the city to acquire it for use as parkland and Skinner Butte Park was dedicated in 1914. The city continued to add more riverfront purchases to what now has become Eugene’s primary recreational gathering spot, the Willamette River park system. Voters in 1920 approved a park improvement bond to upgrade the holdings.
Skinner Butte and Park Through the Years In recent decades the city has struggled to discourage camping along the Willamette River. However in the 1920s riverside camping was not only allowed, but encouraged. Money from the park improvement bond was used to develop a free auto campground, providing access to a popular swimming area in Skinner Butte Park. Campers and swimmers used an open-
Glamping along the Willamette River near the north end of present-day Washington and Jefferson Streets. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historical Museum.
sided shelter and washstand constructed for their convenience. Regrettably, pollution soon rendered the Willamette unsafe for swimming. The shelter remained in place and was enclosed on all sides in the 1950s. It is known today, just east of that concrete whale, as the Lamb Cottage. Today’s morning users of the south bank bike path sometimes spot (now illegal) overnight campers awakening on the cottage porch, probably unaware of the structure’s original purpose. Another camp to grace Skinner Butte Park was a Civilian Conservation Corps work crew headquarters located there during the Depression. During World War II a housing complex for returning veterans was built off Cheshire Street, later used for married student housing. Most of this was gone by 1963. An entire book could be written solely about the history of Skinner Butte and Park. The hill was grazed by cows and replanted with trees by volunteers. It has sported at its summit a water reservoir and a University of Oregon telescopic observatory, eventually dynamited to bits. UO Webfoots/Ducks also constructed a series of giant “O’s” on the butte, several of which were similarly blasted, dismembered and hauled away by Oregon State Beaver fans too delinquent to buy a vowel. Even more contentious were the many crosses erected on Skinner Butte, starting with the fiery symbols planted by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and ending with the politically hot saga of the 51 foot concrete cross illuminated there between 1964 and 1997. Eugene Skinner may have encountered an occasional bear near his cabin but in 1968 you could see one there for sure. That’s because a bear was the last remaining animal in a zoo of sorts that developed in Skinner Butte Park from 1953 through the 1960s or later. The bear had been joined for a time by monkeys, raccoons, birds and other species. Proposals made over the years to enhance the Skinner Butte summit included possible addition of a tramway, tennis courts, an ice rink, or the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, as 14
well as a brainstorm to top it with a 100 foot beacon. In 1951 the Eugene Recreation Commission considered (but quickly rejected) the idea of putting the city jail atop the butte. Police in the 1990s might have appreciated that jail when a rash of illegal behaviors and arrests on the butte led city government to announce the permanent closure of the summit road, a decision later rescinded after citizen input and a volunteer clean-up campaign. In 1971 a downsized replica of the Skinner cabin was built, currently displayed north of the butte at an elevation lower than the original - this made possible by modern flood control measures. But in 1888 another residence went up on the Butte’s south side, one which overwhelms any Skinner cabin, real or replicated.
The “Castle on the Hill,” Then and Now In that year Dr. Thomas Winthrop Shelton and Adah Lily Lucas Shelton built their sumptuous Victorian Queen Anne Revival style “Castle on the Hill.” It was later passed on to daughter Alberta, married to Robert McMurphey. Idaho Cogswell, sister of Lizzie Miller of the 1910 Melvin Miller Park donation, produced children from two marriages, including Eva Frazer and Celeste Campbell. As a child, Eva Frazer was friends with the neighboring McMurphey children and often played in the “castle.” Eva went on to study medicine and practiced for 25 years in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, Curtis Johnson. After Alberta McMurphey died in 1949, Eva Johnson was able to purchase her childhood dream home. She and Curtis returned to Eugene to set up practice. Curtis Johnson died in 1966 and for a time Eva rented out parts of the mansion to university students, most of whom, presumably, would never again inhabit housing as majestic as that of their college days. In 1975 Eva Johnson arranged for the Lane County Historical Society to receive the home after her death. She was in no hurry 15
went up on the site amidst controversy in 1968, dwarfing both the Skinner cabin and Shelton’s castle. Dr. Johnson’s name will appear yet again, along with that of her sister, in the 1960s story of Campbell Senior Center. It’s worth noting that another classic home (Gothic Revival) below Skinner Butte sometimes housed university students, but for a very specific reason. In 1948 an African-American family named Mims bought a home at 3rd and High Street. They were able to make this move from the riverside African-American “Tent City” only because a white employer pretended to buy the house for himself. The Mimses became one of two black families with homes inside the city limits. Those two families not only put up black UO students but also visiting entertainers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole at a time when lodging in the city was impossible to obtain for African-Americans.
Troubled Teen Years
Shelton McMurphey Johnson House
to give it up, though, and lived 97 years until 1996. The Historical Society had by 1990 agreed to deed the house to the City of Eugene. The Recreation Division now contracts with the nonprofit Shelton McMurphey Johnson Associates, who make the house available to the public. Eva Johnson’s impact on Skinner Butte does not end there. In 1966 she sold a nearby parcel of land to an entity looking to build senior housing. The 18 story Ya-Po-Ah Terrace high-rise 16
In 1914, in faraway Sarajevo, an Austrian archduke was shot by a subversive Serb, literally triggering a World War - one which, sad to say, would eventually become known as merely the First. The 1917 entry of the United States into the conflict impacted Eugene as it did the rest of the country. In The Story of Eugene the Wilkins sisters write with provincial pride, “It has been said, though no figures have been computed to prove it, that Eugene service men and women won more major awards and more citations than any other city of like population in the nation.” The Treaty of Versailles officially ended the war in 1919. In that year the Eugene Air Park was built southwest of the city to allow visits by the aircraft of the day. This, at the site of the current Westmoreland Park, was for decades Eugene’s municipal airport. Also in 1919 the University of Oregon built Hayward 17
Field, initially used for football but destined to become the Mecca of track and field.
First Funding for Recreation; the Playground Commission The voters of Eugene approved a Public Recreation and Playground Fund in 1927, the first levy earmarked for recreation activities. The levy called for establishment of a five-person, unpaid Playground Commission to administer the funds and create youth programs for the summer months. The minutes of the City Council meeting of May 28, 1927, provided that that any unspent funds be transferred to the Parks Commission for parks purposes – indicating that a separate Parks Commission predates the Playground Commission. The city had taken the first steps on a promising path towards establishment of recreational opportunities as a basic city service. The 1929 stock market crashed directly into those plans as the country entered the Great Depression. Reduced revenues caused the city to cut back on services, with recreation and parks money becoming especially scarce. Summer playground activities were reduced. It would not be the last time that economic conditions stalled or reversed gains in recreation growth.
1930s City Council Minutes The minutes for the January 12, 1931, City Council meeting announce the appointment of several “heads of department,” including that of Parks. Richard Farmer was named park superintendent at a salary listed as $125. On June 12, 1935, “Mr. Dinty Moore addressed the Council on behalf of securing supervision of the Playground Commission for a soft ball league that is being formed.” However, “It
was doubted that the Council could act on it.” The matter was referred to the Playground Commission, and it’s tempting to imagine Dinty Moore stewing about the Council’s lack of support. Mr. Moore had no legitimate beef, though, because the league’s playing field was outside city limits. The incident is worth mentioning because it shows that, in addition to overseeing summer playground activities for kids, the Playground Commission also provided services for adult Athletic leagues at this early time in its history. The minutes for December 12, 1938, state, “The proposal of merging the city park commission, playground commission and juvenile department under one commission with one director was referred to the chairmen of the Judiciary, Park and Playground Committees.” Action appears to have been taken on this proposal because there are references in the 1940s to a combined Parks and Playgrounds Commission. What was meant by the “juvenile department” is unclear; perhaps it was actually a commission associated with the city’s judiciary. Note that, in the years before creation of the city manager position, the Council itself administered government through committees.
The Morses Build a Home A young man from Wisconsin arrived in Eugene and took up a professorship of law at the University of Oregon just in time for the economic collapse. By 1936 he had already become dean of the Law School and recouped enough money to build a home on acreage he and his wife had eyed in South Eugene. The home of Wayne and Mildred (Midge) Morse was only the second house in the city to be built in the seven years since the crash, and Ms. Morse heard the workmen sing and whistle while they worked, so happy were they for employment. The Morse home was in the lower hills below Spencer Butte.
Early view of Spencer Butte. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historic Museum.
Eugene Saves Spencer Butte The Depression gave rise to one of the greatest collective acts of foresight, generosity and wise investment in Eugene history. Spencer Butte, dominating Eugene’s southern skyline, had become the target of logging companies. Although the hill was at the time miles outside of city limits, the prospect of a bare butte vista left some folks as depressed as the economy. Forward-thinking advocates saw the potential for outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities right on the edge of the city. The only sure way to save the butte from the ax was for the city to buy it, but with what funds? In a 1951 article looking back, The Register-Guard said, “The toughest question to answer in those days was, ‘Why does the city of Eugene want to own a mountainside six miles out of Eugene where you can’t move without running into poison oak?’”
A committee was formed to tackle the problem, headed by Wayne Morse, the UO Law School’s young dean. The resulting campaign called for citizens to “buy a piece” of Spencer Butte with small contributions. More than a thousand people ponied up donations ranging from one penny to five dollars. In addition voters were presented with a tax levy to finance the balance of the purchase. The long-time president of the Eugene Park Commission was pioneer Francis M. Wilkins, a Eugenean since before there was a Eugene. At age ninety, his own climbing days were likely behind him. Nevertheless he exhorted Eugeneans to support the measure in a letter to The Eugene Daily News. “Remember,” he prophesied, “Eugene boys and girls will be climbing Spencer Butte 50 and 100 years from today, to be inspired by looking over a city built to the very foot of the Butte.” Despite the hardship of the times, the measure passed overwhelmingly in May of 1938. Subsequent levies through the years have enabled an expansion of public parkland largely con-
Youth on top of Spencer Butte
tiguous with the original purchase. The Ridgeline Trail system that now climbs and extends from Spencer Butte is one of Eugene’s signature recreational features and a legacy of a prescient generation, plus matching foresight by later leaders. Current Recreation activity coordinator Josh Lutje likes to take his middle school Counselor-in-Training kids on hikes to the Spencer Butte summit. They look down from the precipice to Eugene below – now, as predicted, built to the base of the butte. “Here’s your city,” he tells the next generation. “It’s up to you to decide what kind of place you want it to be.” The view has inspired heartfelt discussions among the youths about dreams they have for their community. Commissioner Wilkins would be gratified.
Civic Engagement There was a second levy on that same May, 1938, ballot, one which would also have a long-term effect on the local recreation scene. Owners of 17 swampy acres near Willamette Street had failed to pay their property taxes. City leaders envisioned this land as a potential site for an Amazon Park, complete with community center and athletic grounds. At the same time, however, the local high schools had lost permission to play football at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field. Eugene School District 4 felt pressed to build its own sports stadium immediately, and there was opportunity to enlist the services of the Works Progress Administration. The WPA, a Franklin Roosevelt administration program employing Depression era workers, sought community-benefiting construction projects. Pushed by the Eugene Chamber of Commerce, the Eugene City Council agreed in principle to give the Willamette Street parcel to the school district as a site for a stadium and other athletic features. The Council placed a charter amendment on the ballot requesting a levy “for the purpose of purchasing an 22
athletic field on South Willamette Street to be donated to School District Number Four.” (The money was specifically needed to square the tax debts about to be assumed by the district.) The voters passed the levy by an even greater margin than the successful Spencer Butte levy. For the price of a dollar (worth a lot more in 1938, granted) the school district received the deed to the land in June with the stipulation that it was “to be used as a recreation area for the school district and for the municipality.” The district’s master plan for the property included provisions for a swimming pool, tennis courts, a running track and other recreation facilities. The immediate priority, however, was completion of the sports venue in time for the football season. This was done, and the field was inaugurated by a “civil war” contest between Eugene and Corvallis high schools. Played in torrential rains in a sea of mud, the game presaged by 45 years the infamous UO-OSU “Toilet Bowl” of 1983 and, like its college equivalent, ended in a 0-0 tie. In the 1940s Civic Stadium was also heavily used by an array of semi-pro baseball teams that included the Hills Creek Hillbillies, the House of David Israelites and Satchel Paige’s barnstorming Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. When Bethel Park was built in 1950 the semi-pro teams took their games to that diamond.
A semi-pro baseball team in the 1940s in Civic Stadium. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historical Museum.
Eugene baseball team members and fans in Civic Stadium. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historical Museum.
The originally planned public recreational facilities (pool, track, tennis courts, etc.) were never built on the Civic property. In 1969 the high school football games moved to the new artificial turf of the university’s Autzen Stadium. Civic Stadium was renovated more specifically for baseball. High school baseball teams used the park for several more decades. In its latter decades of use, Civic Stadium was leased out by the school district to minor league professional baseball teams. Civics’ WPAera design imbued baseball with an appealing retro ambience. Still, College Hill neighbors complained frequently about noise, parking and litter, and ideas were periodically floated about relocating pro baseball to a less residential site. Civic Stadium’s last tenant was the A-level Eugene Emeralds. The years took a toll on the facility and by the 2000s it was clear that long term use would require that someone spend millions on repair and modernization. Neither the Emeralds nor the school district wanted 24
to be that someone, nor did the university, about to restore the dormant sport of baseball. The Emeralds began to seriously consider a move and the financially strapped school district looked into selling the property. An obstacle to sale, however, was the initial deed stipulation that the land be used for recreation by the schools and city. The City of Eugene believed this to be binding. Eugene School District 4J took the city to court and won a judgment in 2007. The Lane Circuit Court ruled that the school district was no longer bound by the restriction and could do what it wished with the property. The Emeralds played their last game at Civic in 2009 (Volcanoes 5, Emeralds 3) and moved the following year to the university’s newly constructed PK Park near Autzen Stadium. The school district declared Civic Stadium to be surplus property and put it up for bid. The district rejected a bid from Friends of Civic Stadium, which offered to buy the property for $16.56 – essentially giving 4J back its one dollar purchase price, adjusted for inflation. This left two suitors – a retail store and a non-profit agency. The City of Eugene then jumped in with an offer to buy back the property for $4.5 million. In February of 2014 the school board voted to accept the city’s proposal. There was a precondition, however, that $3 million in private funds be raised first for renovation. In 2015 the Eugene Civic Alliance, a nonprofit group including Kidsports, offered instead to acquire the stadium property outright for community purposes at a cost of nearly $4.1 million.. The city of Eugene agreed to contribute $412,000 for a half acre city park and bike path easement.
World News Worsens in the Thirties On the day the 1938 election and levy results were published, the Eugene Register-Guard’s front page also carried the story: “Czechs, Germans Nearing Crisis.” Nazi Germany was moving troops to the Czechoslovakian border, alleging Czech “aggres25
sion” against its German minority citizens. The Second World War was about to begin, further relegating domestic civic improvements to a low priority.
And Now For Sports In March of 1939 the University of Oregon basketball Webfoots (not yet called Ducks) beat California twice at McArthur Court in Eugene, claiming the Pacific Coast Conference title. This qualified them for the first NCAA national college basketball tournament. With a roster dominated by state natives, the “Tall Firs” won their way to the finals in Evanston, Illinois, where they disposed of Ohio State 46-33 for the first ever national college basketball championship. An estimated 10,000 fans (nearly half the city population) greeted their return to the Eugene train station and The Register-Guard said of students in the streets, “They took the town like Hitler took Czechoslovakia.” Most of the Webfoot players joined the military just before or after the United States’ 1941 entry into World War II.
Chapter 3 War Years & Birth of Parks and Recreation Big Change in City Government Although the city was to survive both the Depression and World War II financially intact, its services were not growing with the population. In a history of the Rhododendron Gardens, The Journal of the American Rhododendron Society states, “During the depression and world war II years, Fred Lamb was the only permanent park employee. As a matter of fact, he was the entire department.” Lamb, a former City Councilor, took the parks job in the ‘30s. The Skinner Butte Park Lamb Cottage is named for Fred Lamb, not after any residents of the zoo he later maintained.
Car camping next to Lamb Cottage. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historical Museum.
Eugene city government had been helmed by a part-time, unpaid city council and mayor until nearly the end of the war. In May of 1944 the voters ratified a city charter amendment enabling the Council to hire a full-time professional city manager. This represented a basic change in the form of government, as elected officials would continue to set policy but would no longer take on its implementation or supervise city staff. The Council hired Deane Seeger away from the Boeing aircraft company as Eugene’s first city manager in 1945. Though the City Council’s wish list at that time included investments in pool and park facilities, it was felt that nothing substantial could be accomplished until the war was over. Citizen leaders, including Howard Buford and RegisterGuard editor William Tugman, established the Century Progress Fund around this time as financial entity for raising park purchase money.
Oregon Attacked Only one enemy attack on United States soil resulted in civilian deaths in World War II. It happened in 1945 in a rural area near the southern Oregon community of Bly. A group of picnickers found a strange balloon in a wooded area and investigated. Japan had booby-trapped thousands of these large balloons with high explosives and released them into the wind towards the U.S. This was done in retaliation for the American bombing of civilians in Tokyo. Many of these balloon bombs had been assembled by children and teens. On May 5 – Children’s Day in Japan – this one exploded and killed six people in the Oregon woods. Five of the victims were children. In 1987, seven Japanese women folded 1,000 paper cranes of peace and sent an apology to the people of that Oregon community. As children, these women had been put to work making the deadly balloons. The apology was delivered by a man who spent 28
Ice skating on a frozen court in Eugene.
the war confined in a California internment camp for JapaneseAmericans.
Macaroni and Orange Crates At about this same time in 1945 the Central Lane Planning Council met for the purpose of developing a comprehensive summer playground recreation program for the schoolchildren of Eugene and Springfield. Participants included city manager Seeger, Eugene mayor Earl McNutt and other civic leaders. Also fully involved in the planning process were student body officers from Eugene and Springfield high schools and Roosevelt Middle School. Newspaper accounts indicate that the youth representatives were accorded serious roles in this regional civic effort. Because there would be no levy money available for playgrounds that year, voluntary contributions were essential. The 29
group adopted the slogan “Anything for the kids,” and hoped every family would chip in a dollar to the cause. The president of the youth council envisioned local youngsters bringing in nickels and dimes, and the student leaders volunteered to spearhead the fundraising campaign by going directly into the neighborhoods. It was arranged that contributions to the Century Progress Fund during the month of May could be designated for the playground program rather than park purchases. The Register-Guard reported that the Eugene Parks and Playground Commission gave its support to the playground program fund at its meeting of May 8. But it also endorsed a more farreaching idea put forth by city manager Deane Seeger. The Register-Guard explained, “The parks and playground commission, in endorsing Seeger’s proposal for combining the city parks and playground budgets, did so because of the belief that parks and playgrounds really are the same and greater efficiency should result from handing them in the same budget.” As Eugene had as yet no community centers or pools, the “playground” budget was probably in essence the recreation budget. The Eugene Gleemen raised $600 for summer activities at their spring concert. The St. Mary’s Mothers Club chipped in $50 and the Eugene High PTA $15. Members of the Toastmasters club contributed individual $10 donations. It didn’t take much for donors to make the news in The Register-Guard, which promoted the funding effort. In fact a man named W.J. “Joe” Lichty merited front page coverage after he “bought” university Chancellor Frederick D. Hunter and lumber business leader George Giustina at the “Order of the Buggy Ride bond auction.” Joe Lichty then put the two prominent citizens to work at a party thrown at his Santa Clara home. A high point of the party was the auction sale of a large bullfrog, with the proceeds dedicated to the summer recreation program. The frog garnered a winning bid of $865. Having done its part for the children of Eugene, the frog was released into a pond. 30
The 1945 Eugene playground program opened on June 18 at River Road, Whiteaker, Lincoln, Frances Willard, Washington, Condon, Edison and Magladry elementary schools. City recreation director Harry Davis (also a coach at University High School) reported attendance of 1,500 in the first week. The Register-Guard wrote that kids were playing dodgeball, making beads from macaroni, forming rhythm bands and constructing birdhouses and boats from orange crates and scrap lumber. It also announced that the city was organizing softball programs for both girls and boys.
Sladden Park Occupied! On the day the summer program opened, The Register-Guard reported that the 10th Army had encircled the last remaining Japanese fighters on Okinawa, and that the final 84 holdouts on Guam had surrendered, marking the end of all enemy activity on that island. The time when life and community growth could return to normal was nearing. Before the end of the 1945 summer, Japan surrendered, ending the conflict. To cope with the influx of returning soldiers, the Veterans of Foreign Wars arranged with the city in 1946 to install trailer housing in Sladden Park, a 1926 park acquisition in what was then called the Riverside subdivision. Neighboring property owners filed an injunction to remove the VFW trailers, alleging unsightliness and misuse of a public park by private parties. The case came before Lane County Circuit Court Judge George F. Skipworth, who said, “I admit that the trailer houses…will be unsightly and perhaps will not be pleasant to the eye. … When our army crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, the bristling guns of the Germans must have been unsightly to them.” Following several other examples of “unsightly” dangers endured by the veterans, Judge Skipworth ruled that the trailers could stay. The 100 trailers came to occupy half 31
the park until their removal in 1960. The VFW contributed funding for construction of a wading pool and playground equipment in the demilitarized half.
BIRTH OF PARKS AND RECREATION Combined Department Established 1946 marked the 100th year since Eugene Skinner built his little cabin. It was the year President Harry Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights and the United States Supreme Court banned segregation on interstate buses. Winston Churchill’s characterization of an “Iron Curtain” across Eastern Europe signified the beginning of the Cold War. And in 1946 Eugene, recreation and park programs were consolidated into the new Department (or Bureau) of Parks and Recreation, with offices in City Hall. This action would appear to be an outcome of city manager Seeger’s budget recommendation, made during the push for the 1945 summer program. For Recreation, this meant a change from oversight by a volunteer commission to combined status as a department with Parks, under leadership of city staff. Don B. January was announced as full-time “superintendent of parks and recreation” at the City Council meeting of April 14, 1947, with a starting date of May 1.
Park and Playgrounds Days The announcement of January’s appointment came during a week of children’s fundraising performances “for the kids by the kids.” The first department superintendent came on board while
Teens dancing in a Eugene community center.
the Century Progress Fund was organizing a major campaign for parks and playgrounds. Over the course of the spring contributions came in from citizens, civic groups and business towards the goal of $50,000. The Business and Professional Women’s Club contributed the first $1,000. All schools in Eugene held “instructional rallies” and planned for a Parks and Playgrounds Day to get students involved in the cause. At a downtown rally on April 14, awards were presented to school kids who brought the in most money. A check for $1,000 was donated by the Eugene Fruit Growers Association in honor of the “Ton Club” – boys and girls who had picked a ton of beans for the EFGA cannery. Entertainment included school bands. The Register-Guard reported on the rally: “Police Chief L.L. Pittenger tickled the kids and grownups 33
who gathered at 10th and Willamette to watch the children’s show on behalf of the Century Progress Fund for parks and playgrounds by telling them that, ‘If we get these parks, it should cut down on juvenile delinquency to the point where I’ll have nothing to do but get fat and lazy – fatter than I am, that is.’”
The Eugene Recreation Commission Some sources date the establishment of the Eugene Recreation Commission at 1944. However the minutes for Recreation Commission meetings have survived for the years 1947–1953 (some handwritten in green pencil). A preliminary agenda asks for “Heads of service, fraternal, professional and union organizations … to present the plans for forming a recreation commission” at a meeting on July, 14, 1947. The “first meeting of official members” was slated for August 12, 1947. Tex Matsler, who succeeded Don January, credits January with bringing together these influential civic leaders to advocate for both Recreation and Parks. According to its bylaws, the Eugene Recreation Commission consisted of “representatives of civic, fraternal, religious, labor, and educational organizations.” A roster from 1949-50 lists 57 members and their affiliations. Another undated roster from that era shows 92 members. It seems logical to assume that this larger, socially-connected citizen group replaced the Parks and Playgrounds Commission. The Eugene Recreation Commission was tasked with assessing the shortcomings in Recreation services. It found plenty. Parks were minimally developed and the city, with a 1943 population of about 22,000, had no municipal playgrounds or pool. Youth recreation programs were limited to summer. The existing budget for playgrounds and parks was woefully inadequate to address these needs. The Commission recommended construction of a swimming pool, acquisition of five neighborhood parks and a levy to raise money to address long term needs. Accord34
Washington Park Community Center
ing to an account written later by Tex Matsler, the City Council declined to submit the Eugene Recreation Commission’s recommended levy to the voters, “so the Recreation Commission drew up petitions to get it on the ballot,” to be voted on in 1948. The Recreation Commission minutes provide insight into the activities programmed by the new department, the issues it faced, and its goals. These minutes will be referenced occasionally in this narrative. At the September 10, 1947, meeting, Don January outlined ideas for public recreational activities at school facilities for the winter months. After-school activities were to be restored, and plans also included “city leagues in basketball, volleyball, cards, etc.” Yet it was emphasized that, “The recreation program will be for all children. That is, the program will not consist of ‘league play’ only, but will be set up so as to give ALL children and adults an opportunity to relax.” An obstacle to these goals was the fact that all but $2,500 of the $41,000 general recreation budget had been spent for the year. The minutes of that same meeting also detail the progress made on recreational facilities at “19th and Lawrence” - parkland acquired in 1940. Funding for these improvements had been raised by the Commission, with matching city money. The 35
wading pool had been installed, the “Community House” was under construction, and playground equipment had been donated. (This presumably included the round-holed concrete climbing sculpture that exists today.) The following year the Commission accepted Mayor McNutt’s motion that parks be named after the primary bordering street, and this park was named for Washington Street on its western edge. The soon-completed “Community House” became the site of future Commission meetings, and was later referred to as the “Community Center Building” or, more familiarly, as the Washington Park Recreation Center. This was Eugene’s first designated community center, and activities for children, teens, adults and community groups were regularly scheduled at the site.
#1 Story of 1947 by the Register-Guard Deane Seeger’s first major crisis as city manager was triggered by a youth unhappy with his recreational options. In September of 1947 an irate father complained to Chief of Police L.L. Pittenger that his 14-year-old son was being allowed to patronize something called the Eugene Recreation Center, an enterprise specializing in bowling, billiards and beer. The chief subsequently ordered the business’s owners to adhere to the relevant laws pertaining to minors. When the boy and his friends next showed up at the Recreation Center they were denied entry. The youth and his friends marched to the office of Police Chief Pittenger to protest that their source of fun had been cut off. Chief Pittenger took exception to the 14-year-old’s attitude and struck him several times in the face. The youth then showed his battered face in the offices of The Register-Guard to draw attention not only to the beating but to the fact that this all came about because he had “no place to go” for recreation. Chief Pittenger turned in his resignation, which Seeger ac36
cepted. Many in the community objected, supporting Pittenger, but Seeger said he could find “no mitigating circumstances” to make the chief’s actions acceptable.
Voters Say Yes “Members of the Eugene Recreation Commission are now facing their greatest task in the advancement of public recreation,” wrote Chairperson Anne Smith in a letter to a potential supporter. The May, 1948, ballot initiative, if passed, would give the new Parks and Recreation department the funds it needed to develop new parks and operate facilities and programs. The Commission’s campaign appears to have paid off as the levy was passed by a vote of 7,450 – 2,512. Eugene voters’ support in these matters was showing remarkable consistency.
Jefferson Memorial Pool Eugene’s natural swimming areas had become sources of typhoid and other diseases. A top council priority was the con-
Jefferson Memorial Pool
struction of a public swimming pool, and city manager Seeger was flown to San Francisco to scrounge up surplus pool equipment. A bond and tax levy had been passed in 1940 for start-up funds. In September of 1948 Eugene’s first municipal pool was opened for a three day season on land donated by Lane County at 16th and Jefferson Street. It reopened for a full (summer only) season in 1949. The facility was originally planned as the Phoebe Smith Memorial Pool in recognition of a Eugene mother who battled for its construction. In the end it was dedicated to those who lost their lives in World War II as the Jefferson Memorial Pool. The “First Annual Lane County Swim Meet” took place there in 1952. Within five years the pool was overcrowded and had to be opened in two shifts to force patron turnover. There is also record of a private pool called “Jeff Beach” located at the foot of Jefferson Street around the same time. It was a Saturday night social gathering spot. The owners sent a bus to cruise Willamette Street and pick up girls and young women to serve as pool bait so that men and boys would show up and pay to swim.
January Attendance Figures In December of 1948 superintendent January reported a monthly attendance total of 8,810 at Recreation activities, an increase of 1,628 over the previous month, he noted. Activities included boxing, sewing, trampoline, body conditioning for women, businessmen’s gym and square dancing. A basketball league was in session. At the Washington Park Center the greatest attendance numbers by far were for the junior high age group, and junior high councils for both the Rec center and for Roosevelt school were meeting. The superintendent also reported attendance figures for a community center at Skinner Butte, in what structure it isn’t clear. January’s January numbers were similar. Summer playground attendance jumped from 47,648 in 1947 to 72,725 in 1948. This showed great growth since those war years when concerted efforts by adult and youth leaders were all that kept the summer program alive.
Eugene Recreation Commission Minutes of 1950 There occurred in 1949 a brief rudderless period when the city manager position was vacant, leaving no one to appoint a replacement for the resigned Don January. Eventually the newly-selected city manager Oren King hired William Riley “Tex” Matsler, a landscape architect and UO graduate, as the second superintendent of Parks and Recreation. One of the first issues Matsler addressed at his introductory 1950 Recreation Commission appearance was the necessity of removing city trees at times “in spite of protest” (a Eugene issue even then!). At a later 1950 gathering, a reading of the previous minutes was dispensed with “because Mrs. Ardath Danielson broke her leg and could not attend the meeting.” Presumably the back-up minutes-taker stepped up for this session. Among those in at39
Hendricks Park picnic shelter
tendance was Howard Buford, long-time member of the Lane Planning Commission whose vision for parks greatly influenced regional development and whose name is memorialized at Howard Buford County Park at Mount Pisgah. The Eugene Recreation director, Jim Coffell, opened the 1950 meeting with a report on summer and winter activities. “The Recreation program,” he said, “was set up for three purposes: the pre-school, teenage and adults.” He reported that the programs at the pool and Washington Park Center were going well, but, “If it wasn’t for the use of school buildings, lots of our activities would fall through.” Superintendent Matsler said, “I believe the city has come a long way in the last three years with its park and recreation development. However I feel the city has been delinquent in three (geographic) areas.” One of the neighborhoods needing a park, he felt, was the Westmoreland area on the southwest side. Possible sources of funds were discussed including another levy, an amusement tax for recreation, or tapping the Century Prog40
ress Fund. It was suggested that coin-operated light controls for tennis courts be installed or other payments be required for park use. The minutes-taker noted one commissioner’s objection that, “It wasn’t the purpose of parks to charge for admission. Some of the people we want to visit our parks may not be able to pay.” The Eugene Police, we are told, took the Hot Rod Club to race cars at Mahlon Sweet Airport. If the intent was to groom future speeders for ticket revenue, the minutes-taker did not record this. There was good news in that Mr. and Mrs. George Owen were donating land along the river for a rose garden, and that the Eugene Rhododendron Society had many fine rhodies, magnolias and camellias to transplant into Hendricks Park. These projects came to fruition. The Owen Rose Garden was created west of Skinner Butte Park in 1951. The Rhododendron Garden was established in Hendricks Park in 1954 in an area used until then for antlered animals. (In 1973 the remaining deer and elk were sent to the Wildlife Safari game park in Winston.) Both gardens flourished and remain popular attractions today.
The 1950s Under Tex Matsler Incoming superintendent Tex Matsler counted 10 parks, incompletely developed, in his new city (but didn’t count Melvin Miller Park!). He believed that Eugene had outgrown its park system as well as other public services. According to Matsler, four or five of these sites had been selected as parks simply because the owners failed to pay property taxes and forfeited possession. Recreational features - tennis courts, ball fields, wading pool, community center, etc. - had been installed at Washington Park, he says, “to show the people the value of such facilities” and thus gain support for more. He felt fortunate to arrive in Eugene at a time when an “exploding” population and post-war 41
economic prosperity created a demand for growth in park and recreation opportunities. Matsler has left for posterity a 288 page autobiography, typed on an old Underwood portable bought in 1937 at Montgomery Ward. It contains much information, some inspiration, copious opinions and a certain amount of headshake-inducing candor (mostly not reproduced here). The account gives a window into the times and into the perceptions of the department’s second director. Matsler felt he was initially seen as “a so-called Park man and not a Recreation man” like his predecessor. He set about making changes, some of which rankled. He learned from a secretary, identified only as Irene, that Recreation was unofficially subsidizing the Pee Wee Baseball League and a softball association by picking up their delinquent bills at Hendershott’s sporting goods store. Covering these unpaid bills exceeded the entire annual supplies budget allotted for Recreation. Staff defended the practice as a way to “see that the people have a chance to play,” but the secretary Irene “lit into them like a tiger to the point of almost physically pulling their hair and clawing their faces” when they denied she had warned them this was a problem, according to Matsler. The practice was stopped. A dispute with neighbors had developed at Washington Park where two lighted softball fields were aligned such that foul balls sometimes ricocheted off homes north of 19th Avenue and east of Lawrence Street. The problem came to a head when a traveling all-star baseball team was scheduled to play a local team as a softball fund-raiser. Matsler asked the coaches to “try to limit hits to the inside of the field and keep fouls to a minimum.” But, Matsler complains, “They did just the opposite,” and a barrage of baseballs rained down on the homes. The neighbors responded with the time-honored tactic of confiscating the balls, which enraged the fans. “You never heard such rude and uncomplimentary language … Several fights almost 42
broke out.” The matter was hashed out at the next City Council meeting, where the park neighbors “turned out in force … with blood in their eyes.” Matsler decided to hire a younger “park foreman” to replace Fred Lamb, who was staying in a house in Skinner Butte Park. Lamb, described as “a very fine hard-working older man nearing 70, I guess,” agreed with the change but asked that he and his wife be allowed continue living in the house. In exchange they would take care of the nearby cottage (the one later named for him) and the animals at Skinner Butte and Hendricks parks. Deal. In the mid ‘50s, when the Lambs were gone, Matsler tore down the house and remodeled the cottage. He restocked the kitchen from funds the Lambs had collected from rentals, and was able to further economize by installing two used urinals from the Sigma Tau fraternity house. Matsler’s choice for Parks superintendent was Paul Beistel. In 1951 Jim Coffell resigned and Al Dahlen was hired as Recreation superintendent. Matsler praised the work of both his selections. Matsler was successful in nurturing to full bloom both the riverfront Owen Rose Garden and the Rhododendron Garden in Hendricks Park, a pet project. He had less success with real pets, as a white fallow buck deer he brought to Hendricks Park from Klamath Falls got into fights with a resident bull elk and was killed, and a baby female fawn he tried to raise at home also met a fatal end. A rhesus monkey donated to the Skinner Butte zoo attacked him with “fangs about 1” long.” He flew in three Dinae monkeys from New York who all died of “chill.” The replacement cinnamon ringtail monkeys did better, but a baby born in captivity didn’t survive. Bad things happened to other monkeys, “Maybe a bear killed one,” Matsler writes. The bear itself came down with infected nipples, and Fred Lamb and the veterinarian “gave her a shot in the butt and they both headed for the cage gate getting out just in time.” For Oregon’s 100th 43
statehood anniversary in 1959, Matsler tried to gain support for “specially designed exhibits for gibbons, apes and squirrels,” but the City Council wouldn’t bite. The city sponsored band concerts in the downtown Park Blocks. After soliciting design ideas from UO students of architecture, Matsler and his crew built a portable band shell so that concerts could be held also in Washington, University and Skinner Butte parks. These continued until attendance waned in the late ‘50s. Matsler blamed that growing devourer of leisure time, television. Tex Matsler later concluded agreements with the school districts for joint development of land, a type of arrangement which would greatly influence the nature of park, school and recreation growth. He also proposed that libraries be built adjacent to future community centers. “I based this idea on the fact that libraries and community centers offer complimentary services and activities, each adding support to the other.” In fact the Library Board approved a 1951 proposal to add a library to the proposed
community center in Amazon Park, with plans to schedule story hours, teen reading groups, music and discussions. However in the end “the Librarian” nixed the idea, Matsler laments. “I still feel this is valid!”
The Columns at Skinner Butte The exposure of the basalt columns on the west side of Skinner Butte was not an act of nature but of rock quarry diggers, who began cutting into the hill as early as 1893. The WPA removed stone from there in the 1930s. The recreational climbing that followed was seen as a public problem, as there were falls and injuries. In the 1950s Parks and Recreation installed a fence across the top of the wall in an attempt to keep people from defying gravity at that location. A 45 foot rock wall in the heart of town was a convenience climbers were not going to let stand there without challenge, however. By the ‘70s it was a popular recreation spot. The Outdoor Program now conducts climbs at the columns.
Children’s Culture at Washington Park
Skinner Butte Columns. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historical Museum
Little Tylar Merrill, then under a different name, attended preschool classes at the Washington Park Center in the early 1950s. She recalls climbing on the perforated outdoor playground structure which the kids then called a “honeycomb.” Somehow over time, in the mysterious playground culture of kids, that piece of playground equipment – usually painted bright yellow – took on the identity of a “cheese,” no doubt Swiss. In fact kids sometimes refer to the whole site as the “cheese park.” Besides attending preschool, Tylar took ballet classes at the center and eventually grew up to become a dance instructor at Amazon Center for 15 years, inviting her original Washington
Park teacher to her class’s recitals. Her gerontology degree gave her opportunity in the early ‘90s to teach ballet and even belly dancing to seniors at the Kaufman Center. She “never planned on staying” with the city but in fact did, for 25 years, in all manner of assignments. She still believes the climbing structure of her youth is more like a honeycomb than a cheese.
Action at Amazon and Westmoreland The citizen Century Progress Fund targeted a hodgepodge of South Eugene properties for the long-envisioned Amazon Park and began the purchase process in 1946. The park was dedicated in 1955. Passage of a bond issue in 1956 gave Eugeneans a second public pool with the opening of the outdoor, seasonal Amazon Pool in 1957. Tex Matsler had recommended an indoor pool, but the City Council felt the YMCA pool could meet the population’s indoor swimming needs. Mahlon Sweet (now Eugene) Airport was built northwest of the city in 1943 and became Eugene’s new gateway for commercial carriers and large aircraft. Private planes continued to land at the old Eugene Air Park until 1954, when encroaching residential development made continued use of the runways unfeasible. The closing of the southwest side Air Park opened up opportunity for Matsler to pursue his goal of a park in the Westmoreland neighborhood. Money from a 10 year 1951 levy enabled clearing of the land, and development of Westmoreland Park began in 1962 following another tax measure. That’s the next story.
Chapter 4 Recreation’s Big Boom Building Community Centers The Sixties The term “The ‘Sixties” in American history conjures up images that can be chaotic, inspiring, tragic, whimsical or all of these. The Cold War chilled. A president was killed and a long, divisive foreign war soon followed. The United States was invaded, but only by British bands. Love was alleged to be free (but read the fine print). The civil rights movement made bold progress but not without great cost. Local author Ken Kesey unleashed two challenging Oregon-based novels, before going Furthur astray. Authority was questioned – nowhere more so than in Eugene and at the University of Oregon. For Eugene Recreation, though, the 1960s began a period of growth unmatched before or since, and it started with a levy that failed.
May, 1960 In May of 1960, Eugene residents overlooked by the census takers were contacting officials to get counted, as the city was hopeful of stretching past the 50,000 mark in population. (It ultimately succeeded, at 50,977.) Elsewhere in the nation, young activist “Freedom Riders” boarded buses to challenge the laws of racial segregation in the South.
Republican Senator, formerly UO Law School dean) was on the state’s primary ballot, but also lost to Kennedy and called off his presidential bid. There were other items, local proposals, on that May ballot in Eugene. One measure proposed to place the location of a new City Hall between 7th and 8th and Pearl and High Streets. Another would green-light a Mulligan-Skinner Urban Renewal Project in the courthouse area. Still another was a 10 year levy to raise money to buy or improve a lineup of neighborhood, community and regional parks. When the voters spoke, the City Hall site was OK’d while the urban renewal plan was not. The parks levy was defeated. The Register-Guard decried the levy loss and editorialized, “It marks the first time in history that the people have failed to back a parks measure…Without further financing, Eugene’s parks system will stand still. With increasing costs of operation, it could begin to deteriorate.” The newspaper said the people of Eugene would likely see another such measure proposed soon.
The Parks Study Group Sailing on Fern Ridge Reservoir, 1965. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historical Museum
May of 1960 was a tough month for President Dwight Eisenhower, as the Soviets shot down a U-2 spy plane over Russia and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened to put the pilot on trial and fire rockets at any country believed to be assisting spies. Things did not go well either for presidential hopeful Senator Hubert Humphrey, who dropped from competition for the Democratic nomination after primary losses to John F. Kennedy. Here in Oregon, Democratic Senator Wayne Morse (formerly 48
Few women served in official government capacities in 1959. Betty Niven wanted to change that, and told Mayor Ed Cone that a woman should be on the Eugene Planning Commission. She got the position. Niven had accompanied her husband to Eugene when he took a professorship in math at the university. She had plunged herself into community issues and become well-known by city officials. Now a Commission member, her first assignment was to chair the Parks and Recreation committee, and thus she experienced the defeat of the 1960 levy. Niven would not sit still for this again. She successfully lobbied the City Council to appoint a Parks Study Group, which she chaired. In addition to the mayor and other powerful people, this task force included ordinary voters. The Parks Study Group 49
worked hard to learn what Eugeneans wanted and would support. Following an exhaustive series of meetings and surveys, the group re-crafted the levy. Besides shortening its span to six years, it reduced the percentage of funds to be spent on large land acquisitions and emphasized improvements providing neighborhood recreational opportunities for children and families. The Register-Guard later commented, “Seldom has a local citizen’s (sic) group devoted more attention to a specific city problem than did the Eugene Parks Study Group before arriving at its recommendations to resubmit a parks measure to the people. This group, headed by Mrs. Ivan Niven, conducted some 60 meetings last fall and winter…In its study, the citizens group found that, although Eugene has made great strides in a parks program since World War II, the program still lags behind the population growth of the city.” Another fact favoring the levy was the agreement signed between the City of Eugene and School District 4 pledging joint development of school/park facilities whenever possible. A study showed that a dollar invested in this way would attain double its value in results. Fourteen proposals on the ballot involved school/city cooperation. Taking the campaign to the voters was the Better Eugene Committee, which purchased radio spots (on which Niven and others sang to guitar accompaniment) and papered the city with colorful signs saying, “Parks are for people, people are for parks.”
May, 1961 Now-President Kennedy was smarting from criticism of April’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, but gained a boost in prestige on May 5th when the United States sent its first astronaut into space, cutting into the perceived Soviet lead in space exploration. (“Man, what a ride,” was Alan Shepherd’s presumably unscripted landing speech.) 50
In a May, 1961, election in Alabama, Theophilus “Bull” Connor won his sixth term as Commissioner of Public Safety of Birmingham. One of his first subsequent actions – or nonactions – was to stand by on Mothers Day while a mob of Ku Klux Klan members beat a newly-arrived busload of Freedom Riders with metal pipes and bats. Connor later explained that no police were available to stop the carnage because the officers were all visiting their mothers. In Eugene’s elections that same May, voters went to the polls in record numbers. The turnout was described as the greatest for a special election in anyone’s memory. The voters agreed to a $2.4 million bond measure to construct a new City Hall. They gummed up the wheels of the proposed “Spencer Butte Expressway” with a charter amendment requiring a public vote on limited access highways. And they approved the parks levy with a 60% majority. This was the first of two levies that decade which would shape the Parks and Recreation scene in Eugene for many years. Betty Niven was a driving force on the Planning Commission for 14 of those years. A small South Eugene street is named for her.
Celeste Campbell Senior Center The Emerald Empire Council for the Aging opened an activity center for seniors in a former church building at 13th and Ferry Street in 1958. Hours were limited and staffing was done by volunteers but the center attracted a growing and dedicated clientele. Scheduled demolition forced a move to an old play shed at the former Lincoln Elementary School site at 10th and Monroe in 1961. This building was clearly inadequate for the purpose and a new site was needed. There followed a convergence of generosity, community effort and serendipitous timing. The old Northwest Central Heating office building stood on land near the Willamette River 51
which the city and Century Progress Fund coveted as a possible senior center site and addition to Skinner Butte Park. However the property was expensive at $120,000 in the day’s dollars. Once again Eugene physician Dr. Eva Johnson appears in the story. She started the ball rolling with a bequest of $50,000 from the will of her sister, Celeste Campbell, who had died in 1957. Ms. Campbell had led a varied life, teaching music, piano and voice from her home near Skinner Butte. During World War II she volunteered with the Eugene Air Warning Service and the Red Cross before taking a job with Office of Defense transportation. But her real love was nature and the outdoors. In 1925 she hiked the Skyline Trail from McKenzie Pass to Diamond Peak, and in 1949 she and her niece climbed Mount Lassen on their own. It’s not surprising that she would leave money in her will for parkland, specifying a preference for the Skinner Butte area. (She also gave 10 acres of land to Melvin Miller Park, already named for her uncle.) The owner of the desired building knocked $20,000 off the price as a contribution and 10 private donors each pledged $5,000. The purchase was made through the Century Progress Fund. The deed was then turned over to the City of Eugene with the restriction that the property be used for senior citizen activities.
The Campbell Senior Center
Winter enthusiasts departing from Campbell Senior Center
The city renovated the office building into a new senior center to be operated by Parks and Recreation. It was opened in September of 1962 as the Celeste Campbell Senior Community Center in honor of the primary donor. The Campbell Center was the second senior center established on the West Coast, joining one in San Francisco, and quickly became known as a national innovator. In far off New York City, a young student, now named Rita Kingsbury, cited Campbell Center’s pioneering work in a college paper, not dreaming that nearly 20 years later she’d be working there. But there was soon to be a round of moving and remodeling. The Lane County Housing Authority chose a site just a block away, at 3rd and Pearl Street, for a low income senior housing project. With the accompanying federal loan came a require53
ment to provide recreational activities for the tenants. But why build a duplicate facility and program? It was felt that services could be provided better and more efficiently by expanding the existing Campbell Center and moving it next to the new housing. The city bought the needed chunk of land at a discounted price from the Eugene Water and Electric Board. The Emerald Empire Council for the Aging paid to physically move the building. The Housing Authority allocated money for expansion. Further money was raised from individual and organizational donors whose names are immortalized on the hand-made “friendship tiles” still decorating the Campbell Center’s outer west side. The larger and modernized center came into use in November, 1966. Eugene’s Campbell Senior Center differed from most such places in that it was not a nutrition site serving federally subsidized meals. Rather, it strove to be a place of activity, with different things happening every day. It was first senior center to offer an extensive outdoor program, something which would certainly have pleased Celeste Campbell. Its promotion of bus excursions was ahead of the national trend. Early director Cuma Smith helped develop the standards set by the National Institute of Senior Centers.
Eugene government offices moved into the newly-constructed City Hall in June of 1964, a transition depicted in a RegisterGuard headline as, “From the Nearly Ridiculous…To the Comparatively Sublime.” The article described the old City Hall as “decrepit, often gloomy, cramped and battle-scarred,” and praised the new building as, “well-lighted, spacious and attractive.” Tex Matsler said he looked forward to the increased space for his department offices. The newspaper noted that the facility was designed to be twice as large as what was then needed. Evaluated as outdated and seismically unsound, the 1964 City hall was demolished in 2015, its offices and services already dispersed throughout the community. Eugene’s third City Hall is planned for the same site.
The Eve of Construction Matsler resigned later in 1964 to take a similar position in Arlington, Virginia. In his 15 years on the job he had acquired
The New City Hall Lyndon Johnson had assumed the presidency following John F. Kennedy’s November 1963 assassination. National revulsion at televised abuse of civil rights activists made passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act politically possible, legally banning public segregation and discrimination. In what would lead to his undoing, however, Johnson asked Congress that same year for open-ended authorization to intervene militarily in Vietnam. Oregon Senator Wayne Morse was one of only two senators to vote No. 54
Mel Jackson with rescue litter. Photo courtesy of Jim Blanchard.
many acres of parkland (even persuading stubborn “old man Thompson” to sell for a softball field), worked determinedly to preserve natural areas and done much to shape Eugene’s Department of Parks and Recreation. He rated his support from the people of Eugene as “second to none.” City manager Hugh McKinley tapped Ed Smith, a landscape architect with the city since 1962, for the top spot, whose title was now director of Parks and Recreation. Smith would go on to oversee and energize some of the most significant projects in parks, recreation and city history. The following year Dave Pompel accepted a position on Smith’s staff. Pompel had worked his way through the University of Oregon as a youth leader in Eugene Recreation’s summer and after-school programs. After graduating he served as the recreation superintendent in Wenatchee, Washington, and in various capacities for the community centers in Seattle. Now he returned to Eugene to be superintendent of Recreation, where he inherited a staff of four 56
regular employees. In 1966 a new component, an Outdoor/Environmental program, was added to Recreation’s menu. One of Smith’s and Pompel’s original staff, Mel Jackson became the first outdoor and environmental coordinator. “Mel Jackson was a great, great, outdoor leader,” Pompel recalls. Jackson built a reputation as a guide, educator and protector of Oregon’s rivers and natural environment. The founder of Eugene Mountain Rescue, he led volunteer crews on local trail work. He took Governor Bob Straub and state legislators on Willamette River canoe trips to champion a cleaner waterway and promote formation of the Willamette Greenway – an effort documented in National Geographic. The 1966 Outdoor Program Summer Workshops were cosponsored by the Eugene Register-Guard and included backpacking, mountaineering, survival map and compass, and storm camping – “particularly useful to the deer hunter.” All workshops cost either one or two dollars. The first Summer Outdoor Program featured Mountain Climbing School in the Three Sisters Wilderness, and Girls’ and Boys’ Wilderness Camps, both sited in Jefferson Park (the one in the mountains), and Senior Citizens Camping at Waldo Lake. Winter activities included ski touring, snowshoeing and wilderness first aid. A look at the Recreation offerings for 1965 and 1966 Mel Jackson shows Athletic leagues in a Photo courtesy of Jim Blanchard 57
healthy variety of sports, with teams boasting names such as the Misfits, the Terrors, the Bombers, and the Friendly Church of God. Afternoon activities were conducted at many schools. Jefferson and Amazon pools offered swim lessons free to city residents. But Eugene’s physical facilities were very limited. Pre-school and several other programs were still run from the Washington Park Center. A large play shed at 10th and Monroe served as another Rec site. Called “The Stomp” by local teens, it hosted dances, where adolescent steam caused the walls to run with sweat. It also housed the Western Eugene Boxing Association until it was torn down in the ‘70s. Beyond that, schools and playgrounds had to suffice. “The program had reached the max that it could without facilities,” says Pompel. This was about to change.
May, 1966 The May, 1966, bond measure for Parks and Recreation was the first to focus resources on construction of recreation facilities. Extensive study had indicated that this was what people really wanted. Voters were asked to approve construction of community centers at Westmoreland Park, Sheldon Meadows Park and Amazon Park, plus indoor pools at the Sheldon site and in the recently-annexed neighborhood of Bethel. Such facilities, staffed by Recreation employees, would greatly change the public face of the department. Dave Pompel was confident of passage. He later told writer Gary Turley for a City Club of Eugene article, “The support for recreation was overwhelming. Good recreation programs were a real priority. Some people took it as a right of living in Eugene, almost like public education.” The measure carried.
The Building Boom A northeast parcel of land then called Queensway Park was one that the city and school district had agreed in 1963 to develop jointly. Sheldon High School was built there and in 1967 the city followed up by constructing Sheldon Pool and Sheldon Community Center. All are named for Henry D. Sheldon (18741948), dean of the UO School of Education, who worked to professionalize teacher training and improve public education. “What do you do with an airport?” asks Ed Smith, who had been charged with turning the old Eugene Air Park into a park for humans at the Westmoreland site. “First, you have to get rid of it.” Smith had actually started this assignment, unknowingly, while in high school, when he tore down an old municipal airport building for a farmer needing lumber. He returned to the scene in the ‘60s on a bulldozer to bury the remains of the runway beneath berms. Smith negotiated on the spot with neighbors about the height of the mounds until he won their support. Westmoreland Community Center opened its doors in 1967, directly across a parking lot from Jefferson Middle School. It shares the Westmoreland name with a (now closed) elementary school and a housing development – long a source of confusion to callers looking for one or the other or the other. The Westmoreland neighborhood is referenced at least as far back as the 1940s, but its ultimate namesake seems impossible to track down. The Lane County Historical Society theorizes that someone named Westmoreland could have owned land there, but has not been able to establish this as fact. The original name derives from a county in England and means “west of the moors.” Bethel School District 52 donated the land on Echo Hollow Drive between Willamette High and Cascade Middle schools for Echo Hollow Pool. Completed in 1969, the Olympic-size pool is a half-indoor, half-outdoor facility. Construction of the final building at Amazon Village Com59
munity Center was delayed until 1973 because of higher-thanexpected costs for the other centers and financial complications arising from the city’s acquisition of Laurelwood Golf Course. The center is named for the park. As for the naming of the park, the August 8, 1955, City Council meeting minutes present this cryptically redundant entry: “After discussion on this matter, it was the recommendation of the (Health and Recreation) committee that ‘Amazon Park’ be called ‘AMAZON PARK.’” This appears to be an official ratification of the name already informally used for this park development near Amazon Creek. As for the name of the creek itself, Lewis McArthur’s estimable Oregon Geographic Names calls Amazon Creek “a small creek with a big name” but can’t say why that’s so, except to offer someone’s suggestion that it was simply because the stream tended to flood very wide in imitation of its South American namesake.
Innovations in Staffing A “redshirt” season for a University of Oregon quarterback would prove beneficial to more than the football team. Doug Post earned his four-year degree by 1964 and used his fifth year of athletic scholarship to start work on a graduate degree in Parks and Recreation Management. The UO program at that time was highly regarded nationally. Ed Smith sat on the interview panel for Post’s first professional job with the Lane County Youth Project, and in the mid-sixties offered him a position with Eugene Parks and Recreation. Post soon became the assistant recreation superintendent under Pompel, and helped guide the division into the new era of community centers. One of his tasks was to hire Aquatics staff to handle the city’s doubling of pools from two to four. Payments from the public schools, who at that time sent all students to the city for swim lessons, helped make this possible. Like Smith and Pompel, Post would be with the department for three decades. 60
The sudden addition of so many facilities presented a huge challenge to the small Recreation staff. Pompel had seen in Seattle that a center staffed solely by the city’s Rec professionals would be vastly underused, as activities would be limited by the time and skills possessed by those few people. Prior to the 1961 election he suggested to Smith that community members be invited not only to suggest classes but to teach them as well. That way, “The number of programs we can offer is only limited by the number of people in the community who can teach things.” Ed Smith told him, “If the bond issue passes, you’re on the hot seat,” Pompel recalls. When it did, Smith gave the Recreation superintendent the backing to try his idea. “I went ahead with no reins at all,” says Pompel. Eugene proved to be chock full of people willing to share their skills, for a modest pay check, in all manner of recreational activities. [Your author, just to cite an example, Dumpster-dove at lumber mills for wood scraps and cut them into pieces at the Campbell Center shop to teach woodworking to young kids in the late 1980s.] A small fee – five dollars was typical in the early days – was charged more for the purpose of gaining commitment from patrons than for revenue, Pompel says. But the added income did make Recreation programs more self-supporting, less dependent on budget cycles. People didn’t mind paying because the instructors knew their stuff. The idea took off and community center activities burgeoned. Though this concept was simple, it wasn’t being implemented in any other rec department Pompel knew of. “We were the trendsetters for the Northwest.”
Gold! Pompel is not alone in characterizing the late 1960s through the 1970s as a “Golden Age” for Eugene Recreation. Supervisors took responsibility for programming and overseeing the offerings at their own centers. The City Council was supportive, 61
approving the proposed budgets each year. In 1969 recognition came nationally. The Sports Foundation, Inc. named Eugene Parks and Recreation winner of the “Gold Medal Award for Excellence in the Field of Parks and Recreation Management” for a city its size (50,000 –100,000). This was the top honor attainable.
Laurelwood Golf Course Laurelwood golf course opened as an 18 hole private country club in 1929. Around 1958 it was downsized to nine holes and several lots were sold for housing development. In 1965 Eugene District 4 acquired the property, with the idea of building senior and junior high schools on the land. In the meantime the school board leased the golf course to the City of Eugene for $1. Subsequent evaluation proved the property unsuitable for schools and the district needed to unload it. There were no public golf courses in the Eugene area. The city was reluctant to see the 83 acres of wooded land turned into subdivisions and in 1967 made a deal to buy the golf course, lacking only the money to pay for it. The City Council placed a bond measure on the February, 1968, ballot to raise the funds. The city proposed to add a community center to the site, along with picnic areas, playgrounds, tennis courts, a fly-casting lake, ball fields, an outdoor theater, and paths for cycling, walking and running. The measure was rejected at the February 20 election. The city took a mulligan on this and immediately re-submitted the measure in a modified form for the November ballot. City staff speculated that the golf course might be replaced at some future time by other park assets, and released a drawing to illustrate this. In that same November 5 election, Richard Nixon was elevated to the presidency of the United States, and Wayne Morse lost his Senate seat to Robert Packwood. A statewide measure 62
The early years at Laurelwood Golf Course. Photo courtesy of the Lane County Historical Museum.
to limit property taxes was rejected by the voters, to the relief of local governments. In Eugene the bond measure for the Laurelwood purchase squeaked by. The city acquired the golf course and managed it until 1979, when it began to contract the business out to private operators. In 1986 the city received a permit through the Planned Unit Development process to restore the course to 18 holes, but no developer was ever enlisted to follow through. The Recreation Division oversaw the business contracts from 1992 to 2011, at which time Parks and Open Space took over. Laurelwood remains the only publicly-owned golf course in the metropolitan area.
Recreation Specializes A 1949-1950 booklet published by the city to recognize “A Century of Progress” includes two photographs taken at Washington Park captioned, in the awkward terminology of the times, “Crippled Children Enjoy Painting … and Play Croquet.” It appears that Eugene Recreation staff was providing some services 63
to people with disabilities as far back as that, but there was no formal framework for this until 1969, when Pamela Earle began the Specialized Recreation program. The University of Oregon had at that time an excellent Special Education program which recognized its clients’ needs for recreation. Specialized Rec was a site-less operation at first, with no regular facility for activities, but would soon grow into one of Eugene Recreation’s most respected programs.
Cruising the Gut It would be remiss, probably, to discuss recreation in Eugene without at least a mention of “The Gut,” a mainstay recreational venue for Eugene’s teens and young adults for years. “Cruising The Gut” originated in the ‘50s, when the American love affair with the automobile blossomed and gas was cheap. Cars full of young revelers drove bumper-to-bumper up Willamette Street from around 6th as far as the A&W stand on 29th, and then made their way back to the start to do it again, and again, and again. The heyday decade for The Gut was the 60s, after which changes to downtown and the closure of Willamette Street portions to traffic curtailed some of the appeal. Still, the tradition resurfaced to a degree sufficient enough to prompt the City Council to pass an “anti-cruising” ordinance in 1988, the final knockout punch to The Gut. Times have changed such that the current (2014) controversy about Willamette Street involves travel corridors for bicycles and pedestrians.
Chapter 5 1970s –Growth Continues A Time of Turmoil The decade of the ‘70s had a difficult opening year. On May 4, 1970, four students were shot and killed by National Guard soldiers during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University in Ohio, and in August dissenters at the University of Wisconsin blew up a math building, killing a graduate student. The University of Oregon escaped any protest-related deaths that year but the campus and city were rocked by student occupation of an administration building, attacks on ROTC facilities and the detonation of several bombs. In traffic-related activism, students blocked off East 13th Avenue with barricades – a closure which eventually became official and permanent. In 1971 Eugene voters passed a public policy advisory calling for total withdrawal of American troops from Southeast Asia. President Nixon got the message two years later and did just that, then withdrew himself from office in 1974 as a result of the Watergate burglary and cover-up. The ‘70s was a time of gasoline shortages, leading Eugene’s Outdoor Program to warn, “All programs dependent on fuel are subject to cancellation or revision, if adequate supplies are not available.” The Population of Eugene in 1970 was 79,028.
Voter Priorities From 1970 through 1972 the city placed nine levies on the ballot for general operating expenses; only three were passed by the voters. In November of 1972 a bond measure to raise funds specifically for Parks and Recreation passed easily, however, while the voters rejected a bond to create a housing development fund and another for an auditorium and convention center.
Summer Playground Program – Not Just for Kids The 1971 summer playground program took place at six city parks and six school playgrounds. Interestingly, there were times in the afternoons set aside for adult arts and activities, and the program also offered activities for teens and adults each evening from 7:00 – 8:30.
Acronym from Space In the early 1970s the Outdoor Program offered something called TASWORC, The All School Weekend Outdoor Recreation Course. It was an overnight program for 5th graders in both the Eugene and Bethel school districts.
“Hippies” Drop In, Drop Out Residents in the Amazon Park area complained about “hippies” smoking marijuana and misbehaving in the park in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The alleged miscreants proved to be a group of local teens hanging out with little to do, and claiming that any harassment was coming from the neighbors. In summer of 1969 the city established two drop-in teen centers at sites in Amazon and Skinner Butte parks. They did not last long, reportedly because the youths felt little commitment to the program. 66
Recreation Reaches Out The last building to open at Amazon Village in 1973 was dedicated to youth outreach and a more structured teen program was established. Teens could make use of its snack bar, job referral service, recreation equipment and drop-in times. The S.C.O.R.E. program at Westmoreland (Serving the Community and Offering Recreational Experiences) offered similar services, including community volunteer opportunities. The Youth Lounge had its own phone number. Youth program supervisors were added to Eugene’s community centers in 1973. Perusal of a randomly selected Recreation Guide – for fall of 1974 - shows that Amazon, Westmoreland and Sheldon Centers offered more than 200 recreation classes that term. The B’s included Banjo, Bread Baking, Bike Repair, Belly Dancing and (above water) Basket Weaving. This count does not include activities offered by the Outdoor Program, Specialized Recreation, Campbell or Kaufman Senior Centers, Athletics or any of the three pools. Fees for the vast majority of classes were $10 or less. Westmoreland’s “Football Clinic for the Uninformed” cost $1. Opening day of registration saw long lines queued up to fill out forms (in those pre-computer days) before classes filled up. The Bethel Community School program also listed activities in the city guide, including “Rent-a-Kid,” through which one could borrow a middle-schooler to perform odd jobs. The following year in Bethel, city Athletics opened up Shasta Bellfield jointly with School District 52. By the late 1970s the free summer playground program was at a peak. Bonnie Beck, taking over as the Westmoreland Center supervisor in 1978, remembers overseeing activities at 22 different parks and school sites the following summer.
Spec Rec Grows Up Fast During that same time period the Specialized Recreation program ran many of its indoor sessions at Westmoreland Community Center. The program was heavy on outdoor activities, including day camp at Camp Wilani and overnight outings. Later, changes in federal overtime laws compelled the program to cede the overnight activities to private agencies. Eugene Spec Rec worked closely with other organizations such as the Pearl Buck sheltered workshop. No one else in the region was providing similar services and the staff once drove into British Columbia to visit and learn from Canadian programs. One idea they came back with was the need for “integration” of patrons with disabilities into activities used by the general population, whenever achievable. In future years this policy would become a national standard, under the name “inclusion.” It wasn’t long before Eugene’s was the program that people were traveling to see, and college interns came from all over the country to learn from the staff. Specialized Recreation was headquartered at the Washington Park Center in 1976. Eugene was a finalist for the 1980 National Recreation and Parks Association Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Specialized Recreation.
arrangement at Sheldon High. (Such a pool has not yet been built.)
Sawdust at Skinner Butte Campbell Senior Center continued to be a place where the patrons drove the programming. “It wasn’t just quilting. It wasn’t just Bingo. People wanted to keep learning,” says retired program supervisor Jeanne Seward-Wallberg. “It was their center.” Campbell Center had a small woodworking shop in the main building. Volunteer shop manager Jim Fortt of the Men’s Club envisioned a larger, better equipped shop building and went after this goal with English (by birth) bulldog tenacity. He enlisted the help of many parties, going so far as to perch himself on the mayor’s desk and declare, “I can sit here all day,” as related by the inimitable Wally Wallberg, long time senior center professional. The shop project was initiated in 1969 and drew contributions
The Big Bubble Jefferson Memorial Pool was enclosed in an inflatable bubble of plasticized fabric in 1974, protecting swimmers from the weather and enabling year-round use. The bubble was paid for by Eugene School District 4 in exchange for nearly three years of free lessons for its students. The school board wanted assurances that this wouldn’t excessively delay plans for a new pool in the Churchill High School and park complex, similar to the 68
Wally Wallberg and Jeanne Seward-Wallberg
from local unions, area building supply companies, the Eugene Water and Electric Board, and even the Marines and Seabees. The shop wing opened in 1973, well-stocked with woodworking machinery, and is still overseen by volunteers from the program. Quilting wasn’t entirely forgotten, though, thanks in part to the Senior Citizens Cultural Arts Festival, sponsored by the Arts in Residence program at Campbell, and initiated in Eugene in 1973. It was described as the first of its kind in the nation. The festival gave seniors the opportunity to share and display skills in five categories: drama, music, visual arts, traditional folk arts and literature. It grew into an annual, statewide festival, running for five or six years.
Trude Kaufman Senior Center In the mid-1930s, clothing shop owner Trude Kaufman fled the persecution of Nazi Germany to the United States, along with her husband Ludwig. The couple came to Eugene on a visit from New York City in 1936. “We loved nature and the surroundings,” she later said. “We loved the people.” They moved to Eugene and set up shop in the clothing business. By the time she sold the business in 1971 there were four local Kaufman Bros. stores (the “Brothers” a holdover from the original name of the business in Europe). Trude Kaufman was then living on Jefferson Street in a 1908 home designed by John Hunzicker, the city’s first licensed architect. She was known for her community involvement and had heard that facilities for older people were needed. When, in her 80s, she was ready to move to smaller living quarters, she offered her home to the city as a senior center in exchange for payments to cover living expenses. The city accepted the offer in 1972, and dedicated the Trude Kaufman Senior Center the next year. It took actual ownership of the home and accompanying annex when Kaufman died at age 86 in 1977. 70
At that time there were 2,500 people over age 55 living within one mile of the Kaufman house. Staff engaged in intensive outreach, focusing on the surrounding 160 block area. Patrons heard speakers, had their blood pressure monitored, and engaged in social activities. The building’s rooms were limited in size and lent themselves more to small social gatherings than large events. Resident staff stayed on the premises. The annex building housed private senior service agencies. Eugene Recreation ran the Kaufman Center until 1997. According to Doug Post, then the Recreation superintendent, neighborhood demographics had changed, and the building’s access problems made it a difficult venue for seniors. (The main program area was above street level and reachable for many patrons only by lift.) It was passage of the property tax Measures 47 and 50 (to be discussed later) that actually forced the closure. The city has since leased out the center to private organizations. Cascade Health Solutions provided senior services there until the end of 2010. During periods of vacancy the building did not fare well, falling victim to vandalism and, once, a fire. It was frequented by homeless people and called an attractive nuisance by neighbors. In 2013 Oregon State University Extension Services began leasing the facility. Among its services has been to reestablish a 4H program for youth in Lane County. The building was designated a local historical landmark in 2003.
Petersen Barn The day after President Kennedy was killed in 1963, tragedy also struck a Eugene family. Philip Petersen, 17, was an honor student at Willamette High School as well as a star quarterback, basketball point guard, baseball player and pole-vaulter. A duck-hunting expedition with friends on Fern Ridge Reservoir cost him his life to drowning when the boys’ canoe tipped. Philip’s parents owned land in the Bethel area and, in 1967, sold 71
Petersen Barn Community Center during early ‘90s expansion
11 acres to the city for a park to be named Petersen Park in their son’s memory. In the ‘70s the city brought to Petersen Park a concept imported from Great Britain called the “Adventure Playground,” which then-supervisor Shelley Briggs still calls, “My favorite of everything.” Tim Patrick – later to assume many roles with Recreation, including Youth and Family Services manager – was hired through a community schools grant as a youth worker and assigned to oversee the adventures. Pieces of lumber and old pallets had been hauled to the park so that kids wielding hammers could pull things apart, stack beams and build large imaginative structures without the constraints of building codes. Patrick particularly recalls one memorably doomed three-story tower. The Adventure Playground eventually succumbed to liability concerns. Just east of the original park purchase stood a barn which had 72
been built in 1931-32 and soon afterwards rented out to Wick’s Grade A Dairy. Milking and barn work were done by Wick matriarch Gertie and her children Lester, Wendell and Opell (great names, all). After the Wicks burned out on dairy farming in 1942 the barn was sold several times until it became a warehouse and office for J & T construction in 1965. In 1967 the city purchased the barn and also the land east of it up to Berntzen Road (the latter from Holger and Anna Berntzen themselves). The Active Bethel Citizens (ABC) neighborhood organization successfully called upon the city to convert the old but solid barn into a community center. Architecture students from the U of O worked on design plans, and neighborhood volunteers organized by ABC contributed 404 hours to the renovation. A federal Housing and Urban Development grant paid for local craftsmen to convert a barn built for milk cows and horses into a welcoming neighborhood center. An open house inaugurated Petersen Barn in late 1976 and it was designated as a community center the following spring. The Barn offered a preschool, adult activities (including disco dance – it was the ‘70s) and youth programs, many held at Bethel schools.
Wayne Morse Property Acquired After 24 years in the Senate with a reputation as a principled “maverick,” Wayne Morse passed away in 1974. The City of Eugene was able to purchase his family home and the accompanying land in 1976. This was done with the assistance of federal funds, a partial donation from Mildred Morse, and an intermediary role assumed by the nonprofit Nature Conservancy. The historical park was called the Wayne L. Morse Ranch. In 2008 the name was changed to the Wayne Morse Family Farm.
The River House The city acquired a house on the Willamette River in 1969 when the property was thought needed for a freeway ramp off I-105. After construction plans were altered (see the next section) and a coastal freeway connection was nixed by voters in 1972, the house was spared and became home to the Outdoor Program. Its new name: the River House. A canoe house was constructed soon afterward, with design work again done by UO students of architecture. In the mid ‘70s, canoeing was the most popular Outdoor Program activity. During the early years of the River House the center supervisor filled the sole regular staff position, but for a time four employees were hired through CETA (the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act): an Outdoor Education Specialist, a Bicycle Program Specialist, a Spencer Butte Ranger and a Clean Up Project Aide. The Outdoor Program regretted then that it was unable to fulfill “constant requests” for sailing instruction. “The main objective of the Outdoor Program is to educate beginners,” a document addressing the program’s fee structure states. It was proving a challenge to provide safe transportation and quality instruction at a cost affordable to this target population. To interest women in outdoor adventures, Mel Jackson established L.O.R.E., the Ladies’ Outdoor Recreation and Education group. One participant was Marilyn Kalstadt, who would in the ‘90s and ‘00s return to serve in Jackson’s position as River House manager. After Jackson died in 1998, the River House established a Mel Jackson Award, presented annually to an outstanding member of the staff who passes on his or her appreciation for the outdoors to others in the community. The University of Oregonalso presents a Mel Jackson Leadership Award.
PATHS, PRESERVATION, AND PERFORMANCE The Ridgeline Trail In his memoirs, early Parks and Recreation superintendent Tex Matsler recounts going for a walk with Alton Baker of The Register-Guard and his editor William Tugman. He pointed out the ridgeline running from the city to Spencer Butte. “That green ridge is a beautiful backdrop to this city,” he told them, “a setting thousands of cities would love to have. BUT IT WON’T ALWAYS BE THERE UNLESS THE CITY ACTS NOW TO PRESERVE IT” (caps definitely Matslers). “Fortunately I talked to Ed Smith about it,” he adds. Smith, at that time a landscape architect, began acquiring ridgeline property and continued the cause when he took over the Parks and Recreation directorship. By presenting a persuasive study, Matsler had succeeded in preventing television towers on both Skinner and Spencer Buttes, deflecting their construction to the Blanton Heights area. But city planners feared a future proliferation of antennae on the south ridgeline. Furthermore, the sight of the Ya-Po-Ah high-rise on Skinner Butte gave them nightmares about similar development marring Spencer Butte. Ed Smith concurred. “We didn’t want to see our skyline penetrated with these types of things.” Smith hired a helicopter and surveyed the ridgeline, identifying properties to be acquired as protection against runaway development. Smith recalls that hiking routes to the Spencer Butte summit were the only original trails, but land purchases made between 1970 and 1995 enabled the city to build the Ridgeline Trail system, now designated a National Recreation Trail by the National Park Service. This might be time to introduce a couple of landscape ar75
chitects involved in this and other projects. John Etter, who as a student “found recreation problems to my liking,” joined the city staff in 1969. Louis Kroeck graduated from the U of O and “was going to work one year” with the city when he started in 1972. Both served for 30 years. It was Kroeck who designed the layout of the initial Ridgeline Trail system. Parks bond measures passed in 1998 and 2006 later brought more land under the public umbrella. There are currently about 12 miles of developed trails – some of it open to mountain bikes – and work continues on expansion. A bronze plaque at the Dillard Road-to-Fox Hollow trailhead dedicates the W.R. “Tex” Matsler Ridgeline Trail in honor of his early advocacy.
I-105 and Washington Jefferson Park The I-105 off ramp into West Eugene was originally designed as a solid wall of landfill and freeway from the south bank of the river to 6th Avenue. This would have cut the neighborhood in two and blocked most or all passage near the river. Proposed access roads and ramps would have wiped out the Rose Garden and much parkland. The city sent Ed Smith to Salem numerous times to persuade the state to change the design. He was successful in getting the last part of the interstate raised on columns. The city wished to build a park underneath and alongside the freeway, and was given one week to submit the plan. Landscape architects John Etter, Louis Kroeck and others scrambled to meet the deadline. The result was Washington Jefferson Park, with its covered basketball courts, horseshoe pits and, decades later, skatepark. This intervention by Ed Smith and other city staff prevented what would have been irrevocable damage to the character of the riverfront and neighborhood. Eugene voters did their part for the riverfront in 1972 by stopping the proposed freeway that was planned to take off westward from there. 76
Skateboarding camp at Washington Jefferson Skate Park.
The Riverfront Paths Ruth Bascom was an early chair of the Eugene Bicycling Committee in the 1970s and later a City Council member and mayor. She earned a legacy for spearheading Eugene’s development of a bicycle infrastructure, the crown jewel of which is the path system along the Willamette River. As usual, Ed Smith was assigned the job of acquiring the needed land – valuable riverfront property owned by multiple individuals. He and city manager Hugh McKinley worked with a group of 25 business leaders in an entity called Riverfront Park Development, Inc. Smith cites Maurie Jacobs (furniture), Alton Baker, Jr. (The Register-Guard) and Ehrman Giustina (lumber) as prime movers in this enterprise, as they were in many other civic endeavors. When Smith and his acquisition specialist Walter Haniuk closed deals for purchase, the business leaders used their financial clout
Riverfront bike path, photo courtesy of Jamie Hooper
to buy the land for the corporation. Smith says he had to run around to four different banks to make it work. The land was then donated to the city, which used open space land grants and other resources to square things with the corporation. Most of the riverfront paths were built between 1971 and 1981. Though often called “bike paths” they are really multipleuse features. Louis Kroeck obtained grants for funding, laid out design and managed construction for parts of the system, including the West Bank. Instrumental in system development was Ernie Drapela, another UO Masters graduate who was added to the staff in 1969 as assistant Parks and Recreation director. An avid cyclist himself, Drapela also served with Bascom on the Governor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and helped attain the legislation requiring that 1% of state highway funds be used for bicycle and pedestrian projects. When he left the city 21 years later, The Register-Guard commented, “His fingerprints can be found on Eugene’s nearly 80 miles of off-street bike paths, onstreet bicycle lanes and various designated bicycle routes.” The bike paths now pass through riverside parks named for Alton Baker, Sr. and Maurie Jacobs. Alton Baker Park is part 78
of an acquisition coordinated by Lane County’s Howard Buford that brought more than 500 acres of land into the public domain. It’s noteworthy that 1984 path construction in Maurie Jacobs Park turned up artifacts of the Kalapuya people, not all that far from where these original residents gave Eugene Skinner real estate advice. When the last loop of the 12 mile riverfront path network was completed in 2003, it was dedicated as the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path System. Eugeneans use it. On a sunny day the path is its own flowing river of cyclists, walkers, runners, skaters, stroller-pushers and dog walkers. In the worst gloom and rain, commuters and exercisers still make their way along the vehicle-free routes. The travel rating service TripAdvisor ranks the riverbank path system as the #1 attraction of Eugene.
The Hult Center Another remarkable community achievement got its start in the seventies. While Eugene’s music and performance arts scenes were lively, venues were not always up to task. South Eugene High’s auditorium sweltered during performances of Summer Theater. The largest venue in town was the university’s McArthur Court, whose acoustics were much more suited to amplifying cheers, boos and catcalls than conveying the tones emanating from the sopranos and orchestras booked there. Two ballot measures to build a performing arts center downtown failed, but the third bond levy passed in 1978. City Manager Charles Henry pulled Ed Smith from his usual duties with Parks and Recreation to manage construction of the Hult Center, a formidable assignment, especially with the budget available. (Smith had already been working on an airport remodel and was soon handed the convention center project as well.) Assistant Ernie Drapela assumed the Parks and Recreation director duties in 1979. 79
The Hult Center for the Performing Arts opened on September 24, 1982, with local musician Mason Williams famously arriving from Springfield by canoe in his tuxedo and red high-tops. Having successfully built the center, Smith was asked in 1984 to manage it. His first day on the job marked the beginning of a three night Grateful Dead concert, and, for reasons about which we can only speculate, the Dead’s contract called for payment in cash. Smith managed to scare up $200,000 in unmarked bills.
Track Town USA Sport’s most famous waffle iron came from the kitchen of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman, who used it to create experimental soles for the shoes of his runners, probably ruining breakfast but planting the seed for what would become athletic equipment giant Nike. Bowerman is also credited with bringing the jogging craze to the U.S. from New Zealand. One of his runners, the phenomenal and feisty Steve Prefontaine, helped cement Eugene’s reputation as Track Town USA until his death in a car crash below Hendricks Park in 1975. The memorial marking the site is still a pilgrimage destination for visitors from near and far. Eugene hosted the U.S. Olympic Trials in for an unprecedented three straight Olympics in 1972, 1976 and 1980. Hayward Field, strictly a track and field facility by then, had become the sport’s premiere venue, like football’s Lambeau Field without the frozen tundra, or Yankee Stadium but with nicer fans. The Olympic Trials would return for another cycle in 2008 and then again in 2012 and 2016, fully embraced by the residents of the Eugene Springfield area. Any history of recreation in Eugene needs to take note of running’s rise to local prominence in the 1970s, and how the city responded to the needs of recreational runners.
Pre’s Rock - A memorial at Prefontaine’s crash site.
The Butte to Butte In 1973, 423 runners staged an assault on the summit of Spencer Butte in a one mile event called “Storm the Butte.” The event was tamed the next year into a less environmentally damaging road run, the 10 kilometer “Butte to Butte,” which has endured as Eugene’s signature community run. The July 4th event powers up the lower slopes of Spencer Butte, then cruises down to a finish at the base of Skinner Butte. It is one of those rare athletic contests in which average people can compete in the same event with world-class athletes, since so many track stars live and train in Eugene. [The author recalls multiple world record holder and Olympian Mary Slaney waiting patiently behind him in line to pick up her pre-race packet for the Eugene Celebration run, the only time that morning he was ahead of her.]
The Amazon/Adidas/Rexius trails In 1975 recreation superintendent Dave Pompel was fielding requests for a jogging track in South Eugene. He approached landscape architect John Etter with an idea for Amazon Park and the two set out to make it happen. They consulted with UO track coach Bill Dellinger on the design of one mile and metric loops. The city was willing to provide money for bark chips but none for preparing the surface or laying down the track. Volunteer help was enlisted from members of the running community along with drug store owner John Hirons, who showed up with a tractor. Pompel and Etter worked weekends to coordinate trail construction despite the fact that, “We weren’t runners, we were cyclists,” says Pompel. The Amazon jogging trail proved immediately popular. In 1983 the Amazon track was refurbished under Recreation superintendent Ernie Drapela with funds provided by athletic apparel company Adidas. The path was officially rechristened the Adidas trail, giving that shoe company a public foothold in rival Nike’s birthplace. Jim Hill of local athletic wear company SportHill enlisted wood bark king Rexius Landscape Service to underwrite one more running trail in the 1990s, connecting Amazon Park to the Ridgeline Trail.
Pre’s Trail Returning from European competitions, Steve Prefontaine suggested to local officials that the area needed a dedicated running trail. After Prefontaine’ s death, Lane County worked with the Oregon Track Club and former UO coach Bill Bowerman to plan a bark chip path from Alton Baker Park eastward along the river. Pre’s Trail was built by youth work crews from Lane County and was completed in 1976. It is maintained today by the Oregon Track Club. 82
Running with Rudy Jane Holloway, then youth program supervisor at Westmoreland Community Center, was approached by an Oregon distance runner named Rudy, who wondered if there was a way he could volunteer with kids. And could he bring his friend, Alberto? Holloway set up a class called “Running with Rudy,” and local kids found themselves running the streets and training with big-time track legends Rudy Chapa (UO 1978-81) and Alberto Salazar (UO 1977-1981). Holloway had to fend off requests from adults to join the kids’ class.
Fools’ Run in the Rain Making the best of Eugene’s wet spring weather, Special Recreation director Pam Earle put together a community-wide event, the “Fools’ Run in the Rain,” held by the department on April 1 in the 1980s. Participants were soaked for registration fees that were then applied towards scholarships for low income patrons.
Hershey’s Track and Field Games In the late 1970s the Hershey’s chocolate company began development of a nationwide network of track meets for kids 9-14. Rec administrator Ernie Drapela went east to observe a pilot program. The following year, 1978, Shelley Briggs took on the task of organizing the first Hershey’s Track and Field Games in Eugene, becoming Oregon state chairperson in the process. Tim Patrick joined her in working the meets. Briggs and Patrick, in fact, stuck with the program throughout its 37 year history, both continuing to volunteer after leaving city employment. Briggs was the first, and only two-time, winner of the Hershey’s Founder Award. 83
Recreation program supervisor Kim McManus took over the Eugene coordination role in later years and oversaw an explosion in participation by local youth. Before 2008 about 100 kids per year competed in the meets, she says. Then Eugene Recreation went into direct partnership with both local school districts, conducting multiple meets for 4th and 5th graders. With the Oregon Track Club providing transportation, 2,400 students were participating annually, enough to bring a vice-president from Hershey’s to town to see for himself. The meets required five to eight paid Recreation staff and 30 to 50 volunteers. The 2014 games were the last, however, as Hershey’s discontinued the program.
Weathering the Economic Storms A Bubble Collapses A November storm collapsed the bubble top at the Jefferson Memorial Pool in 1981. The pool had a late reopening in 1982 as an outdoor-only pool, only to close down briefly again in July when a circulation pump failed following a shutdown to repair leaks. The 1948 pool had been deteriorating steadily due to age, chemical corrosion, and lack of funds. Federal money administered by the state for parks and recreation repairs had been cut off. A Register-Guard article from January of 1980 noted that the pool needed to be repaired or replaced at a time when alternating closures of the city’s pools were being discussed as a money-saving strategy. A group called “Citizens for a City Center Pool” formed to try to save Jefferson Pool. Parks and Recreation director Ernie Drapela did not sound optimistic. “In five or 10 years people might look at swimming pools like they look at big cars today. They may be a luxury.” The 1982 summer season was the pool’s last, and it was demolished in 1986. The Fern Ridge bike trail now crosses through that area, which is officially called Jefferson Park. The collapse of the pool bubble presents a handy metaphor for the economic recession that struck Eugene in the 1980s. Eugene had once been known as the “timber capital of the world,” but the last privately owned virgin trees in Oregon were cut in 1955, and by the 1980s the availability of public timber was 85
shrinking. The wood products industry would no longer be the driving economic force for the region. Unemployment soared and Eugene’s poor economic prospects reached a level of national notoriety. It was said around town that a man with a Ph.D. had found work emptying units for Buck’s portable toilet company. With residents, city government and school districts all hurting for money, the Recreation Division felt the pain as well. Staff members were laid off. The youth program supervisors were phased out of the community centers in 1985. In the mid 1980s an original mainstay of Eugene Recreation – the summer playground program – was threatened with closure. The Police Department felt this activity so important it offered to take money from its own budget to keep it going. This never came to pass, but it is uncertain if the summer playground program was ever actually suspended. Some written sources say it was, but staff members from that era believe no summers were missed. It became impossible to offer the same kinds of classes and services as inexpensively as in the past. However Recreation did respond to needs in a number of ways. Both the Eugene and Bethel school districts discontinued sending their students for swim lessons in 1981. The pools tried to reach kids earlier by establishing preschool lessons. Both the pools and the community centers also sought to attract patrons by adding weight and fitness centers, which became popular. Tim Patrick says, “We were instrumental in creating the fitness boom in Eugene” – a city certainly ripe for it as a hub of running and outdoor pursuits. Private fitness centers sprung up around town when it was demonstrated that people would pay to sweat.
Out of the Pink At the Parks and Recreation “Pink Slip Party” no feminine apparel was displayed or sold. It was staff’s way of dealing 86
with the layoff notices that came with the ‘80s recession. Linda Phelps, at the time the Specialized Recreation volunteer coordinator, recalls it almost with fondness – perhaps because her own “pink slip” was later rescinded and she was able to keep a position and help the program grow. Specialized Recreation found it possible to maintain most of its activities and initiate some new ones, such as the Junior Wheelchair Sports Jamboree. Another program from that time, still going strong today, is Alpine Adventures, which pairs volunteers with patrons for downhill skiing. A water-fest at Fern Ridge Lake introduced people to sports such as water skiing and sailing, and a support group for stroke survivors was developed. When Pam Earle departed in the late ‘80s, Linda Phelps became the Specialized Recreation manager.
Camp Stories Center supervisor Bonnie Beck recalls that federal revenue sharing funds were lost in the ‘80s, increasing the pressure for programs to generate income. Seasonal lulls in scheduling had led to a fall-off in booked classes, but the city responded to the revenue gap by resuming year-round programming of all fee classes to maximize return, she says. A summer day camp for a fee was offered at Westmoreland Community Center, which included an overnight with kids and their leaders curled up in their bedding on the park lawn. The sleepover came to a surprise end in the dark morning hours when the sprinkler system geysered among the sleeping bags, and wet campers scurried inside the center to call for premature rides home. The Wayne Morse Ranch presented an opportunity for a permanent summer day camp site. Jane Holloway recalls that the former Morse residence itself was off-limits to kids, but a space underneath the house was used as an equipment headquarters at first. In 1982 an open-sided pavilion was built for the campers’ 87
use and the Wayne Morse camp became a recurring summer fixture. The camp is currently overseen by Amazon Center.
Day Care Programs An after-school day care program was started at Petersen Barn in 1982 under the name C.A.R.E.S. (Children’s AfterSchool Recreation Experience Services), and included a second site at Danebo Elementary School. Child care brought in revenue to the division, and in the following years C.A.R.E.S. after-school programs came to the Amazon, Westmoreland and Sheldon centers.
River House on Land and Water Chuck Solin had taken a climbing class in the 1960s and met Mel Jackson, then working out of City Hall as the Outdoor Program supervisor. “What should I do to get a job like yours?” Solin asked him. Jackson told him there was no realistic career path to such a position. Solin went into another line of work, but later began contracting as an outdoor leader for the River House, mostly for the fun of it. Jackson had by then moved to a position at the university and the Outdoor Program supervisor was Ross Hudson. When Hudson resigned, Solin ended up in Jackson’s old position after all. Programming was predominantly adult-oriented at that time, but Solin felt that the city’s philosophy was different from that of commercial outfitters. “We weren’t there just to give people the experience; we were there to give people the skills to do these things on their own.” Solin himself had to acquire some of the skills, as he had previously specialized in land-based sports but now had to get his feet wetter in water sport instruction. The River House, like the other community centers, was no
longer able to offer activities for a few bucks, as subsidies from the city had greatly decreased. “That was a major, major shift,” says Solin. When programmer Roger Bailey joined the Outdoor Program in 1986, the offerings were still geared primarily towards adults. Activities such as sailing, climbing, cross country skiing and bike excursions on the San Juan Islands brought in income. Through an arrangement with the Oregon Association of Rowing, the city helped build a rowing facility on Dexter Lake. There were a handful of youth-oriented activities, such as Romper Raft trips for day campers. Services were also provided to Specialized Recreation patrons through a relationship with Mobility International USA, or MIUSA. At that time an additional River House responsibility was management of Eugene’s community gardens.
Senior Advisory Board at Campbell Rita Kingsbury, the admiring New York City student of two decades past, was hired at Campbell Senior Center in 1983, and her first task was to create a Senior Advisory Board to increase patron input into policies and activities. This was a busy period for Campbell Center, with every room in the building booked all day. Kingsbury characterizes this as a time of “incredible allegiance” to the center by participants, which helped with volunteer recruitment and donations. People of quite advanced age continued to go on outdoor adventures – cross-country skiing, hiking, rafting, etc. (sometimes over the objections of their adult children!). Each Monday the center hosted a meeting of a professional association of retirees, such as educators, federal employees, railroad workers and the American Association of Retired Persons. The annual Holiday Bazaar had by then been established as a major event, and has since been responsible for raising thousands of dollars to support the Campbell Center.
The Barn Goes Solo Petersen Barn also had a senior program by the ‘80s, and a twice-widowed patron approached supervisor Yvaughn Tompkins about starting a “Seniors Without Partners” potluck. The idea caught on quickly. In 1986 the monthly event changed its name to the Solos potluck and had a call list of 178 single seniors.
Kidsports Back in 1953 a man named Bill Bennett helped found the Eugene Boys Basketball Association for 5th and 6th graders, saying, “The real value of this is not winning championships – that’s always fun, of course – but the true value is in giving the youngster the opportunity to learn the principles of fair competition, of playing the game.” The association, using volunteer coaches, soon expanded to include baseball as the Eugene Boys Athletic Association, and then added football in 1960, making it a year-round program. Its first full-time staff member, Ralph Myers, who took the job as a college student and served for nearly 40 years, oversaw the program’s change to Eugene Sports Program in 1974 when it opened up to girls’ sports. That year ESP received its first subsidy from the City of Eugene - $40,000. Primary funding continued to come from fees, donations and sponsorships. In 1978 ESP, by then serving thousands of youth participants, opened its current offices on land leased in Westmoreland Park. The organization reached out to encompass Springfield and the larger metropolitan area in the late 1980s. It made its last name change in 1989 when it became Emerald Kidsports, but maintained its original defining philosophy of “Everybody plays.” Myers told The Register-Guard in 1991, “We’ve tried to operate as a three-way marriage with the school district and city 90
providing facilities, the association providing the organization, and the business community providing most of the funding.” It’s a model which Kidsports officials have not seen operating in any other Oregon communities, where leagues for this age are usually run by public parks and recreation. Eugene Recreation has regularly provided Kidsports with scholarship funding for participants.
Destination Point In the mid ‘80s Eugene Recreation staff took the lead role in the city’s Destination Point program, managing budgets for events such as the annual Eugene Celebration, the Pro Rodeo, university track meets, and the Community Arts program. Destination Point worked with the Lane County Convention and Visitors Bureau to strengthen and promote Eugene’s potential as a tourist destination.
PARCS A major departmental reorganization occurred in 1987, combining Parks and Recreation with the Hult Center and other arts services such as the Cuthbert Amphitheater in Alton Baker Park. The new merged department was called Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, or PARCS for short. Ed Smith was named overall executive manager with Ernie Drapela retaining the title of Parks and Recreation director. In other administrative shifts, Dave Pompel moved from the Recreation superintendent job to a position in budget management and Dick Morgan came over from Parks to do a stint as the Rec superintendent. Doug Post had gone to Parks for a few years (where he initiated Eugene’s off-leash dog parks) but then returned to Recreation as its next superintendent.
The Emerald Ropes Challenge Course Through a partnership between the City of Eugene and the Emerald Valley Resort and Golf Course, the Emerald Ropes Challenge Course was built on the resort’s property near Creswell. The facility was designed to “provide the opportunity to gain lifelong interpersonal skills and increased awareness of oneself and others,” according to the brochure. The Outdoor Program managed and staffed the course, which opened in 1989.
Disc Golf Tees Off That same year Ernie Drapela was contacted by a UO student who told him the city needed a disc golf program. Dave Battaglia had left behind a six year career as a recreation supervisor in California to earn a teaching degree, but found no place in Eugene to play this new sport. Drapela was intrigued enough for the department to sign a memorandum of agreement with Battaglia, allowing him to study park sites for a possible course. Westmoreland Park was selected and approved, and Battaglia set about designing a nine-hole course as a volunteer. The city installed posts and Battaglia affixed metal sheaths as targets. The Westmoreland course opened in summer of 1988. The Eugene Celebration tournament organized that year became a longrunning event. Battaglia returned to California with his teaching degree but continued to field long-distance calls for advice about the course he designed. He came back to Eugene and obtained a position as assistant Athletics director with Recreation in 1991. Now on city staff, he was able to find money to buy the baskets and signs the Westmoreland course lacked.
The Nineties Bring More Challenges Hilyard Community Center In 1990 the federal government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, mandating accessibility standards for public buildings. In an irony that was not appreciated, Specialized Recreation had been operating in a facility unlikely to meet the new requirements. “I was so frustrated with the inaccessibility of Washington Park,” says Linda Phelps, “Everything about it screamed ‘second class citizens.’” Phelps began working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and coordinated with other agencies to present the need to the City Council. HUD came through with a grant, and the ubiquitous John Etter from Facilities was able to find enough unspent capital from other projects, plus some money from systems development charges, to make a new center possible. A search for city-owned land determined that a field on Hilyard Street north of the pool and community center at Amazon was the best location. Spec Rec staff brought its patrons into the planning process to fine-tune the facility’s features. At one point a group of staff and users was stumped by a traffic-flow problem involving the main hall and kitchen. The blind patron in the group took a literal hands-on approach to the situation with a tactile study of the architect’s three-dimensional model. She saw the solution the others missed, and her suggestion to flip the kitchen around eliminated the problem. 93
Campbell Center Expands A major expansion and renovation of the Campbell Senior Center was made possible in 1990 by a Community Block Grant, the center’s own trust fund, and money-raising efforts by participants. Rita Kingsbury, by then the center supervisor, told The Register-Guard, “The most touching thing was the people who live in low-income housing who send in $5 a month. We’ve got hundreds of those.” Wally Wallberg briefly set aside his gerontology background to take up nautical engineering, and the 1990s saw the launch of his “catacanoe, “ a twin-hulled watercraft promising stability for those with mobility limitations or a general distrust of tippy canoes. In one demonstration of seaworthiness, four paddlers provided propulsion while four passengers sat on chairs around a central table to play a canoe-borne card game (“Go Fish,” one has to hope). In the upcoming years Kingsbury sensed a change in patrons’ use of the center. Interest in programs became more specific,
Alpine Adventure Ski Program - Airborne!
Hilyard Community Center, an award-winning building, opened in 1990. Among the staff moving in was Molly Elliott, who had floated in a boat as a kid through that very park area when the mighty Amazon flooded its banks, and in her teen years used to jump the fence after dark to swim in the pool next door. Elliott worked in Eugene’s Adaptive Rec program for 31 years, winning a Meritorious Award from the National Therapeutic Recreation Society in 2006. 94
The legendary catacanoe with card players at seats and table.
often focusing on continuing education, such as the learning of languages. Travel became more popular than ever. Seniors began to see that the future of communication between family members was electronic, notes Jeanne Seward-Wallberg, and computer education came into demand. Initially, two instructors brought their own equipment from home to teach technology skills. In 1999 a room used for sewing and quilting supplies was converted to a computer lab.
First Skate Bowl “We were all very timid then,” acknowledges landscape architect John Etter about staff concerns in designing the Amazon skatepark. Still, they invited skateboarding youth to help shape the bowl, and reached agreement on a layout kids could accept that didn’t induce excessive fear in the adults. Eugene’s first skatepark was completed in 1991. At that time a Task Team was formed to look around the city for locations of additional skate parks to meet the growing needs. The Skate Park Task Team identified Washington Jefferson Park as a potential location.
Measure 5 and Eugene Decisions In 1990 Oregon voters passed Measure 5, cutting and limiting property taxes. The measure was rejected locally but applied statewide. Eugene city government responded by commissioning an 18-month, $350,000 study to determine an economic course of action. Tim Patrick describes Eugene Decisions as, “probably the most noteworthy community conversation that ever occurred” in Eugene. An outside consultant led several rounds of polling by mail and telephone to establish resident spending priorities. Unfortunately for Recreation, believe Patrick and others, Eugene Decisions did not look at the problem as
a “shrinking pie” whose slices would need reduction, but rather attempted to stack services in a hierarchy so that cuts would fall hardest on certain departments. Recreation caught the brunt of the blow. A July 26, 1992, Register-Guard article headed “Austerity Catches up with Parks Programs” anticipated the effects Measure 5 and Eugene Decisions would have on Recreation programs. (The Register-Guard rather carelessly refers to Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services as simply “the parks department” throughout the article.) “From ball fields to playgrounds to some of the city’s more popular recreation programs, the city parks department is feeling the pinch of years of tight budgets,” the paper reported. A 1987 survey found the rate of participation in Recreation programs by Eugeneans to be well above the national average, the article said. Furthermore, 98% of participants reported being satisfied with the programs. However when asked by Eugene Decisions to rank how the city should spend money, respondents ranked Recreation programs low, with the exceptions of services to seniors and patrons with disabilities. Should the City Council act on that advice, the paper said, it would cause further deterioration of facilities and programs which had already suffered from a decade of dwindling funds. Ed Smith, who had retired in 1991 from his position as executive manager of PARCS, told the newspaper, “Things haven’t been upgraded at all. It’s ridiculous. All the community centers are way outdated. I don’t know how much longer we can BandAid it together.” The reporter went on to say, “In the 1960s and ‘70s the city was among the first in the nation to open community centers in the neighborhoods, build a bike path network and create an urban hiking trail through the city’s south hills.” However, “The Eugene parks department is viewed by some park professionals as less innovative, less responsive to new trends in recreation 97
and less adept at responding to the needs of low income residents.” In regards to that last point, Smith expressed the same concern. He observed that the families most likely to use Eugene Recreation services now seemed to be the same people with the resources to spend money at Hoodoo Ski Bowl or other more expensive venues. It was shown that income from Recreation fees increased 115% from 1982 to 1991, but attendance dropped 21%. A decade of fee increases accounted for the higher money intake. However, “Low income families use pools, community centers and other recreation facilities significantly less than their middle class counterparts,” according to the newspaper. The fact that the percentage of Eugeneans living below the poverty level jumped from 17 to 28% between 1989 and 1990 did not bode well for reversing this trend. Recreation superintendent Doug Post expected that the next year would bring more scholarship requests. The Register-Guard reported that Eugene had issued only $7,700 in scholarship aid to low income participants in 1991-1992. Post hoped to be able to increase the scholarship pool to $20,000. Records do not indicate that this goal was reached that year, but in 1993-1994 the city distributed $31,347 in Recreation scholarships. By fiscal year 1996 scholarships (including some from other sources) increased to $57,629, which represented a high point not again reached until 2004. The City Council used the Eugene Decisions data to establish fee recovery targets for Recreation programs, adding to the challenge of offering widely affordable programs.
ferently.” Some suggestions would eventually be enacted, such as remodeling Amazon as a 50 meter pool and developing a volunteer coordinator position. A few showed how desperate the staff felt the economic situation was likely to become. There was a proposal to convert two of the community centers into jails and use the rent from the county to improve the others. Another suggestion was to budget $5,000 to enter the lotteries in all states. Tongues may have been in cheeks. Perhaps no suggestion was as frightening as the one to sponsor an international karaoke festival.
PARCS Becomes LRCS Following the departure of Ernie Drapela for Bend in 1990 and retirement of Ed Smith the next year, Robert Schutz served temporarily as the executive director of PARCS. Then everything changed. In May of 1992 city manager Mike Gleason announced that Parks services would be removed from its association with Recreation and Cultural Services to merge instead with Public Works, for the purpose of economic efficiency. Several months later Library services were put under the same umbrella with Recreation and Culture. Jim Johnson came from his position as Lane County administrator in December to become the first director of LRCS, the Library, Recreation and Cultural Services Department. The split from Parks was difficult for many employees of Recreation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the average Eugenean still refers to “Parks and Recreation” as an entity. In 2001 park services were reconfigured again into the Parks and Open Space Division under Public Works.
At an all-staff Recreation Division workshop in July of 1992, participants were asked to brainstorm ideas of “doing things dif98
Recreation Gets CLASS Registration for Recreation’s many classes and activities was processed with a system of individual file cards for many years. “Back then, registration was hell,” reminisces former program supervisor Lori Kievith. The Outdoor Program scheduled a specific registration night when people lined up to compete for popular activities. Recreation employees marched or were dragged into the computer age in 1994 when registrations and payments were digitalized into a system called CLASS purchased by the city. CLASS made possible new levels of accounting and report writing – and some inevitable frustration (at least for the techchallenged and inexperienced). CLASS was used for the next 20 years, but the provider has indicated it will no longer support the program, so a change in registration technology is on the horizon.
Athletics in the Early Nineties The city started Oregon’s first public Ultimate Frisbee league in 1992. It grew quickly and reached a size of more than 50 teams by 2000. Current Athletics supervisor Dave Battaglia says there has always been a registered team from the university law school. And yes, it’s true, “They argue all the time.” In 1995 the city conducted a feasibility study regarding construction of an indoor soccer and multi-use facility in Rasor Park. Battaglia felt it would have been a revenue maker for Recreation. Neighborhood opposition proved too much to overcome, however. Instead, Recreation worked out an agreement to use a building at the Lane County Fairgrounds for soccer and skateboarding. The contract wasn’t renewed when it expired after three years. By then a soccer facility nearly identical to one Eugene proposed had been built in Springfield.
KidCity Adventures A visit to Amazon Center by the Eugene 4J school superintendent emphasized the need for child care felt by families with kindergartners. Jane Holloway cites this as the impetus for opening more child care sites within the schools and adding morning sessions for all grades K through 5. The C.A.R.E.S. program was renamed KidCity Adventures, in part because “City” Recreation was felt to be a trusted brand among patrons, says Holloway. KCA programs required the hiring and supervision of many temporary employees. The city’s wholesale entry into the child care field made clear the necessity for strict background screening of all Recreation hires working with kids.
Aquatics Youth Development Margie Zerr knows something about youth development through aquatics. She began using Sheldon Pool in the early ‘80s at age seven, swam on the Sheldon High swim team, trained to be a lifeguard and now works for the Aquatics program as a Recreation office coordinator. She makes note of the pools’ efforts in the mid-nineties to teach skills and responsibility to 11– 14 year old youth through the Junior Aquatics program. These young volunteers assisted with swim lessons until they were ready and old enough to become lifeguards. Older teens also often volunteered as instructors until lifeguard training became available.
A New Tack for the Outdoor Program The Outdoor Program shifted in the direction of providing more youth services, including services to low-income youth. Eugene Decisions had mandated increased prices for its adult programs. This enabled some internal subsidy of youth activities. The River House also entered into partnerships with nonprofit organizations so that costs could be assumed by those agencies rather than the individual families. Examples of this include a contract to provide services to Looking Glass Adolescent Recovery Program youth starting in 1991called the Eagles Passage Wilderness Adventure. The River House also created recreational programs for youth in low income housing as arranged though the Housing Authority in 1993. Roger Bailey feels the Outdoor Program was homing in on its mission, the idea that, “You can use outdoor skills to build life-long life skills.” An example of this idea at work is the Challenge Course, which was about to undergo a change.
ATHENA’s Rafting Trip on the Rogue River
The Spencer Butte Challenge Course The Emerald Ropes Challenge Course had its drawbacks, including its location in Creswell, and Recreation staff began scouting Eugene parks for a new site on city land. Spencer Butte 103
was selected, with landscape architect John Etter evaluating the location. The Spencer Butte Challenge Course opened in May of 1995, complete with greatly improved high and low element challenges. The Challenge Course has been heavily booked with youth and adult groups as well as staffs from City of Eugene departments, community agencies and businesses.
School Enrichment Program School District 4J entered into a School Enrichment Program agreement with the city in 1994. The S.E.P. coordinators programmed activities for elementary and middle school kids using Recreation’s resources for registration and publicity. Paid by the district, they sometimes had part-time offices in the community centers and worked closely with Recreation staff. The program ran for seven years, although the number of S.E.P. coordinators dropped steeply by the end.
Service Growth Although there was no funding to construct new facilities, the Recreation Division under Doug Post built up services into the mid-nineties. The weight rooms, water fitness and aerobics classes attracted many adults. Well-known at Sheldon Community Center were the “Coffee Ladies,” who followed up their long-established Slimnastics class with caffeine-fueled talk sessions. At Amazon Center patrons impatiently pressed their faces to the windows at 5:45 a.m., eager for the fitness center to open. Now a program supervisor, former preschooler Tylar Merrill took over administration of Amazon’s preschool and KCA day care. Supervised teen programs at Sheldon Pool gave young people opportunities for weight training and water play. A teen
weight program was also initiated at Amazon along with other new middle-school activities. Teens came to Sheldon to play drop-in games and participate in Teen Council, slumber parties, late night basketball, dances, drama (the theatre kind) and the Outdoor Extremes adventure camp. Child care expanded at all the centers. Sheldon, which began with one C.A.R.E.S. class in 1989, now had three KidCity Adventures classrooms and several sites at neighborhood schools. “It was booming,” remembers program supervisor Lori Kievith. At Westmoreland, center supervisor Bonnie Beck found money in the budget to serve the building’s ever-present middle school population for little or nothing in the way of fees. Club West offered daily activities, trips and adult leadership for that age group. The loud tradition of middle school dances continued. Other age groups at Westmoreland were served by KCA, teen drop-in and adult fitness activities. The center oversaw the summer playground program, now called Summer Kids in the Park, or SKIP. Washington Park Center had its own program supervisor and was busy with preschool, kindergarten KCA, after-school classes and a series of chamber music concerts. To accommodate and expand this growth in classes and programs, Recreation created four new youth program supervisor positions and hired several additional staff members in other roles. This was in fall of 1996.
Chapter 8 A GLIMPSE OF EXTINCTION Measure 47 Measure 47 was the asteroid whose impact nearly wiped out Eugene’s Recreation Division. In November of 1996, this citizen-initiated “cut and cap” legislation changed the tax structure to further cut property taxes. It also required that any future property tax increases be approved by “super” or “double” majority, that is, a majority of registered voters, not just voters at the polls. Most voters in Eugene and Lane County disapproved but were outvoted statewide. City councilor Tim Laue foresaw tough choices for Eugene: “It’s going to be difficult because at some level the issue comes down to the livability of our community.” In April of 1997 new city manager Vicki Elmer, two months into the position, announced her preferred scenario for meeting the reduced budget. The Register Guard reported, “The single largest savings would come from closing or privatizing dozens of recreation programs, from pools and community centers to adult softball leagues. Virtually all recreation services would be eliminated or shifted to private companies or non-profit groups.” Elmer acknowledged, “They are award-winning and nationally known programs. They are programs that are a bit of Camelot for this community, and they will not be easy for the citizens to lose.” She further told The Register-Guard, “I think we did a better job of preserving public safety than in preserving the spirit of Eugene.”
It was proposed that the city continue to own the pools and community centers but money be saved by turning the staffing over to local non-profits, whose employee expenses would be much lower, enabling them to recover costs through fees and donations without public subsidy. This seemed an unlikely outcome for the Specialized Recreation program, it was conceded. Carole Patterson of Mobility International-USA told The Register-Guard, “Hilyard’ s programs are really a shining star because they have been fueling changes all over the world,” and couldn’t be provided at a low cost-per-person. The City Council Committee on Measure 47 adopted the city manager’s preferred recommendation, with the exception of sparing programs for people with disabilities and outdoor programs for at-risk youth. “The plan would gut the city’s Library, Recreation and Cultural Services Department,” said The Register-Guard. LRCS executive director Jim Johnson saw the possibility as real. “Because of Measure 47, to chop the head off of Recreation and say, ‘This is the way we are going to do it,’ is definitely the (painful) way to go about it, but you may have to do that, that is the reality.” (Register-Guard, 4/8/1997) Some Eugene residents were unwilling to accept this outcome. The Council was greeted by nearly 50 placard-waving demonstrators at its April 23rd meeting, and more than three dozen people spoke against the proposed cuts during the session.
Measure 50 There was hope for the division in the May, 1997, election. The city placed a serial levy on the ballot which would restore many of the lost funds. In addition, the state legislature had revised Measure 47 to eliminate some of its technical problems and slightly mitigate its budgetary effects. That measure was assigned #50, and it passed. The Eugene levy also received a 107
majority of Yes votes, but, because Measure 50 retained the “supermajority” mandate, the results didn’t count: fewer than 50% of those registered had voted on it. Measure 50 did restore some money to the city, however, and an increase in local construction also generated unanticipated revenue. Because LRCS had been targeted for the worst of the cuts, the Council applied much of the restored funding to the department. Recreation avoided the fate of the triceratops, but reductions were still substantial. The Kaufman Center was closed. The senior program at Petersen Barn was reduced to half-time, while other Barn activities, including the pre-school, were eliminated. The other community centers came close to being “mothballed,” but remained open, at least for the time being, with reduced services. Adult programs at the centers were largely eliminated, except within Specialized Recreation and the Outdoor Program. The weight and fitness centers at Amazon and Westmoreland were dismantled. KCA after-school care was phased out everywhere but at Sheldon. At least five program supervisor positions were reduced to one, which was assigned to Westmoreland Center for a teen program that was funded for about a year. Even with the addition of outside sources the total scholarship money awarded by Recreation shrank to $29,452 in fiscal year 1998. A wholesale reduction of staff eliminated not only the newlycreated positions but many belonging to long-time employees and managers, some with two and three decades of service. Reflecting reality, the city changed the category of “permanent” (as opposed to “temporary”) employees to “regular.” There was another “Pink Slip Party” among the many goodbye gatherings. In early 1998 Recreation director Doug Post was laid off into early retirement. That position was for a time left empty, then filled by Linda Phelps from Specialized Recreation. She recognized that the division would need to strengthen its relationships with community partners more than ever.
The Road Back In 1995 the City Council adopted as a goal an increase in youth program support as a matter of prevention and public safety. The concern was magnified in May of 1998 when a teen at nearby Thurston High School shot 27 students, two fatally, after killing his parents. The mass student shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado soon followed. Sheldon Community Center experienced a frightening lockdown and evacuation because of an armed student at the high school. In 1998 the Council directed Recreation to make youth services a top priority. Because of the funding cuts imposed after Measure 47/50, however, new or surviving programs often had to rely on outside partnerships or money sources other than the existing Recreation budget.
BASH Bethel School District 52 underwrote the Bethel After School Happenings program for middle and elementary school students, beginning in 1997. BASH activities were coordinated by Eugene Recreation staff – a Bethel school parent – and based out of Petersen Barn. The activities were free to the students.
Teen Court Also in the Bethel neighborhood, a community task force including representatives of the Bethel school district, Eugene Police, the Bethel Village Family Center (then housed at Petersen Barn), and the Eugene Community Partnership met with the Lane County Department of Youth Services about establishing a peer court for neighborhood youth. Temporary grant funding was obtained in 1997. Eugene Recreation provided an office 109
Youth kayak group Teen Court at Petersen Barn, photo by Chris Pontrelli
at Petersen Barn and a program supervisor to develop Bethel Teen Court and train youth volunteers to conduct hearings. In this voluntary diversion program, qualifying youth offenders are assigned restorative consequences by a jury of neighborhood peers. When the original grant expired, Recreation absorbed Teen Court into the ongoing budget, supplemented for several years with federal block grant money passed through the county. At the request of Churchill High staff and Police, a second program, West Eugene Teen Court, was added in 1999. Eugene Teen Court members won four consecutive United Way of Lane County Youth Volunteer of the Year awards from 2008 through 2011.
Outdoor Program Partnerships The River House continued to establish partnerships to provide outdoor recreational opportunities to youth. Relationships were drawn up in 1998 with Options Counseling, Looking Glass,
Bethel Outdoor School and Home Source home school services. With a grant from HACSA (Housing and Community Service Agency), the LEAD (Leadership, Education, Adventure, Direction) program was established in 1998 for underserved youth. LEAD later became a non-profit that continued for several years with some subsidy from the city.
Summit Summer With a goal of providing positive recreation opportunities for the many homeless and runaway youths on the streets of Eugene, a partnership was formed between the city of Eugene and Looking Glass youth services in summer of 1998. Summit Summer Recreation staff programmed activities at the Lane County Fairgrounds with a drop-in site at Westmoreland Community Center. Registration for classes and activities were open to all youth, but some scholarships and transportation was made available to the street kids.
Amazon Arts At Amazon Community Center, facility manager Sandy Shaffer compensated for the minimal staff and budget by contracting with Maude Kerns Arts Center and the University of Oregon to offer summer camps and classes in creative and performing arts. A Shakespeare group arranged to perform in the park using only nonprofessional community actors. A darkroom was added, and Amazon took on the primary identity of an arts center. In addition the university and WISTEC (Science Factory) offered science camps. With the goal of making Amazon a true center for the community, Shaffer says she learned to say â€œyesâ€? whenever possible to community groups who wished to use the building. Eighteen user groups booked 1,100 hours of facility time in 2000. Shaffer also partnered with other agencies to bring in the Seattle-based Institute for Community Leadership, which engaged youth through poetry in personal and social awareness and the principles of nonviolence.
Fun For All In summer of 1999 the city followed up the Summit Summer program with a more decentralized approach. The new program, called Fun For All, included the existing free Summer Kids in the Park (SKIP) program. These activities took place at 10 dispersed sites, many with wading pools. But the program also targeted an older population with the addition of new partners and services. The Outdoor Program offered free half-day adventures in rafting, canoeing, rock climbing and Challenge Course, plus a backpacking trip. The Institute for Community Leadership and Maude Kerns Art Center ran sessions. Looking Glass New Roads school offered academic programs for street youth. Food for Lane County distributed lunches at park sites. 112
Fun For All Program, photo by Chris Pontrelli
Limited mental health services were made available for highrisk youth. Fun For All has continued each summer since then, but primarily in the form of the summer playground program, discontinuing the SKIP name. It has been coordinated from Petersen Barn.
Westmoreland Center Leased Out In 1999 the city moved all staff and services out of Westmoreland Community Center. The facility was leased to the Emerald Valley Boys and Girls Club for $1 a year and the non-profit agency began offering its membership-based programs to youth at that site. Recreation contributes some funding to the organization. 113
Water Shortage A successful 1998 bond measure provided money for a complete makeover of Amazon Pool. Illustrating that the needs went beyond this renovation, The Register-Guard ran an article on May 31, 1999, on the paucity of public pool availability in Eugene. “There’s simply not enough space for the demand,” said Aquatics Director Doug Smith. Sheldon Pool had activities booked from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. in an attempt to find time for the many users. A UO professor and avid swimmer maintained that, “We’re not even close” to having enough pool time and space. He noted that Jefferson Pool closed in 1982, “And we haven’t built since. We were keeping up with the growth fairly well until the time Echo Hollow Pool was built and that was it. No more construction for 30 years.” In the same 1999 article, Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey expressed concern for the safety of children growing up in a community with two major rivers, especially with the schools no longer providing swim lessons. “I think we are doing our children a disservice.” Torrey believed an answer to this problem would need to be found in the next few years. LRCS director Jim Johnson thought a modern aquatics park could generate year-round revenue. “I would love for the city of Eugene to build a centrally located theme pool, maybe downtown, close to the new library. People would pay $5 to go to that.” Johnson’s vision of a pool near the library would be fulfilled in a bizarre way when demolition of the old Sears building in 2005 left a notorious water-filled “pit” at exactly that location for seven years.
Recreation Starts the 21ST Century 2000 and Beyond At the turn of the millennium Eugene acquired a national reputation of sorts as an incubator for anarchists, with social protests targeting economic disparity and environmental degradation. The “Y2K” crisis never materialized; computers worldwide rolled over the three zeros without shutting down civilization. HAL did not destroy us in 2001. However, very real terrorists darkened the national mood with the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The country entered into its longest wars, fighting in two different countries. Once again combat veterans returned to the community in large numbers with needs and challenges. Mismanagement and malfeasance in the country’s financial markets, along with bursting bubbles in technology and housing, fueled a sharply downward economic turn, called by some the Great Recession. Unemployment remained high for more than a decade and local governments struggled to provide services. While the road was at times bumpy, Eugene Recreation stayed active in the community, perhaps to an unprecedented degree, assisted at times by the voters, grants and partners.
Amazon Pool’s Renewal The Amazon Pool renovation of 2001 more than doubled the summer facility’s capacity from 535 to 1,100. In addition to
Amazon Pool in the Summertime, photo by Chris Pontrelli
increasing the pool’s size to a 50 meter length, the makeover included installation of three diving boards, a 5 meter diving platform, a 112 foot water slide, a spa, a water play area, and other features that brought it into the realm of a modern water park. Doug Smith grew up swimming at Amazon pool as a kid in 1960, and started employment there the day after his college graduation. He’d worked his way up through the years from lifeguard to Aquatics director, and the Amazon rebirth fulfilled his “career goal” for the facility. The new pool was so popular in its first summer that the city added six weeks to the originally scheduled season of operation. Amazon pool went on to win a “Best Aquatic Facility Design” award from the Oregon Recreation and Parks Association.
Athletics for Young and Not The UO Ducks decided to try playing football on natural 116
grass at Autzen Stadium, and the local high school teams were once again ejected from the playing field out of concern for turf damage. The 1998 bond measure provided the city with money for athletic fields, and a partnership was worked out with Eugene School District 4J to pool resources and build artificial turf playing fields at each of the district’s four high schools. These opened in 2000, and are used jointly under a contract administered by Eugene Athletics. The same process enabled construction of skate parks at Churchill High and Cal Young Middle schools. The Bethel skatepark followed in 2002. Eugene Athletics offered adults opportunities to stay active in organized competitive sports longer into life. In 2000 Athletics started both coed and men’s soccer leagues for players over 35, which proved immediately popular. A basketball league for men over 40 was added in 2003, allowing players past their prime to sprain ankles against opponents their own age.
A New Chapter for the Library Eugene opened a then-new library on 13th and Olive Street in 1959. By the 1980s it was already too small for Eugene’s rapidly-growing, book-worming population. Several proposals to replace it were shot down over the years, but in 1999 passage of a four year serial levy enabled construction of a modern, fourstory library on 10th Avenue downtown. The building earned praise for its design and opened in December of 2001. The library was planned with future expansion in mind so areas of the upper floors are filled for the present with other city services. Recreation Administration offices had an itinerant history, bouncing between the old City Hall, the new City Hall, “City Hall Two” on Pearl Street, an office on High Street, Amazon Center, the Atrium on 10th, and the Parcade on Seventh. Recreation offices now took up residence on the library’s third floor, along with LRCS administration. 117
ACT-SO At the urging of Angel Jones, who assumed the position of LRCS director in 1999, the department took on a key role in the NAACP’s program for African-American youth: ACT-SO (Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics). Since the early 2000s, Recreation staff has assisted in recruitment of participants and mentors. Rec staff and volunteers coordinate the youths’ culminating performances and displays at the Hult Center. At that event community judges select youths to advance to the national ACT-SO competition. This partnership between Recreation, Cultural Services and the NAACP is ongoing.
Succession Summary Jim Johnson was promoted from his position as Library Recreation and Cultural Services director to city manager in 1998. Terry Smith served as interim LRCS director for 18 months.
Successor Angel Jones held the LRCS executive director position from 1999 to late 2006, initiating an administrative reorganization of the department. She moved up to become assistant, then interim, city manager (replacing Dennis Taylor) before moving to Maryland. Linda Phelps transferred to a position with Police in 2000, Renee Grube from Athletics and Nevin Holly split the Rec superintendent duties until Holly’s departure. Grube retained that position until 2007 when she became LRCS executive director and Sarah Medary took the top Recreation job. Medary moved to the assistant city manager position under new city manager Jon Ruiz in 2008. Craig H. Smith, youth program manager, then became Recreation director, working under LRCS guru Grube. Whew!
Measure 20-37 and the Partnership for Youth In response to a needs assessment the city placed a youth services levy on the ballot in 2000. Strongly promoted by Mayor Jim Torre, Measure 20-37 was passed by the voters and provided two-year funding to meet identified service gaps for youth. The city sought proposals from schools, youth organizations and social service agencies for fund distribution. This resulted in a 15 agency agreement called the Partnership for Youth, which made service to low-income kids one of its priorities. Among its many programs was the Five A’s project (Arts, Athletics, Academics, Activities and Action). Eugene Recreation played a direct role in Five A’s by providing after-school activities for eight middle and 23 elementary schools, plus Outdoor Program adventures and education. Summer Fun For All at 10 parks – five with wading pools - was also funded from this levy.
NAACP’s program for African-American youth. Photo by Chris Pontrelli.
staffed after-school activities at middle and elementary schools. When the original grant and BEST expired, Eugene District 4J obtained renewed 21st Century Learning Grant funding and continued the arrangement with Eugene Recreation. Beginning in 2005 the ACE (After-school Community Education) project brought opportunities in arts, sports, outdoors, education and personal development to three economically disadvantaged schools.
Measure 20-67 ‘We Are Bethel Celebration’ in Petersen Park
Weed and Seed - Not a Garden Program In 2001 a five year federal Department of Justice program took up residence at Petersen Barn. The Weed and Seed initiative was designed to prevent crime and “grow” positive programs in low-income neighborhoods such as can be found in Bethel. Weed and Seed funded after-school activities at the Barn and in the schools. It helped develop programs in truancy prevention, domestic violence prevention and mediation for criminal cases. The We Are Bethel celebration in Petersen Park was created by Weed and Seed and continues as an annual community event, coordinated now by Barn staff.
Rec Knows BEST The three metropolitan school districts cooperated in obtaining a 21st Century Learning Grant and developed a program with the concise and apt acronym BEST: Bethel Eugene Springfield Together. BEST then contracted with the City of Eugene and other providers for services. Eugene Recreation created and 120
As Measure 20-37 expired, a second youth levy, 20-67, was placed on the ballot in 2002 to support academic services in local schools and fund recreation services out of class time. Property tax limits had caused schools to reduce or eliminate many services such as music, physical education, counseling, libraries, school nurses and after-school programs. The City of Eugene asked the voters to help restore these programs through city taxes. The majority of voters agreed. Ninety-three percent of the money raised went to 4J and Bethel schools, with seven percent earmarked for direct city Recreation services, including summer Fun For All. The schools in turn employed Eugene Recreation to provide homework help and Rec Zone afterschool activities. In 2006 there were Rec Zone programs in all eight 4J middle schools and one in Bethel serving four schools. The River House Team Adventure program supplemented Rec Zone with outdoor activities. The 20-67 levy ran for four years, as did a court case filed by three men who claimed the measure was an illegal end-around designed to circumvent Measure 5, which capped the amount schools can spend relative to assessed property values. In August of 2006 the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that this was the case. The measure had about run its course by then, but the three plaintiffs got their tax money back. 121
Youth Empowerment and Challenging Acronyms In the mid-2000s Recreation sponsored a variety of empowerment groups for high school students. ATHENA (Amazing Talented Heroines Enjoying Nature and Art) was a peer support group for girls pursuing personal growth doing just what the name says. MOHO (Multicultural Outdoor High-school Opportunities) provided outdoor, cultural, leadership, learning and training opportunities to a diverse group of youth. Y2MIH (Youth 2 Make It Happen) made it happen through creative expression, open mic nights, and production of a music CD. Recreation also formed a partnership with the Oregon Country Fair, which had created “Culture Jam”, a week long camp encouraging youth to explore creative modes of self-expression.
Fitness Initiatives Concerns about youth fitness and obesity resulted in grants promoting healthy activities. Around 2004 a Federal Department of Education Grant called Project Rising Expectations or PRE (an acronym especially appropriate to Eugene!) provided money for construction of climbing walls in Eugene District 4J schools, which Recreation staff then programmed. In 2005 the school district received a Physical Education Program or PEP grant and contracted with the city to program in the middle schools. Recreation staff led activities in rock climbing, sports, gym games, dance and visual arts. This funding ran until 2012.
Outdoor Program in the 21st Century Youth outdoor services now greatly outnumber adult programs at the River House, comprising about 70% of activities, estimates program supervisor Roger Bailey. Sailing, snowshoeing, kayaking and the Challenge Course remain strong adult 122
Family kayaking on the Willamette River, photo by Chris Pontrelli.
draws, but other outdoor program providers in the community have assumed a larger share of adult business. Bailey believes, however, that adult programming remains very important to the Outdoor Program, not only as a revenue generator but because its presence raises the quality of the overall program and instruction. Eugene’s Outdoor Program has earned a reputation for teaching excellence, Bailey says, because it has been able to hire “world class instructors,” some of whom move through the program – often returning to it seasonally – and go on to establish other programs across the country or engage in epic worldwide 123
adventures. He promotes finding and developing these “outrageous” instructors so they can share their skills with the community.
Community Centers, Child Care, Camps Amazon Center revived its preschool program in the late 2000s and offers a number of additional classes for that age group. Sheldon Center, Petersen Barn, the River House and Amazon continue to present a mix of camps each summer. Sheldon currently operates the only remaining KidCity Adventures afterschool child care programs, with sessions both on-site and in two schools, plus three classes of pre-school. Since the passage of Measures 47/50, KCA programs are expected to be 100% fee supported. Sheldon Center is aiming to attract a constituency beyond kids in care, however, with more adult classes offered and community events scheduled, such as the free Family Fit Fridays. A reliably popular Outdoor Program summer activity is its Four R’s Camp – Ropes/Rock/Ride/Raft for middle school youth. For younger kids the Full Moon Rising camp combines environmental education and outdoor adventures. Petersen Barn’s popular preschool was reopened three years after the Measure 47/50 shutdown. Dance classes have a faithful following, from ballet to belly to hip hop. The center serves some of the city’s lowest-income areas, so efforts are made to offer low or no-cost programs. These would include the First Friday Free Family Fun Nights, middle school Club Bethel, teen music events and the We Are Bethel celebration. The Barn also coordinates the free summer Fun For All program, currently at seven sites, mostly in lower income neighborhoods, as well as the city-wide Movies in the Park. Eugene Recreation underwrites the 4th through 8th grade track program in the Bethel schools. 124
EPAL Carl Stubbs of Eugene Police heard about a past after-school program run by Police in the Bethel district and wanted to try something again. He considered the question, “How can we make an impact on the young people of the community with limited resources?” In 2007 Sergeant Stubbs asked Recreation for assistance in getting a Eugene Police Activity League summer camp off the ground. Recreation staff helped plan and lead activities in the early going. In succeeding years the police have operated their annual week-long camp primarily with officers and volunteers, including some teens. The goal is to build relationships based on character principles. EPAL camp brings in partners such as Track City, the Eugene Emeralds baseball organization and Food for Lane County. Outdoor Program staff still takes the lead at the Challenge Course.
Changes at the Pools Echo Hollow Pool had lacked a community area but was able to add a classroom, along with a hot tub, in the early 2000s. The upstairs, which had been the site of a boxing ring in the 1980s, became an aerobics floor and the weight training equipment was also moved upstairs. A balky bulkhead divider forced a change in the summer pool configuration. Rather than opening into a single long pool for the season, Echo Hollow now remains divided into an indoor and outdoor pool. A benefit to this is the ability to schedule more activities at the same time. The pool is open year round. Mindful of the water hazards facing kids in the community, Eugene Aquatics now promotes a third grade water safety program, arranging with schools to present information on the use of life jackets and safe behavior in emergency situations.
In 2003 the U.S. Water Fitness Association named Sheldon Pool as having the “Top Parks and Recreation Water Fitness Program in America.” At the present time Sheldon Pool hosts the Sheldon High swim team while Echo Hollow hosts the teams from Willamette, Churchill, Marist and Junction City high schools. The PEP grant enabled a Summer Swim and Water Polo league to start at all three pools. Sheldon Pool, however, endured two significant closures, one in 2010 for seismic upgrades and another in 2012 to repair serious leaks. Eugene Aquatics made a major change in its swim lesson curriculum in 2013. The staff let go of the previously used Red Cross course and developed its own program and manual for swimming instruction.
Wading Pools, Spray Parks The summer playground program has historically made use of park wading pools to cool off younger kids. However changes in the state health laws in 2009 pulled the plug on wading pools. In that year the Washington Park Spray Play feature was opened with financial assistance from the Eugene Parks Foundation, enabling kids to frolic in clean EWEB water. Other parks with Spray Play as of 2014 are Fairmount, Oakmont and Skinner Butte River Play.
You’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat In 2003 Mel Mann, program supervisor at Campbell Center, announced purchase of a 16-person canoe, 29 feet in length, christened the “Spirit of Eugene.” (Note: Trip leaders like to keep the passenger list at a dozen.) This was one reflection of an increase in outdoor activities at the center, in part designed to interest members of the “boomer” generation newly eligible for senior discounts. 126
The Spirit of Eugene Canoe
Current program supervisor Tom Powers comments that people now entering retirement age typically do not perceive themselves to be seniors. In fact, the “Senior” designation has been removed from Campbell Center’s name in the Recreation Guide and in the phone greeting. (“Meadows” and “Village” have over time disappeared from the Sheldon and Amazon center names as well.) With some participants in their 50s and others more than 100 years old, Campbell Center has to meet the needs and interests of a population spanning nearly 50 years in age range – including instances of three generations in one family. The generational differences are not only physical and cultural but increasingly technological, Powers observes.
Barnies News The first Monday senior speaker event at Petersen Barn has changed its name from Solos to the Barnies Potluck and is now open to couples. Consistently popular senior classes include painting in several different media and fitness activities such as 127
Tai Chi and Chair Yoga. The senior program still sponsors an annual family event in the park, Touch-a-Truck, at which kids get to crawl into large vehicles of every variety (and blow the horns, to the delight of the neighborhood).
Olympic Trials and the Starting Block Eugene civic leaders including Angel Jones set out to win the Olympic track and field trials back to Eugene for 2008. They succeeded with the aid of a video emphasizing the history and atmosphere at Hayward Field. In the meantime the University of Oregon track offices called the city in 2006 wanting someone to create activities for kids at home meets. Sheldon KCA supervisor Kim McManus and other Recreation staff answered the call and put together Kid Zone “mini events” at Hayward Field. When the Olympic Trials came to town two years later, Recreation was prepared with a lineup of activities both inside and
Kid Zone “Mini Events” at Hayward Field, photo by Chris Pontrelli.
outside the stadium. Nike provided funds to equip The Starting Block youth track activities as well as the Personal Best youth camp for at-risk high school teens. The “I’m a Track Fan” booth outfitted fans with buttons (going on 70,000 of them by 2012). Massive numbers of volunteers drawn from city staff and the community made the programs possible. Eugene Adaptive Recreation provided its expertise to ensure accessibility for all those in attendance and, between qualifying heats, presented exhibitions on the field featuring competitors with disabilities.
Cultural Competence, Diversity, Equity Self-assessment in the areas of cultural competence, diversity and equity is always tricky but those who believe that the Recreation Division has been a leader within the city organization probably make a fair point. Recreation was the first division to provide training in cultural competence to temporary employees, according to former equity and human rights manager Raquel Wells. Because Recreation hires more temporary staff than other divisions (for summer playground, camps, child care, after-school programs, etc.), it has many opportunities to bring in staff that reflect the diversity of the community, and often achieves good success in doing so, at least at that level of employment. “Recreation is leaned on heavily by a wide variety of city departments to facilitate their goals” in this regard, points out program supervisor Peter Chavannes. Recreation staff members often step up to conduct the city-wide trainings in diversity and cultural competence. Lorna Flormoe, a planner with Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement, also believes Recreation and LRCS are ahead of most other city departments in diversity awareness but cautions that this is still a step removed from achievement of equity. Ethnic minorities and people with disabilities are often 129
people also at socio-economic disadvantage, she notes. Recreation is currently serving more low-income youth than was possible when most classes were pay-to-play and needed to recover costs, but fees for some programs still present a barrier to many families. Adaptive (formerly Specialized) Recreation provides many services to people experiencing disabilities, and the division works hard to implement inclusion in all programs. Sponsorship of ACT-SO by Recreation and Cultural Services helps bring achievement opportunities to African-American youth. Amazon Community Center has hosted the LGBTQ Youth Group youth since 1997 for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. When the Hynix (Hyundai) plant operated in Eugene from 1995 to 2008 the community saw an influx of South Korean families, particularly in the Sheldon area. The community center there enrolled many Korean kids in its preschool and offered classes in English for the parents at the same time. KidCity Adventures staff received training in Korean culture. In the Teen Court programs of West Eugene and Bethel, Latino youth have always taken strong leadership roles and contributed to program inclusivity and equity. The fastest growing regional ethnic group is, of course, Spanish-speaking. Recreation has gone from having Englishonly literature to offering Spanish versions of many brochures, signs and documents. The summer Movies in the Park always includes a selection shown in Spanish. The number of bilingual staff in Recreation has increased. Still, it is not unusual in the 2010s for there to be no bilingual staff available for on-the-spot assistance of a Spanish-speaking visitor or caller to a community center or pool. This narrative isn’t intended to be an evaluation of Recreation’s success in dealing with issues of diversity, cultural competence and equity. It is only a sampling of some steps the division has taken to address these matters in recent years. One 130
of those efforts was its participation the 2012 LRCS Inclusivity Assessment. The department enlisted the Community Planning Workshop (University of Oregon) to survey residents about their use or non-use of Library, Recreation and Cultural Services. Surveys were distributed online and through an in-person “intercept” strategy at various events and locations. There was also a Latino outreach approach using Spanish-speaking interviewers and questionnaires in Spanish. In addition a series of targeted conversations was held with residents of Asian descent. The Department then responded to the recommendations identified in the results of the assessment.
Disc Golf at Alton Baker Park The Athletics staff had long looked at Alton Baker Park as a great site for an 18-hole disc golf course. Following the passage of Measures 47/50, the City Council directed that Athletics programs be entirely self-supporting, and Dave Battaglia believed a pay-to-play course would succeed. A field trip to Corvallis gave insight into a functioning operation. The Alton Baker course was designed, approved, and finally opened in April of 2013. It is currently operated by a private contractor who, growing up as a Jefferson Middle School student, learned disc golf at the Westmoreland course and became an expert at the sport. Note: The rumor that a covert disc golf course exists today in the Laurelwood rough is true – sort of. The Eugene Disc Golf Club warns on its web site, “This is an extremely renegade disc golf course in thick brush … Make sure to take a local guide or you will get lost.”
Adaptive Recreation “When I came here it was like coming to coach the Yankees,” marvels Andy Fernandez, who arrived in 2006 to be manager 131
of the Adaptive Recreation program, whose name had recently been changed from Specialized Recreation. Fernandez had met members of the staff at national trainings and knew of Eugene’s reputation in the field for quality and innovation. Eugene staff had played a role in the development of national standards for inclusion practices. New awards include an Organization Citation in 2006 from the National Parks and Recreation Association, an Arts for All programming award from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Association in 2007, and a Fitness Leadership Award from the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, also in 2007. In 2008 Eugene hosted the National Institute on Recreation Inclusion, and in 2010 a University of North Carolina-Greensboro study on inclusion best practices recognized City of Eugene Recreation as a model program. In that same year Hilyard Center received two “Let’s All Play” grants from the National Inclusion Project Foundation. Most Adaptive Rec staff members are certified recreational therapists. Although the University of Oregon no longer has a Therapeutic Recreation program, the number of student interns has actually increased. Therapeutic Rec programs from around the country send interns to Hilyard Center, as does the UO’s Family and Human Services program. Around 2012 the Hilyard program became a U.S. Paralympics sports club.
The Eugene Parks Foundation Former LRCS director Terry Smith got together with thencity manager Jim Johnson to help create the Eugene Parks Foundation in September of 2004. Smith, a current board member and former EPF president, sees Recreation and Parks facing a different financial situation than existed in past city history. His budget studies show that city departments were once funded by separate levies rather than out of a general fund. This meant 132
Rec programs did not have to compete with budget items such as public safety for the same pot of money. Also, civic leaders such as those who served on the Eugene Recreation Commission played a much larger role in supporting Recreation funding and Parks purchases. He believes that the Recreation Commission was disbanded, perhaps in the early ‘90s, when the city closed out a number of commissions in a move towards simplification. As a nonprofit organization the Eugene Parks Foundation can take on some unmet needs for both Parks and Recreation. Projects it has helped to fund include Adaptive Rec sports programs for veterans, the Outdoor Program’s Full Moon Rising camp, and the WJ Skatepark + Urban Plaza. The EPF currently has office space at the Washington Park center, where it can look out the window and see the Spray Play feature it paid for. The city population served by Eugene Recreation was estimated in 2014 as 168,000.
Coping with Shortfalls Eugene city government withstood the recession into the 2010s in better shape than many other local governments, but shortfalls eventually loomed. City Manager Jon Ruiz borrowed an idea from the wartime days of first city manager Deane Seeger - a “victory garden” approach - and encouraged city staff to find ways to economize while maintaining services to the public. Significant cuts in programs were avoided for several years through efficiencies and sacrifices. However in 2013 it was determined that a new source of revenue was necessary or a number of services would be eliminated. The City Council placed a measure on the May ballot asking people to impose a household fee to keep all services operating. Mayor Kitty Piercy came out strongly in favor. The public was given specific information about reductions to be made if the fee failed. These reductions were spread throughout city government, but the proposed cuts 133
for Recreation included closure of Sheldon Pool, elimination of Teen Court and other service cutbacks. As usual, swim team participants turned out in force before the City Council to advocate for the pool. This time the councilors also heard from seniors who said the pool provided them with much-needed social interaction. Supporters of other programs spoke out as well. It was apparent that, regardless of people’s opinions about the ballot measure, virtually no one wanted to see the endangered city services lost. In a reversal, the City Council majority turned against the measure before the election and urged the voters to reject it, which they did. The city pieced together funding from reserves and one-time sources to keep programs operating until more stable funding could be found
WJ Skatepark The space beneath the I-105 freeway had been saved for public use by Parks and Recreation staff in the ‘70s, but Washington Jefferson Park over time became an isolated site attracting illegal activities. Meanwhile, skateboard enthusiasts in Eugene were desirous of a first-class all-weather skate park and in 2004 submitted a petition with 1,700 signatures towards that goal. This idea had actually been on the city’s mind since the ‘90s, and in 2005 Parks and Open Space initiated a plan to turn part of the I-105 shadow into a skatepark. Over the following years about $2.5 million was put together from city funds, grants, and the efforts of citizens from Skaters for Eugene Skate parks. Representatives from Recreation served with the safety committee and design workshops. Working with lead landscape architect Emily Proudfoot and Parks city staff, Dreamland Skateparks built the new WJ Skatepark + Urban Plaza. Five public workshops were held to get design input. The result was the largest lighted and covered skate 134
Washington Jefferson Skate Park’s ribbon feature
facility in the country, with features inspired by classic skating lore. The surrounding sub-freeway area received an upgrade in amenities and aesthetics to make it an attractive site for special events. The first special event was the official grand opening in June of 2014. Skateboard instructors from the River House immediately scheduled lessons and competitions to begin there that summer. Colette Ramirez was involved throughout the process in her previous job with the Outdoor Program and current position as LRCS community events manager. She comments, “It’s great that it’s a revitalization of the park and activation of an underutilized area for legitimate users.” Or, as she also puts it, “It’s awesome!”
A Broader and Deeper View “We’re more than clipboards and whistles,” is one way section manager Sandy Shaffer summarizes Eugene Recreation’s development, both in its mission and in its perception by the larger community. In the early 2000s the Youth and Family Services staff adopted the Search Institute’s “40 Developmental Assets” approach in all community centers and programs. Research shows that providing youth with “external” assets and helping them develop “internal” assets correlates strongly with 135
success in life. Other research verifies that what we call “play” has positive ramifications for the human brain. “When you engage people in playing, they’re engaging different parts of their brain,” says Shaffer, and the developmental benefits apply to adults as well as to children. Challenge Course director Robert Brack has passed along his brain-based learning studies to other staff and sees Eugene Recreation becoming more intentional in its programming and teaching. On a wall inside the River House is a new plaque created from local oak wood and Willamette River stones. The inscription is in Hawaiian: Ma ka hana ka’ike – The learning is in the doing. Lori Kievith, now director of finance and administration for Planning and Development, came away from a 2014 presentation by the Lane Livability Consortium with this message: Recreation is economic development. People, including those look-
Mark Lewis, the creator of The American School of Wizardry.
ing to start or locate businesses, care a lot about the nature of the community they choose to be their home. The availability and quality of recreational opportunities can make the difference in that choice, the speakers emphasized. Sandy Shaffer cites, as another economic benefit, Recreation’s success in equipping Eugene’s young people with basic workplace skills. The role of Recreation in prevention of delinquency, crime and social ills has become more sophisticated than the old “keeping kids off the streets” mantra. Schools, law enforcement and social agencies often seek the expertise and resources Eugene Recreation has to offer. “Now we’re at the table for everything,” says Shaffer. “We think it’s an essential service.” She believes the ongoing budget struggle has helped in one way, “It forced us to be way more articulate in presenting this.” LRCS executive director Rene Grube is developing a new Recreation and Cultural Services marketing team for just this purpose, aware that communication methods have changed and proliferated. Making use of new media, though, is a consideration secondary to having an effective message. “We’ve always told people what we do, and to a degree how we do it,” she says. “Now we want to make sure people understand why.” Recreation Director Craig H. Smith acknowledges that the Recreation Division went through times when it felt expendable. But he feels that it is recognized in the current climate as integral to the fabric of the community, both by the public and by government leadership. The city organization regards Recreation as an essential service to its residents, and wants to provide it well. There can be challenges in meeting expectations that would seem to work against each other – maintaining high cost-recovery while providing services accessible to all, regardless of income or abilities - but Smith believes the balance is attainable. “You’re challenged to do things more creatively and more efficiently.” While the case can certainly be made that Eugene’s physical 137
facilities haven’t kept up with the times and population growth, Smith believes that the essence of Recreation is not about buildings. “It’s more about our connections with individuals and our community partners.” People who go into the field of Recreation increasingly do so, he says, because of a passion for improving the lives of others, for building relationships, for achieving gains towards social equity. When Recreation Director Smith talks to the summer youth services staff for camps and playgrounds – many of them still quite youthful themselves – he makes sure they know they are part of a larger city organization and community effort. He reminds them that they carry forward a legacy that goes back to the early history of Eugene, such as wartime 1945, when adults and youths together - prominent politicians, city staff, students, regular residents and families – all worked to bring summer activities to the city’s kids. They succeeded, he says, because they had one thing in common, “a shared mission to make Eugene a better place.”
Skateboard camps rock!
APPENDIX Chronology of Significant Events Eugene Recreation History 1846 1862 1905 1914 1920s 1927 1938 1946 1947 1947 1948 1950s 1951 1954 1957 1960 1961 1962
Eugene Skinner arrives Eugene becomes a city Thomas Hendricks donates land for a Park Bond Measure passes that creates Skinner Butte Park Camping shelters created along Maury Jacobs Park – later to become Lamb Cottage – 1950s First tax levy for a Recreation & Playground Fund – First Five Person Playground Commission Measure passes to purchase Spencer Butte land Department of Parks and Recreation created within city government Eugene Recreation Commission formed Washington Park Community Center built Jefferson Swimming Pool Opens (Closes in 1982) Parks and Recreation actively partner with 4J School on facilities and development Owen Rose Garden dedicated Hendricks Park Rhododendron Garden dedicated Amazon Swimming Pool built with bond funds The first Parks Levy to fail, but new City Hall passes! Betty Nevin chairs the Park and Recreation Commission and creates the Eugene Parks Study Group Celeste Campbell Senior Center building purchased, moved to current location in 1966
1964 The second City Hall completed 1966 Outdoor Program services begin with Mel Jackson 1966 Bond measure passes for new Recreation facilities 1967 Westmoreland Community Center is built 1968 Laurelwood Golf Course is purchased from 4J School District 1968 Sheldon Community Center and Pool are built 1969 Echo Hollow Pool is built – on property donated by Bethel SD 1969 Specialized Recreation Program is created 1969 Parks and Recreation win the national Gold Medal Award for industry standards 1972 River House Outdoor Program building on Adams Street is acquired 1973 Amazon Community Center Built 1974 Jefferson Pool gets a ‘bubble’ over it for year round swimming 1975 Shasta Ball Fields are built 1976 Petersen Barn is remodeled as a community center (originally built in 1931) 1976 Wayne Morse Farm land purchased 1977 Kaufman Building acquired for Senior Services (originally built in1908) 1978 Eugene Sports Program created for youth sports, became Kidsports in 1989 when it included Springfield 1982 Hult Center opens 1987 PARCS Department is created – Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services 1988 Disc Golf Course at Westmoreland created 1990 Hilyard Community Center built 1990 Shelton McMurphey Johnson House donated to Recreation (originally built in 1888) 1992 Significant department re-structuring sends Parks to Public Works, Recreation to Library and Cultural Services
1995 1997 1999 2000 2001
Spencer Butte Challenge Course built Teen Court Program created in Bethel and West Eugene Emerald Valley Boys and Girls Club created and given the use of Westmoreland Community Center as home 4J School District and city partner on the creation of artificial turf fields to be shared Amazon Pool goes through comprehensive renovation
RECREATION FACILITIES 2014 Community Centers and Pools Amazon Pool Built/opened 1957. Complete renovation 2001, from 1998 bond measure. Outdoor facility, summer only. Celeste Campbell Community Center Opened 1962 in remodeled building of unknown age. Expansions 1966, 1973, 1990. Senior and adult activities. Sheldon Community Center Built/Opened 1967. Funding from 1966 bond measure. Sheldon Pool Built/Opened 1967. Funding from 1966 bond measure. Indoor, year-round facility. Echo Hollow Pool Built/Opened 1969. Funding from 1966 bond measure. Indoor/outdoor year-round facility.
Amazon Community Center Built/Opened 1973. Funding from 1966 bond measure. Petersen Barn Community Center Opened 1976 in remodeled 1932 barn. Slightly expanded in 1990s. River House Opened circa 1972 in remodeled building from the ‘20s or ‘30s. Outdoor program headquarters. Hilyard Community Center Built/Opened 1990. Adaptive Recreation programs.
Other Recreation Holdings Fred Lamb Cottage Built/Opened 1920s as open-sided shelter. Enclosed 1950s. Used for meetings and rented out to groups and community partners, including “Free People,” which distributes lunches to homeless people. Washington Park Center Built/Opened 1948. Summer Fun For All site and host facility for an Adaptive Recreation camp. Office space for Eugene Parks Foundation. Available for rentals. Westmoreland Community Center Built/Opened 1967. Funding from 1966 bond measure. Closed as community center in 1999 and leased to Emerald Valley Boys and Girls Club for $1 annually.
Trude Kaufman Center Acquired 1972. House built 1908. Closed as senior center in 1997. Currently leased to Oregon State University Extension Services. Wayne Morse Family Farm Acquired by city 1976. House built 1936. Pavilion built 1982. Summer day camp site. Historic home available for meetings and rentals. Willamette Wildlife Rehabilitation also occupies a building. Shelton McMurphey Johnson House Acquired by city 1990. Built 1888. Operated by the nonprofit Shelton McMurphey Johnson Associates as a historical site.
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY, READINGS AND RESOURCES Moore, Lucia W., McCornack, Nina W., McReady, Gladys W. The Story of Eugene 1846-1946. Lane County Historical Society, 1949, 1995. Brooks, Cheri and Holt, Kathleen, editors. Eugene 1945-2000, Decisions that Made a Community. City Club of Eugene, 2000.
Turley, Gary. “Everybody Plays: Parks and Recreation.”
Metzler, Ken. “Crosswinds on the Butte.”
Camozzi, Rosemary Howe and Thompson, David. “Of Mayors, Councilors and Managers: Eugene’s Government.”
Van Landingham, John. “Betty Niven: The Mother of Modern Planning in Eugene”
“Eugene@150.” The Register-Guard, September 30, 2012.
Campbell, Brett. “Venues and Visionaries.”
Numerous Register-Guard articles.
Webber, Nancy. “Enterprise in the Wild West.”
Numerous internal and public City of Eugene documents.
Willams, Kimber. “Communities Within.”
Elms, Arlan. “A History of Eugene Parks and Recreation Department.” Unpublished, 1972. Matsler, William Riley Dub. “My Life as I Recall It.” Unpublished, 1998. Lawrence, Henry W. “A Natural Landscape History of Eugene.” Lane County Historian, Volume 26, #1, Spring, 1981. Blackford, James M. “History of Eugene Rhododendron Society and Hendricks Park.” Journal American Rhododendron Society, Volume 22, #2, April, 1968. Blakely, Joe R. Eugene’s Civic Stadium, From Muddy Football Games to Professional Baseball. Crane Dance Publications, 2009. Frei, Terry. March 1939, Before the Madness. Taylor Trade Publishing, 2014 Campbell Center Staff. Campbell Senior Center – Pioneering the Way for Senior Centers in the Pacific Northwest. City of Eugene, 2002.
Former and current City of Eugene employees who gave time to answer questions: Doug Smith, Josh Lutje, Dave Pompel, Doug Post, Tim Patrick, Ed Smith, Adam Bertrand (Kidsports), Lorna Flormoe, Linda Phelps, Sandy Shaffer, Raquel Wells, Bonnie Beck, Dave Battaglia, Jeanne Seward-Wallberg, Gene Thurman (S.E.P. staff), Jane Holloway, Carrie Matsushita, Yvaughn Tomkins, Rita Kingsbury, Lori Kievith, Roger Bailey, Peter Chavannes, Colette Ramirez, Margie Zerr, Andy Fernandez, Kim McManus, Aimee Goglia, Renee Grube, John Etter, Gina Tafoya, Louis Kroeck, Kenya Luvert, Patty Prather, Sgt. Carl Stubbs, Janet Whitty, Craig H. Smith, Molly Elliott, Chuck Solin, Shelley Briggs, Tylar Merrill and, of course, Wally Wallberg.
About the Author In 1986 Bruce Steinmetz rode his bicycle into Eugene and discovered a place he would like to stay and live. He found work in the Recreation Division in a variety of capacities and locations, but his most prominent impact on the community was delivered when he was hired to create and manage the Bethel and West Eugene Teen Courts from their beginning in 1997 until he retired in 2013. Bruce continues to bike around town and volunteer at various Recreation activities.
City of Eugene. Eugene Area Historic Context Statement 1996. City of Eugene. A Century of Progress, Eugene, Oregon. 1950.