A sunken park in Astoria across the street from the Blue Scorcher Bakery underwent a dramatic transformation last year.
Tidal Rock, home to a historic marker used by mariners, was one of a handful of underused or neglected parks adopted by residents who were concerned the city would sell the land. They decided to take on the care and maintenance of the parks themselves.
Now, a year later, the parks appear to be thriving, said Jonah Dart-McLean, the parks maintenance supervisor.
At the time the adoption agreements were formalized, city councilors hoped they would alleviate some of the burden of caring for acres and acres of parkland .
It’s too early to say for sure if all the park adoptions will be a success, or if this is the solution to long-term maintenance at the parks. But, overall, Dart-McLean said, it’s been great.
The Clatsop County Master Gardeners have established a garden at Alderbrook Park. The Friends of Birch Field and Park in Alderbrook offered community events last summer. The tiny Post Office Park on 15th Street remains trimmed and well-kept.
“All the groups — there’s such a wide variety in their capacity — but they’ve all been successful,” Dart-McLean said.
The only new park adoption since the slew that occurred in early and mid-2018 is the agreement with the Scandinavian Heritage Association to develop a park celebrating Scandinavian history at Peoples’ Park off Marine Drive downtown .
The parks department is not actively pursuing more park adoptions. Dart-McLean and Tim Williams, the new parks director, believe park adoptions could continue to be a useful tool, but the department will need to be strategic in matching the right project with the right people.
“It definitely is a nice way to get the community engaged,” Williams said.
One agreement that now has a proven track record is the park adoption for Tidal Rock the city recently renewed with Jessica Schleif, a gardener, artist and Parks Advisory Board member.
Schleif was one of three artists who adopted Tidal Rock last year after securing a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The little park became a nexus for volunteers who helped cut back blackberries and plant native plants. Schleif, with artists Brenda Harper and Agnes Field, hosted events in a portion of the park they found served well as a sort of natural amphitheater.
Schleif hopes to continue welcoming people down into the park. She plans to hold monthly work parties beginning in April, but people can just come to share food and conversation. Her focus will shift into developing the soil and helping plants establish themselves.
“I feel there’s that community interest there and I feel like it’s a great opportunity for another year to intentionally develop the land, showing what hand-tool gardening can offer,” she said. “That it’s possible to clear unwanted plant material by hand, mechanically rather than chemically.”
Across town, near Safeway, another complex project is underway.
The Lower Columbia Preservation Society signed an agreement with the city to take on the maintenance of the Custom House, a reconstruction of the first U.S. custom house built west of the Rocky Mountains, and its surrounding parkland.
The small white structure appears as a kind of afterthought in the middle of parkland, and few visitors stop to see what it represents.
The preservation society wants to bring more attention to it.
But when the organization began taking a closer look at the Custom House with students from Clatsop Community College’s historic preservation program last summer, they found the building was in worse shape than anybody realized.
Students assessed the property and made some repairs to the porch decking, siding and windows, but the entire roof will need to be replaced. There is special chimney work needed and deterioration on the west side to address, said Rachel Jensen, executive director of the preservation society.
The Custom House was built using traditional tools and methods and, as a result, will be more complex to repair.
They are now looking at a plan that will likely stretch into spring of 2021, Jensen said. In addition to repairing the house, the organization plans to landscape the parklands — previous landscaping had been ripped out — and increase the site’s visibility through lighting and signs.
The city already has interpretive signs that do a good job at telling the story of the site, but, first, Jensen said, people need to come visit.