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Columbia City parks thrive under volunteers' oversight

The city Parks Committee has a full roster of projects this summer; the majority will be organized and completed by volunteers


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - A sternwheeler chugs up the Columbia River past Datis Park, a tiny park  near Pixie Park, maintained by the Parks Committee.Pixie Park was drowning in blackberry bushes.

The pint-sized park is one of the few public beach access areas Columbia City offers and it was covered in blackberry bushes from the road to the sand.

It took three seasons to clear them out.

Now, a smooth green lawn slopes down to a sandy beach. Near the entrance this May, Columbia City resident Stan Hopkins bent over, squinting in the sunlight, and plucked a cigarette butt from the grass.

He is one of a small host of dedicated volunteers who, with support from the city, have kept Columbia City’s parks vibrant.

“Our parks look better than they have ever looked before,” said Leahnette Rivers, city manager.

“Well, somebody has to do it,” Hopkins said. “You have to give something back. ... You can’t depend on the government to do it all for you.”

Though many of the city park committee members and volunteers are well past retirement age, they continue to maintain the parks and, this year, are pushing forward with a number of projects.

A fenced, off-leash dog park, in partnership with the Port of St. Helens, is in the works off of E Street and Highway 30, and a Veterans Memorial Park is being planned and prepared at the north end of town. Volunteers and the Columbia County Work Crew recently cleared out more ever-invading blackberry bushes at that site. Hopkins, meanwhile, has just started blazing the first leg of trail along nearby McBride Creek that the city hopes will become a loop trail, several miles long, following the creek. Over the years, the city has slowly acquired property for the project and is still working to gain consent from landowners for future trail segments.

“There are lots of things in the works and not a lot of resources,” Rivers said. The volunteers who serve on and with the Parks Committee make these projects possible, she said. The city alone couldn’t do it.

Even before the recession, Columbia City was a small town with limited resources, Rivers said. After 2008, city administrators had to get even more creative when it came to getting work done. Now, the city relies increasingly on volunteers, especially when it comes to city beautification and enhancement.

The parks volunteers are a dedicated group, Rivers said. “They spend a lot of time on the parks, like it’s their own yard.”

Marian Calnon, a 91-year-old volunteer, remembers what it was like when the parks committee put together Bundy Park, a shady, flower-filled park running parallel to Highway 30.

“So many people just swarmed in to help,” she said. “People just came out and started working. It was unbelievable.”

On Hopkins’s “to do” list is a small park near Pixie Park that could also provide some public beach access. Datis Park is currently a shady picnic area, nestled between two houses. The sand beckons, but the slope leading down to the water is steep and covered in blackberry bushes.

“We haven’t worked on it that much because we haven’t got the bodies,” Hopkins explained. But, he added, as at Pixie Park, it will be worth all the work to see kids able to rush down to the beach with their sand buckets.