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Sharing his park
- Nicole DeCosta
- Lake Oswego Review - News
Upon a hilltop overlooking Marylhurst University sits a neighborhood tucked within trees with views of the mountains. The houses are spread apart, but neighbors are friendly. While all of these properties are within the city's urban services boundary, at this time only some of the land has been annexed to Lake Oswego.
Skyland Circle is a special place to all who live there. The road - designed as a large loop - contains houses on the outskirts of the circle as well as on the inside.
A park at the top of the street is the focal point of the neighborhood, with a gazebo, swing, flowers and well-manicured lawns.
But it's not a city park.
Neighbor Terry Cone maintains the property as a gathering area for the street.
Growing up in a small blue-collar town in Illinois, Cone said that most streets ran in a north, south, east and west direction - creating a grid-like pattern of rectangular lots. Railroad tracks and a canal entered the city at an angle and divided some property.
'One of these parcels there was a small park with a wading pool, sandbox, teeter-totter, swings and a merry-go-round,' Cone, 68, said. 'As a little guy - even before I was in preschool - that park was heaven. I would go there and meet all my friends. By the time we got into (the school system), we all knew each other from the park.
'Later, when I began to date, that was just a nice place to walk to.'
'Cone Park,' as neighbors casually call it, creates a similar atmosphere, where everyone nearby can catch up, enjoy some open space and spend time with their children.
'My impression is that in many ways (the park) becomes everybody's front yard in the sense that we all have a chance to meet each other here,' said Bob Needham, a neighbor. 'We're not just passing each other occasionally in cars.'
Enhancing open space
Skyland Circle residents are active. Many of them walk in the morning together. Someone is gardening at any given time. Many people have dogs or children on sports teams, or both.
Cone himself has spent more than 40 years as an avid mountain climber - but is recovering on crutches from his last hike on Mount Hood.
After building his home in 1975 and raising a family, Cone said he was drawn to the property next to his house. So, not wanting anyone else to buy it or build upon it, he bought it about 15 years ago, he said. He was mowing the land and helping with yard maintenance, he said, so he might as well own it.
Neighbors often wave to Cone as he sits atop his riding lawnmower, grooming a path through his park each week. He rotates flowers within wagon displays every few weeks in the springtime, even while on crutches.
Less than a decade ago he built a large gazebo and swing near the center of the park.
'I've traveled all over the world. In the Northeast there are just beautiful town squares with gazebos, in places like New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts,' Cone said. 'And I've always liked Norman Rockwell.'
Rockwell, known for his 20th century paintings and painstaking details, is remembered for his patriotic and theme works that depict people in real life settings. His covers for the 'Saturday Evening Post' portrayed typical American life and values. Cone's park seems patriotic as a tribute to his neighborhood.
A semi-retired carpenter-contractor, Cone said he has always enjoyed creating things with his hands from the ground up. His love of landscaping came later - while beginning his construction business in the late '60s.
'I built a small apartment complex, a duplex and a triplex. I knew how to do carpentry and how to build but when I got done, (the area) needed landscaping,' Cone said. 'Then I found myself kind of liking that, also.'
The park is unique in that it isn't cluttered. Cone said he felt that open space would allow his neighbors opportunity to use the space as they wish - for a picnic, game of football or a place to curl up and read a book.
'It's a place for kids to meet and play in a safe environment,' Needham said.
Cone planted Giant Sequoia trees years ago lining his driveway and between the park. The trees now tower over his properties but provide a natural barrier between the two spaces.
Cone's own backyard initiated many changes to the park, once known to local children as 'the vacant lot.' Within his backyard, Cone constructed a swing and separate gazebo to match the roofline of his home. Years ago, his children would play on a rope swing that hung from a huge tree. His mature landscaping - especially rhododendron bushes - created a private, natural environment surrounding the sitting areas.
'When I got done building these it was like finishing a good book. I thought, 'what do I do next?'' Cone said. 'Now I seldom come back here. I like going up to the other gazebo (at the park) because I can see everyone in the neighborhood coming and going.'
Some neighborhood meetings took place at the park and Cone said he and others have common interests, which they discuss in casual homeowner association meetings. Because an elementary bus stop is across the street, children play at the park in the afternoons when school is out.
'I enjoy driving by and seeing kids out playing in the summer. Some kids play baseball,' said Henry Morse, neighbor. 'The more poignant is that I think there have been at least two weddings up there - with chairs surrounding the gazebo.'
Fourth of July celebrations transform the park into a sea of red, white and blue as neighbor's picnic and children play games. During the winter holidays, Cone decorates the park gazebo with lights and places a large Christmas tree in the center.
For more than three decades, neighbors have participated in a rotating holiday party with appetizers, dinner and desert at different houses.
And many of the neighbors said they met at the park.
'Terry is a wonderful guy and the extent to which he's taken on that park himself is also wonderful. It's his property and he's created a park and made it available to everyone in the neighborhood,' said Morse.
But, what would the neighborhood be like without the park?
'It would be very different,' said Hal Morley, neighbor. 'People up here value spaciousness, privacy, trees, flowers and bushes. The park is the center of our neighborhood.'
Cone said he couldn't imagine what would happen if he sold the park land.
'I've gotten some ridiculously high offers. And you know, you can always sell it. But for now, this is a place for the community.'
The neighborhood has a woodsy feel, large lots, private landscaping and a sloped street. Neighbors are friendly to one another, they said. And while their own yards provide space for their families, Cone's park provides space to build community on Skyland Circle.
'(The park) creates an identity for the circle separate and apart from other neighborhoods around here,' said Needham. 'People find that area a central meeting place. We're all so lucky that Terry is willing to do that for the community. You get to know folks pretty quick around here, probably thanks to Terry.'