Celebrate Madrone Wall becoming a Clackamas County park
Saturday, Oct. 21, marked the opening of the first new public park in Clackamas County in well over a decade.
The Madrone Wall Park, located along scenic Oregon Highway 224 between Carver and Barton, is a 44-acre amazing civic treasure that was closed to public access exactly 20 years ago. In fall of 1997, without any public communication, the county launched an ill-conceived plan to blow up the basalt cliff as a quarry. This kind of thing bothers me. As an engineer, I appreciate carefully considered resource extraction to build a society, however, some treasures should be preserved for all time. The site has an uncommon stand of Pacific madrone trees, 100 native plant species including old-growth Douglas fir, and a rare rocky bluff unique in the northern Willamette Valley, sporting over 100 rock-climbing routes established in the decades before closure. The nonprofit organization I helped found and lead doggedly pursued a park. We recognized that the metro area was growing at double the national rate, and the site was easily accessible to half of Oregon's population. We knew we were on the right side of history in our fight, because this Clackamas County property was the only public land along the lower Clackamas River bluffs and it would be an anchor site for a future park.
Now that a park has opened, I took stock from what we learned. Unfortunately, there is no easy app for such a protracted campaign. We took the long view and did not let setbacks distract us. We set our mission early — stop quarrying and development, reestablish recreational and educational access, work for permanent protective status as a park, and be a long-term "friends of" parks advocacy partner — and stuck to it. We were audacious, by nature climbers are, and pressed on through years of working with some antediluvian government officials who essentially told us to go pound sand. We found it was easier to sustain standing for something people could get behind — creating a public park — than only standing against something — a quarry. When supposed environmentalist allies told us our direction was wrong and they would expend no political capital to join the fray, we floated above it and steamed ahead. We sowed many seeds and, while many fell on stony ground, some long shots germinated and came back to help in the form of letters, donations and advocacy for which we are indebted. When officials spouted inaccurate or misleading information, we respectfully and immediately corrected the record. We were tactful yet forceful in our opposition using facts and data to support our case. We found creative solutions to seemingly intractable challenges of planning and funding and removed barriers. In short, we were a core group of committed activists with the stomach and tenacity for a relentless, protracted campaign, where giving up never seemed like a viable option.
We fostered working partnerships with public servants. To be honest, navigating a grinding ground game to defeat governmental bureaucratic tactics of postponement, obfuscation and stalling was not fun. I am grateful to live in a country where a free and independent press holds public officials accountable. Being an all-volunteer band of zealots, however, we were able to outlast and in some cases outlive our opponents. We were not going anywhere and we could not be fired. In the end, we found capable and visionary public servant partners with the current leadership of Clackamas County, including Parks & Forest Manager Rick Gruen, the citizen Park Advisory Board and Board of County Commissioners. We built coalitions with citizens, climbers, rural community planning organizations and the city of Damascus; the Oregon Army National Guard (224th Engineering Company); politicians like U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer and former State Rep. Brent Barton; pro bono engineer planners like Scott Nettleton at T. Y. Lin International; Metro; large businesses like REI and Patagonia; local businesses like Still Meadow Community, Carver Store and Carver Hangar; climbing gyms and climbing organizations like Mazamas, Ptarmigans, Access Fund, American Alpine Club and the American Safe Climbing Association; grant agencies like Clackamas County Tourism and Cultural Affairs; individual donors; Meyer Memorial Trust, and Jubitz Family Foundation; trail builders like Trailkeepers of Oregon; and scouts, schools and churches. To them we are forever grateful.
Going up against a monolithic City Hall seemed impossible but we never forgot that people — individual people — make or break an outcome. We took inspiration from where we could find it in David and Goliath stories and from heroes like Tom McCall, David Brower, Yvon Chouinard, Martin Luther King Jr. and Theodore Roosevelt, who himself thought that future generations have as much right to enjoy public lands as contemporaries.
I grew up in rural Benton County, where I explored forest, field, creek and ponds, which was formative. Without access to open spaces, where will the next generation of land stewards come from? Thinking about future generations, like our young son — who long after I'm gone will wonder at their place in Creation, challenge themselves on hikes or rock climbs, make new friends, and learn from Nature — ultimately sustained me through many years when it felt like we were getting nowhere. Our idea of a public park prevailed and I predict someday this anchor site will form the basis for a future East Side Big Park along the lower Clackamas River bluffs. For all those activists out there, don't lose heart, keep fighting the good fight, never give up and good luck!
Keith K. Daellenbach is director/founder of the Madrone Wall Preservation Committee.