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The COVID-19 pandemic, massive wildfires and marches were defining elements of 2020 in Estacada

PMG FILE PHOTO - In the aftermath of Septembers Riverside Fire, Estacada resident Loren Good cuts down trees on his neighbor Paul Clements property.

2020 was a year for the history books — both in Estacada and across the world. From navigating new ways of education to facing economic difficulties, the community had to navigate numerous changes brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic. During the summer, Estacada area residents joined cities across the nation in standing up for civil rights. In September, the massive Riverside and Dowty Road fires caused residents to temporarily evacuate, and multiple families lost their homes.

The Estacada News has taken a look back at some of this year's historic events.

Pandemic brings changes to daily life

Likely the most significant element of 2020, in Estacada and other communities across the globe, has been the COVID-19 pandemic. The new disease caused by the novel coronavirus led to many changes to slow the spread of infection.

In March, schools moved to distance learning, businesses significantly modified operations and many people began working from home. Groups like the Estacada City Council and the Estacada School Board began holding meetings online via Zoom.

The limits on gatherings impacted all aspects of life, including the way community members mourned lost loved ones. In Barton, Cornerstone Funeral Services owner Elizabeth Fournier facilitated viewings by setting up a laptop next to a casket, rather than having people in a chapel.

"I feel the worst for people who are trying to process death during all of this. Even if (their loved one) didn't die from COVID, they can't have that normal connection," Fournier said.

Restaurants were required to reduce dine-in capacity to facilitate social distancing, and in months where COVID-19 cases surged, had to operate solely on take out and curbside pickup. Some establishments temporarily closed their doors since operating without dine-in was not sustainable.

"People are staying home. We can't sit around with even a small staff and hope to have enough orders. It was better to make the break and let (our employees) file for unemployment," said Linda Parsons, owner of The Country Restaurant and Lounge, which closed for a period earlier this year.

As businesses were able to reopen once again, safety procedures such as limiting the number of customers, offering hand sanitizer, curbside pickup and requiring face masks were implemented.

Harmony changed their business model multiple times to adapt to circumstances presented by 2020. Initially, the restaurant was open for curbside pickup one day a week. In July, the business began offering takeout on weekends. After closing for several weeks in September because of the Riverside and Dowty Road fires, the team began offering dine-in at a reduced capacity. The restaurant once again switched to curbside pickup in mid-November because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases across the state.

"We've had to adapt constantly. I never imagined that we would be making this many changes over and over again," said Jenny Beaudoin, owner of Harmony. "It's important to us that we're being responsible and creating a safe environment."

At Yo Treats Frozen Yogurt, customers give their orders to staff rather than serving themselves.

"It's not the same as it used to be. We would have customers come in and linger and visit," said Donnell Evans, one of Yo Treat's owners. "We miss that interaction, and asking kids what flavors they put in."

Earlier this month, the Oregon Health Authority reported 153 cases of COVID-19 in the 97023 ZIP code, which includes the city of Estacada, and 53 cases in the 97022 ZIP code, which includes Eagle Creek.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Estacada community members stood for social justice and civil rights at several marches against racism this summer.

Schools adapt to pandemic

Classes in the Estacada School District looked different this year as students and teachers navigated comprehensive distance learning. To facilitate social distancing, the district held classes online and students worked from home.

Initially, schools were prepared to begin the 2020-21 year under a hybrid model, in which families could select a blended online and in-person model or a completely virtual option. However, because of reopening metrics that the state shared in July, the district began the year with distance learning.

Prior to a case of COVID-19 in the district in October, small groups of students were participating in limited in-person instruction.

Teachers worked to find ways to engage students in the virtual learning environment.

"They really enjoy being on video. They're like little YouTubers," said River Mill Elementary School teacher Daniel Czyzewicz while discussing how technological today's world is. "On the whole, we're probably much better off in this format now then we would have been years ago, but different students learn in different ways. Some kids excel, and other kids struggle. I'm trying to find ways to help all students as best I can."

Evelyne Long-Drew, a fifth grader at Clackamas River Elementary School, has enjoyed participating in online music classes, as well as the school's music club.

"We're not in a classroom, but we're still doing music. It doesn't bother me," she said.

Wildfires burn near Estacada

Firefighters from across the country came to the Estacada area in September to help battle the Riverside and Dowty Road fires. At the height of the incidents, crews consisted of more than 500 personnel.

The 138,000 acre Riverside Fire began on Sept. 8 near Three Lynx, and spread to a half mile from Estacada city limits. Close by, the Dowty Road Fire spanned 1,509 acres near Eagle Creek.

Clackamas County totals 1.2 million acres, meaning the Riverside Fire alone burned across more than 10% of the county's land area.

Many Estacada community members had to evacuate because of the incidents. Prior to city limits coming under evacuation, many gathered at the Estacada High School parking lot.

Before Dan and Erin Fogel left their home near Hillockburn Road, officers from the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office told them they needed to evacuate in 15 minutes.

Both Dan and Erin said the experience reminded them of the 36 Pit Fire in 2014.

"It brought back a lot of the same fears," Dan said.

"This time it's worse because it's closer," Erin added.

As fire lines shifted, some displaced community members were faced with evacuating multiple times — from Estacada High School, Clackamas Community College and Oregon City High School. Later evacuation sites included the Oregon Convention Center and Clackamas Town Center.

To support their neighbors, Estacada Community Watch coordinated a relief center that was open 24 hours in the parking lot of the Cazadero Steakhouse. Food, clothing, toys, pet food, counseling services and personal care items were available, and items were donated from across the region.

Estacada resident Carlos Martinez came back to volunteer at the center before he was able to return to his home.

"Regardless of all the division across the country, this community has come together like you can't believe. It's sad it sometimes takes a tragedy to bring people together, but this community has been together from the beginning," he said.

Community members also worked to extinguish the flames. Jessica Elliot joined her neighbors in working to contain hotspots on the Dowty Road Fire.

"It was incredible being out there and realizing, 'there's my fourth grade classmate.' There were people I hadn't seen in years, but we were all still here and coming together to fight the fires," she said. "Seeing the devastation firsthand was sad, but it was such an emotional and hopeful feeling knowing that no matter what happened, our town will show up."

The city of Estacada and KeyBank later hosted a Wildfire Heroes Day event downtown to honor those who fought the flames.

Because of the Riverside and Dowty Road fires, 150 structures in the Estacada area were destroyed — 50 of which were homes. No lives were lost.

COURTESY PHOTO - When schools moved to distance learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation staff ensured that students still recieved meals.

Community takes a stand against racism

Civil rights and equity became a significant topic of conversation during two marches against racism coordinated in Estacada this summer by the STAND UP Movement.

Several hundred people participated in each event, including members of the Portland NAACP at the second march. Though some participants came from neighboring communities, many were from Estacada.

Participants chanted "Black lives matter" and "peaceful protest." They held signs that stated "I love Estacada, I hate racism," "My Black friends matter," "Liberty and justice for all," and "We're not here to start violence, we're here to stop it."

Some people watching responded that "all lives matter," while others told them to "go home." Multiple participants reported on social media that they were spit on. One member of an opposing group also told marchers, "You are worse than COVID-19."

Participants in the march shared their experiences with racial discrimination. Ayla, a current theater student at Estacada High School, talked about an incident that happened to her younger brother.

"Acting has been a huge part of my life, but I can't act like this is OK anymore. I can't take any more of this," she said. "(Four or five years ago, my brother) was on the bus, and a friend of his said he couldn't be his friend anymore because he was Black. Do you know how heartbreaking it is to hear that? That your own brother can't have friends because of the color of his skin?"

Tracy George, one of the event's organizers, said, "We are at the beginning of another huge civil rights movement."

"This movement will make history. We will be in the history books," she added.

After the marches, the Estacada City Council hosted a listening session focused on racial justice, during which the idea to create a diversity, equity and inclusion committee was discussed. The council approved the committee at a later meeting. Some community members questioned its importance in the aftermath of the Clackamas County wildfires, but others spoke to its significance.

"I think the DEI committee is a great and terrific first step toward looking at how everyone within our community can be treated with the dignity, respect and independence that they deserve," said Debra Bufton, director of the Estacada Area Food Bank.

"I think it's a wonderful, amazing first step for this community, and I'm really excited to see what they do and what they put into our community," added Brooklyn Gath.

Estacada's diversity, equity and inclusion committee will consist of seven members. The group's responsibilities will include assisting with outreach and engagement for historically underrepresented groups, including LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenous and people of color, Hispanic and Latinx communities, youth, people with disabilities and those with low English proficiency; advising the city in developing a strategic plan to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion; providing community oversight and opportunities for the city to have greater accountability on racial equity and diversity initiatives; and reviewing current policies and procedures with an equity lens.

Estacada gets out the vote

In November, voters re-elected Mayor Sean Drinkwine to another term and said no to a general obligation bond for the Estacada School District and a proposed merger with Clackamas Fire.

Drinkwine, who was first elected to the city's top leadership position in 2016, received 79.62% of the vote. Nicole Gardner Austin held a write-in campaign for the mayoral position, and 20.38% of votes went to write-in candidates.

"It speaks for itself that people stood up and gave me their confidence," Drinkwine said, citing safe and healthy growth, jobs and the local economy as important priorities. "I want to thank all the citizens of Estacada for their support. I wouldn't be able to do this job if it weren't for the people."

In light of more than 60% of Estacada voters saying no to the proposed merger with Clackamas Fire, the Estacada Rural Fire District's Board of Directors has formed a committee to meet with similarly sized fire departments across the state to examine how they operate.

"It's pretty obvious to me that the citizens of Estacada want their own fire department," said Matthew Silva.

The district's current contract for service with Clackamas Fire runs through June 2021.

Just over half of voters said no to the Estacada School District's $22.9 million general obligation, which would have funded technological and safety upgrades at River Mill Elementary School, Clackamas River Elementary School, Estacada Middle School and Estacada High School.

If the measure had been approved by voters, the Estacada School District would have received a $4 million grant from the Oregon School Capital Improvement match program.

"The Estacada School District is committed to engaging with our community and making decisions that reflect their values and wishes. The election is an example of this process. While we are disappointed for our students, we look forward to continuing to engage with our families to ensure that they can one day feel comfortable and confident making an investment in our students' education and future," said Maggie Kelly, communications director for the Estacada School District.

On the Estacada City Council, Paul Strobel won re-election, while Joel Litkie and Charity Hughes will be new members of the group.

PMG FILE PHOTO  - Estacada resident Carlos Martinez volunteers at a wildfire relief center this fall.

Community support creates bright spots

Though 2020 was a difficult year in many ways, community members still found time to support one another. During the holiday season, groups coordinated adopt-a-family programs and giving trees. The Estacada Community Center adapted its Meals on Wheels program and the Evangelical Ministerial Association of Estacada altered the Backpack Buddies program so both could continue connecting senior citizens and students with food during the pandemic.

Harmony implemented the option for customers to purchase a loaf of freshly baked bread for the Estacada Area Food Bank, and more than 1,000 loaves have been donated.

During the wildfires, Lew's Drive-In distributed around 650 meals each day to those fighting the Dowty Road and Riverside fires, as well as those displaced by the flames.

"I put out a call for volunteers (to deliver) on Facebook. I had over 35 calls within minutes of posting. Our people are spectacular," said Lew's owner Marvin Flora. "The amount of people that want to volunteer — we're turning people away because we already have enough, but every day we get new people that want to volunteer and help out in some way ... I'm glad we've done it. I would do it all over again, no doubt."

The Estacada School District received national attention when Time Magazine featured two stories about their efforts to connect students with meals during the statewide school closures. The district implemented bus delivery to ensure that all students receive food every weekday. More than 500 students participate in the program.

The school district's meal program was featured as part of Time's "Apart. Not Alone" series, and bus driver Jody White was included in the story "Meet 27 People Bridging Divides Across America."

Kelly said she hopes the coverage "brings people some light in a tough time and can help them feel proud of this community."


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