Clackamas County's newest land dedicated for park purposes was donated by John and Marilee Wetten in December, on the condition that county officials use the 12.86-acre parcel of farmland in perpetuity as a park.
Per the donation agreement, the land could include a conservation system, trails area or a more developed park on May Road, between Oregon City and Canby. The Wettens bought the property in 1978 with the intention of selling it for their daughters' college expenses, but they managed without selling the land.
"Marilee and I are both conservation-minded, and we didn't want someone building a house in there and tearing it up, so we donated it as a park," John Wetten said.
According to the county assessor's office, the land is valued at more than $523,000 and was transferred to county ownership Dec. 23. Gladstone Superintendent Bob Stewart recalled the annual tradition for first graders to take field trips to the Wettens' farm, as part of a classroom lesson on farming.
"Now that land will be developed as an educational, environmental and recreational resource for generations to come," Stewart said.
In fond memory of the classes that used to visit the sheep on the farm, the Wettens envision science teachers will be able to take their students to the future park to learn about ecology.
Living now at Rose Villa in Oak Grove, both Wettens served as educators and are well known throughout Clackamas County. Gladstone's John Wetten Elementary School is named in his honor, since he started his career as a fifth-grade teacher at the school in 1956, before serving as vice principal. He finished his career there as principal from 1972-92.
Since retiring, Wetten has volunteered several times a year at his namesake school, with the exception of last year, due to the pandemic. Although he is now in his 90s, he said his health is good enough that he plans to return to volunteering at the school, which he hopes will return to full-time in-person classes this fall.
Not your typical flat farmland, the undeveloped tract is hilly, wooded and tranquil, partially a holdover from a Christmas tree farm whose trees were never harvested. A natural park setting is suggested by the site's spring-fed pond, wetland area, active beaver colony, walking trails and established cedar, fir, cottonwood and cherry trees.
"I think that anytime we can protect nature and the natural resources that we have, and leave it for the citizens of the area and the county to enjoy, that is our privilege and our pleasure," Wetten said.
The Wettens appeared before the Board of County Commissioners in late 2020 to help finalize the transaction, where commissioners also recognized and thanked the couple for the generous donation.
"I'm happy to see that this (property) will be used for the benefit of education, for youngsters, and for anybody who enjoys hiking or the outdoors," Marilee Wetten said.
County Commissioner Paul Savas, who toured the land with Wetten last fall, said it was appropriate to develop the park with some educational components due to his background with Gladstone schools. Savas looked forward to the day when these "beautiful acres are open to our residents" to enjoy.
"This incredibly generous donation by the Wettens will be enjoyed by the county for years to come," Savas said.
Currently the site is still being used for free by a neighbor, until a public process can determine the future development of the site. In April, the county hammered out a license agreement with Jason and Kristie Boyd to access and board up to two horses at the property donated to the county by the Wettens.
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