Big loss for Portland's sports enthusiasts
There are practical challenges ahead for the user groups who, for decades, have enjoyed the special facilities at Alpenrose Dairy.
Little Leagues will feel the squeeze of fewer ball fields. Track cyclists must travel to a Puget Sound area velodrome. Cyclocross aficionados will do without one of the more popular courses in the region.
The recent decision that closed the Alpenrose properties to the public did not come as a complete surprise. But it leaves the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association and area Little Leagues seeking long-term solutions to the loss of facilities that have been central to their operations for decades.
The operational challenges created by the closure are matched or surpassed by the emotional response of those for whom Alpenrose has been a central gathering spot for generations.
Part 1 — An intra-family feud likely will mean the permanent closure of Alpenrose Dairy.
"Our community will never be the same. Alpenrose has been such a community icon," said Gary Rowell, who for two decades served as the district administrator for Little League District 4, which oversees 18 Little Leagues from Southwest Portland to Tillamook. "A place where kids, parents and families all gathered for a common cause is gone."
Originally built in 1956 as a place for the grandchildren of Henry Cadonau to play ball, for 26 years Alpenrose Stadium was the home of the Little League Softball World Series, an event that brought teams from around the world to the dairy. After the 2019 event Little League Inc. relocated the World Series, citing the fallout from the rift in the Cadonau family over the sale of the dairy operation to Smith Brothers of Kent, Washington, and the uncertain future of the property.
Popular venues going away
Local Little League programs and the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association — or OBRA, which managed the velodrome at Alpenrose — expected to be able to use the facilities until the Cadonau family sold the property, which has not yet happened. After Smith Brothers acquired the dairy operation and Alpenrose brand, the property remained with the descendants of Florian Cadonau, who started delivering milk more than 100 years ago.
Rowell said he was told that liability and insurance concerns involving the risk of COVID-19 spread at public gatherings hastened the closure.
Rowell — and other stakeholders in the organizations that have called Alpenrose home for decades — told Pamplin Media Group they understand the reason for the family's decision and that there is sadness but no animosity about the outcome.
One of those stakeholders is Jake Hammer, who played baseball at Alpenrose as a kid and now serves as president of Southwest Portland Little League, one of the Portland-area Little Leagues that regularly used the three Alpenrose fields. In 2019, the league served about 630 kids from T-ball through majors (ages 11-12). Just fewer than 500 signed up for the 2021 season that began this month, according to Hammer.
Should participation levels in Southwest Portland Little League return next year to 2019 levels, finding enough diamonds for teams to practice and play games will be much more difficult, Hammer said.
Southwest Portland Little League used Alpenrose for softball games on Tuesdays and all three Alpenrose diamonds for baseball games each Wednesday. There also was one weekend day per month during the spring when games were played all day at Alpenrose.
Having those fields meant that the school and parks fields could be used for practices. To Hammer, what cannot be replaced is the home base Alpenrose gave his league for big events such as opening day. Hammer said it's the loss of a place that was "the backbone of the community when it came to athletics."
Hammer grew up in Southwest Portland and played Little League games at Alpenrose, for a team sponsored by the dairy. While at Wilson High, his summer team was sponsored by Alpenrose.
Hammer has fond childhood memories of the freedom he and friends had to roam the Alpenrose grounds between games. The site was so much more than a baseball venue, with 4H activities, a quarter-midget race track and an old-West style Dairyland town featuring Storybook Lane. Dairyland, which closed after the sale in 2019 — reportedly because of concerns about aging buildings — included a 600-seat opera house, a model train club, and was the site of special Christmas and Fourth of July events.
"All my memories (of being a kid at Alpenrose) are just bliss," Hammer said.
He said he's thankful for all of that support from the Cadonau family. He remembers his Little League coaches sharing decades-old memories of their own days playing ball at Alpenrose, memories that came full circle in when Hammer's own sons played in championship games back-to-back one evening at Alpenrose Stadium.
Watching his own kids enjoy the buzz of playing a big game at Alpenrose Stadium, with its dugouts, grandstand, public address announcer and lights brought home to Hammer "just what a special experience it was" to play there.
Rowell, who is still in a support role for Little League in the area, said he hopes to salvage an almost brand new scoreboard from the Alpenrose east diamond to nearby Gabriel Park.
There are no plans afoot to save the sports venues.
JIM REDDEN, PP&R QUOTE
The site is adjacent to the area served by the massive Tualatin Hills Parks & Recreation District, which serve much of eastern Washington County. "Like everyone in the area, we were saddened by the Alpenrose Dairy closure," said Holly Thompson, THPRD communications director. "The site has brought a lot of treasured memories to people in the community for many years. The property is outside of THPRD's boundaries and not one we would pursue for purchase."
Portland's athletic-wear sector of the economy isn't going to step in for sponsorship purposes, either. A spokesperson for Under Armor offered a "no comment," while
The Tillamook County Creamery Association also declined comment, making it unlikely that Oregon's powerhouse dairy company might come to the rescue of Alpenrose.
Haven for bike racers
Jen Featheringill, the Alpenrose Velodrome manager for the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, said that because the closure happened during her sport's offseason, the emotional impact probably won't hit home until the summer.
According to Featheringill and OBRA executive director Chuck Kenlan, an OBRA committee that oversaw velodrome operations has shifted its focus to exploring opportunities to build a new velodrome in the Portland area. The committee will explore public and private partnerships as it seeks out property for a project that, if funding can be found, will take years to complete.
Ultimately, Featheringill said, the dream is to create a community-centered park where multiple forms of bicycle racing can happen.
For now, Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome in Redmond, Washington, northeast of Seattle, is the closest facility for track cyclists in the Portland area. Activities are just resuming at that facility.
The Alpenrose velodrome was converted from a dirt track to the Olympic-style velodrome in 1967 and that summer hosted the United States national track championships. The Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge brought top racers from around the country to Portland each summer.
But it is the regular OBRA events and training opportunities that will be missed most, according to Featheringill.
She said there has long been a strong relationship between the cyclists from Alpenrose and those at the Redmond, Washington, facility. She anticipates the more serious local track cyclists will regularly make the trek north to race and renew friendships with cyclists who were Alpenrose regulars.
Cyclocross came to Alpenrose in 1994. The velodrome, open fields and Dairyland were part of the 2-mile circuit that attracted some 1,000 riders per day for two days each October for the first event of the annual Cross Crusade series. There are other cyclocross venues, including a popular course at Portland International Raceway. But, Brad Ross, organizer of the Cross Crusade races, said Alpenrose was a special course because it of the wide variety of challenges the course offered riders from muddy fields to staircases.
"The Cadonaus have been so generous with the land and letting us use their property," Ross said. "It's a huge loss to the Oregon cycling community."
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