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Due to coronavirus concerns Reed College -- on short notice -- closed its campus and canyon to the public

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - On the Reed College Canyon trail on Sunday, August 2, Woodstock resident Dilafruz Williams was walking with her visiting son James and his family. James and his wife Mary Anne now live in California; James is now County Counsel of Santa Clara County near San Francisco. The Reed campus closed to the public the next day.  Reed College is currently planning to have students return to campus for instruction in the fall, as are some other colleges and universities in Oregon. Reed will have one dormitory – MacNaughton Hall – dedicated to providing quarantine to students who may become infected with COVID-19.

However, having students, faculty, and staff return in the fall has led the college to the decision to close its campus and canyon to the public.

As many in adjacent neighborhoods know, the college's canyon is a 26-acre wilderness refuge with towering trees, a lake, a marsh, the headwaters of Crystal Springs Creek, and a myriad of birds and wildlife. It has always been a sanctuary for the many in the community who walk or jog its paths.

Especially now, during coronavirus pandemic and in a time of tumultuous local and national politics, the canyon – as well as the campus with its wide lawns and mammoth trees – is literally a breath of fresh air, providing refreshment for the mind and soul that sometimes can be found only in the peace and wonder of natural beauty.

COURTESY OF DOUGLAS YARROW - These signs were posted on the Reed College campus on Monday, August 3rd. The campus will remain closed to the public until further notice, due to the coronavirus pandemic.In early July, Reed's Director of Communications, Kevin Myers, sent a letter to residents in neighborhoods surrounding the college. It read in part: "Reed will be following the guidance of the Oregon Health Authority and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, and closing the campus to public access beginning August 3."

The letter informed the public that the closure pertains to the entire campus, including library and other facilities, parking lots, lawns, sports fields, canyon trails, and off-leash dog areas, and applies until further notice.

Myers stated that the reason for the closure is to reduce "campus density", and thus lessen the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Since March, there have been two positive cases of COVID-19 on Reed's campus among active community members. With no end to the pandemic currently in sight, he says that the college is concerned for the health and safety of all students, staff, and faculty when they return to campus.

Myers admitted that it has been a very difficult decision for the college to make, because Reed for one hundred years has welcomed the public to stroll its campus areas and attend campus events.

Responses have varied, but many neighbors have expressed disappointment not to have access to this wilderness area for an indefinite time.

Because signs advising of the closure were not posted on canyon paths or on campus until August 3rd – the day of closure itself – some who had not received a letter were walking in the canyon on Sunday, August 2, and were surprised to see a few handwritten fliers announcing the closing – and objecting to the restriction. The fliers urged neighbors to contact the President of the College and Director of Communications to express their opinions.

In fact, Dilafruz Williams, a Woodstock resident, PSU professor, and former Portland Public School Board member, was one of those enjoying the canyon wilderness on August 2nd with her son James and his family who had driven up from Santa Clara, California, the night before. She says she has hiked these trails in early morning hours for years. She was surprised to read the signs about the impending closure, and says she will miss it very much.

Michael Krueger, a Creston-Kenilworth neighbor whose wife works on campus, moved to allow six feet of distance for several other hikers to pass on the trail as he stated his opinion to THE BEE: "It's a beautiful spot for many to come and commune with nature, but I support the decision to close the campus until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, to protect students and the public. And people don't realize it's private property [so the college can make that decision]."

One suggestion made by a Reed neighborhood resident is that the college have the canyon open to the public one morning a week, perhaps on Sunday from 6 to 10 a.m., when many students might still be sleeping!

With a modification or not, the college is hoping that the public will understand the need to protect health during the pandemic. They are hoping everyone will respect the closure and the signage, and be patient. The campus will be open again once the virus is under control. In the meantime, for those seeking a secluded walk in a natural environment, there's always the Oaks Bottom Trail along the base of the cliff – accessed either from the bottom of S.E. Spokane Street in Sellwood, or from the parking lot on S.E. Milwaukie Avenue, at Mitchell Street, in Westmoreland.

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