Respondents to a public survey conducted last month to gauge public opinion on St. Helens' ambitious Riverwalk project say they want water access and more riverfront dining opportunities, among other priorities.
St. Helens reported 471 responses to the survey, which was conducted over a two-week period in May. A summary of the survey feedback was created by the city's consultant for the project, Mayer/Reed, Inc.
Jenny Dimsho, St. Helens associate planner and community development project manager, said the project, launched in March 2021, will design and construct public access along the St. Helens waterfront property, and it will construct a new stage for the Columbia View Park amphitheater.
The property was once home to a Boise Cascade veneer plant. In 2008, the plant shut down, and in 2015, the city purchased the 22-acre site for future development.
The veneer plant was once an important economic engine in St. Helens, employing hundreds of local workers.
Today, however, St. Helens officials and community leaders are looking forward and embracing the possibilities that the site offers.
The city held a May 19 public forum to gather input. It also opened a survey for two weeks to get more feedback from the community. Survey details can be found at the city website under the "City News" tab.
Noting the nearly 500 survey responses, Dimsho said, "I think, overall, it highlighted the significance and importance of constructing this project."
The survey asked respondents about what activities they're interested in along the proposed Riverwalk. Top inland activities included walking, dog walking and wildlife viewing. Respondents also said they are interested in having an area for launching canoes, kayaks and other "paddle craft," Dimsho noted.
"One of the most interesting takeaways I had was that a lot of people wrote in an activity for 'markets,'" Dimsho added, "so I think that's evidence of the fact that people want to be able to buy either produce, or crafts. I think a farmers market is of interest to the community."
Seven miles to the south, Scappoose has a popular summer farmers market. Seasonal outdoor markets are commonplace closer to Portland and in more suburban settings, like Washington and Clackamas counties.
Food was on the brain for many survey respondents, beyond just the idea of a farmers market.
"Dining was an interest people had," Dimsho said. "I think those are more tailored toward the interaction with the development on the site."
Dimsho pointed out that riverfront restaurants exist throughout Oregon. One such restaurant was longtime Scappoose icon Mark's on the Channel, which closed last year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In St. Helens, although it's not directly on the Columbia River, Dockside Steak and Pasta on South First Street is among the most highly regarded and best known restaurants in town. It is one of several restaurants and pubs in Old Town, a stone's throw from Columbia View Park.
Beyond just giving city officials ideas for what to do with the Riverwalk and on the former veneer plant property, the survey results show Dimsho that citizens in St. Helens want to be involved in their community.
"We've had hundreds of residents come out when we could have in-person meetings," Dimsho said. "They came out to these open houses to provide feedback for the site. It's been important for the city to continue to engage through the process."
Dimsho notes an important St. Helens City Council meeting is coming up on July 21.
"That will be when City Council makes a decision on the Riverwalk design alternatives," she said. "That would be kind of a follow-up of this community engagement.
"I would recommend folks who are interested in the Riverwalk design ... either watch the livestream of that meeting or watch the recording of that meeting."
The entire Riverwalk will be approximately a half-mile in length. Phase 1, which is what will actually get constructed in the near term, is considerably shorter in length at about 300 feet long, starting at the courthouse docks and extending to the Cowlitz Street right-of-way.
Dimsho said St. Helens officials anticipate the first phase of work will wrap up in 2023. No timeline is available on Phase 2, which is expected to extend south to the connection of Plymouth Street and Nob Hill Nature Park.
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