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In honor of 100 years of Oregon State Parks, we're looking at Washington County's rural gem.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - John Megan and his Clydesdale horse, Fury, at Stub Stewart State Park. It's one of the few state parks with full-service horse campgrounds, and the Megans came all the way from Burns to camp here. Parks bring communities together. State parks can bring in people from communities all over Oregon and from across the country.

They've been doing so for a century now, and the agency that runs them is celebrating its centennial with big celebrations of these spaces that allow us all to connect with nature and with one another.

Washington County's lone state park is L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park, located right next to the small community of Buxton. It's one of the newest in the state parks system, opening in 2007 during the first period of expansion for the agency since the early 1970s.

Oregon State Parks started with a small patch of donated land in 1922, which became Sarah Helmick State Park in honor of the family that gave a portion of their property for public use. It's just a short drive down Pacific Highway from Monmouth, and it was where the agency held its centennial bash on June 4.

Now, Oregon has over 100,000 acres of state park land, spanning more than 250 facilities. Many Oregonians have a cherished childhood memory of visiting one.

While Oregon State Parks celebrates 100 years, Stub Stewart State Park is turning 15. It has become quite a popular spot, not only for its proximity to the Portland metro area, but for the unique amenities found there. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Aaron Raines, park manager for L.L. Stub Stewart State Park, says that the park's unique amenities bring campers and recreationists from all over. The park is celebrating 15 years of operation, while the entire Oregon State Parks service is celebrating 100 years of state parks.

One can meet all kinds of unique characters with interesting stories.

Interesting hobbies

Cameron Dunbar-Yamaguchi was there this week hoping to use his telescope to survey the stars, since the state park is well-known for its low light pollution and gorgeous nighttime skies. He is a member of the Rose City Astronomers Club, which frequently sets up star-gazing parties at the park.

Madrone Dardenne, who drove her tiny house on the back of a souped-up pickup truck, went to the park to help her dog escape the loud noises of fireworks over the Independence Day weekend.

In fact, park manager Aaron Raines says that the park often sees an influx of reservations this time of year, with many campers saying they wanted to go somewhere quiet for Independence Day. Some are veterans who are themselves stressed out by the loud explosions of fireworks.

Dardenne is from California's San Francisco Bay Area. She's driving all over the Pacific Northwest visiting friends and family.

But she also uses her quaint cabin-on-wheels to promote her business, Tiny House Theater, which specializes in nature-inspired puppet shows and performative arts.

"I'm based in Santa Cruz and started doing shows down there for the school district," Dardenne said. "Now, I'm moving to a mobile business model."

She sank a lot of money into her tiny home, an undertaking she said she somewhat underestimated. But the result is a mobile business and living space, which she says is better for the environment and for her lifestyle. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Madrone Dardenne in her tiny house, which she camped inside of at Stub Stewart State Park over the Fourth of July weekend. The space duals as a living space and mobile business, where she operates puppet shows and other nature-inspired performances.

Dardenne was inspired to join the tiny house movement in part after taking a permaculture class down in California, which revealed to her how much water is wasted in traditional homes, bathrooms and businesses.

Her round-topped, custom-built cabin on wheels was easy to pick out of the crowd of recreational vehicles parked in Stub Stewart's spacious campground.

Unique amenities

Many campers also come for the full-service horse campsites, which have their own corral spaces for folks to store their equine family members. There aren't many such sites in Oregon, and most of them are on the other side of the Cascades.

John and Jody Megan came clear from Burns to see some western Oregon greenery and ride their horses along the trails.

"We like it here," Jody Megan said. "We can get our big trailer in, which is important because we've got a big Clydesdale. Other horse camps tend to be too small." PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - John Megan brings his Clydesdale, Fury, out of his corral at their campground. Stub Stewart is one of the few parks with horse amenities, and most of the others on the east side of the Cascade Mountains.

The park has miles of trails that are ideal for hiking, biking and horseback riding — though John Megan said he had to duck a couple of times while riding on Fury, his Clydesdale.

Parks maintenance crews try to clear out obstructions quickly when they are reported, but it's not like most people are riding 1-ton behemoths that are several hands taller than the average mount.

The Banks-Vernonia State Trail runs right through the park, connecting the two towns on either side of the county line between Washington and Columbia counties.

As such, visitors can keep coming back to try out new trails that lead in both directions from the hilltop park site. There is even a portion of a trail where hikers can walk across an old wooden train trestle (fans of the iconic film "Stand by Me" might relish recreating that one famous scene — without the live train barreling toward them, of course). PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Park Manager Aaron Raines explains the various trail networks that run through Stub Stewart State Park. It's all part of the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, which runs through the park and connects communities across county lines.

Other amenities include a disc golf course built into the trail network, bike repair stations, and upcoming electric vehicle plug-ins to be installed this winter.

There are two meeting halls that can be reserved for large gatherings. The campgrounds have full-flush bathrooms and showers, which park guests lauded for being the cleanest they'd ever seen.

There are also cabins that can be reserved year-round, though they tend to fill up quickly for the summer season.

Raines said that this wealth of activities and different amenities is why Stub Stewart State Park sees such a diverse mix of campers and recreationists.

"We have such a great user group out here," he said. "They come here specifically to take advantage of the amenities and features here. So, you can pretty much stop and talk to anyone. They're friendly, and they'll talk to you about their hobbies if you let them."

One of the crown jewels of Stub Stewart State Park is its welcome and interpretive center, known as a "discovery depot."

It is packed with not just merchandise, but historical displays and cases that contain furs, skulls, skat, and footprints of the many native fauna.

"We get a lot of positive comments from people who visit here," said park volunteer Diane Babayco. "They say it was a lot more than what they were expecting. It's a lot more than just a store."

Volunteers described it as one of the most well-curated visitor centers in the state. It's not just a place to pick up trail maps and buy snacks or memorabilia — it's a space where you can go to learn more about Oregon's history, the history of Washington County, and, of course, about the legacy of the park's namesake.

Loren LaSells "Stub" Stewart was an accomplished timber industrialist, Oregon state representative and lifelong advocate for public lands. Stewart died in 2005, while the state park outside Banks was still under construction. What was once planned as Hare's Canyon State Park instead changed to L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park in his honor.

Oregon State Parks encourages Oregonians and tourists alike to check out all that state parks like Stub Stewart have to offer. Visit stateparks.oregon.gov to learn more or make a reservation.


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