The excitement for the new parks on the east side of Portland is nearly insatiable as people turned out in throngs for the grand opening of the long-awaited, $11.8 million dollar, 16-acre jewel of the Portland parks system, Luuwit View Park on Saturday, Oct. 21.
Despite the heavy rain that persisted for the entirety of the ceremony—so fitting in a very Portland way—more than 200 people showed up to see what has been under construction for the last year in Parkrose’s Argay Terrace neighborhood.
Hosted at Luuwit View from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the event was jovial and crowded with children and adults from all over the community, many lining up to use the new play facilities or snack on the treats being offered by Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R). The event was emceed by Commissioner Amanda Fritz and featured speeches from both PP&R Director Mike Abbaté and Parkrose School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray.
Formerly known as Beech Park, the uniquely shaped dual-parcel became Luuwit View for the Klickitat name for Mount St. Helens, upon which the southerly part of the park has a perfectly framed vista. Sitting right next to Shaver Elementary School in the heart of Argay Terrace, the park has been in some form of development for more than 50 years. The Saturday unveiling was overflowing with a half-century’s worth of relief and accomplishment. “Two years ago, this site was a meadow …” said PP&R Director Abbaté in his remarks at the grand opening; “It represented a promise that had not yet become real.”
Abbaté spoke before a throng of excited and wet community members and families with children—so many they couldn’t all fit under the large shelter that is the centerpiece of the larger parcel.
“Today we are surrounded by fields, gardens, play features, skate areas, basketball, picnicking and you! Hundreds of community members, youths and families,” said Abbaté with a grin.
The crowd snacked on a plentiful supply of cupcakes brought by PP&R, and though the rain didn’t let up, the children not only found plenty of chances and places to play in one of the park’s many play areas, they also cavorted in the rain as kids are wont to do.
The Memo spoke with Commissioner Fritz after her speech about her feelings on the day of the park’s opening. “Driving on [I-]84, I couldn’t see 10 feet in front of me, and I thought ‘People aren’t going to show up.’ But not only did they show up, they sat through a long set of thank yous, because this was a group effort. So, I think everyone came here thinking, ‘I was part of this,’” said Fritz.
When the Memo took a tour of the still under-construction park over the summer (Gateway Discovery and Luuwit View preview, MCM September 2017), the 16 acres of the park are stuffed to the gills with places for children and adults to move around. One grand opening attendee was overheard saying, “I’ve never seen a Portland park with so many activities.”
In the bigger parcel, adjacent to the shelter where the opening ceremonies took place, are multiple play areas with interesting features like xylophones and other things to keep children playing.
Chris Gabriel, a music teacher at Shaver, was on hand to play music for the children at the grand opening, many of whom are his students. He’s a ukuleleist and guitarist who was at the park for his first time. He marveled about the xylophones on the playground. “I’m so happy that there are musical instruments at this park! They’re very high quality,” said Gabriel; “The mallets are tied to them, and the sound is amazing.” He also noted that the way they’re built encourages him to bring students to expand their musical horizons in the park and that the plan is for teachers to have a gate key, so they can bring students over from Shaver Elementary.
The smaller of the two parcels on which the park sits features basketball courts, a skate park, an open grassy area over an acre in diameter, two steel ping-pong tables and a climbing wall that was covered with kids at the opening event.
Jane and Johana Nelson are a local couple with a two-year-old son who live nearby. Jane was ecstatic about the opening of the park. “It’s just so great. We’ve been walking down there every day of the summer to see the progress,” said Nelson. When asked how often she expected to come to the park with her child, she didn’t hesitate to answer: “Every day we can.”
The appreciation the nearby residents showed was reflected by Abbaté and Fritz, who both thanked long lists of people that helped build the park and for all their hard work in tough conditions. Among those who were singled out for praise were artist Mauricio Robalino, whose abstract 16-foot high “Bird” sculpture, which features glass mosaic sides is the triumphant focus of the park, and Argay Terrace Association’s land use chair, Al Brown, who played a formative role in the project. Both the commissioner and the director also praised the work of Stacy and Witbeck, the general contractor who built the park.
Park Ranger Supervisor Vicente Harrison took the stage after Commissioner Fritz and announced the hiring of eight new rangers to a roaring applause. Security of the park has been one of the neighborhood’s chief concerns. Harrison made it clear there would be a significant ranger presence in the park as often as possible, especially in the park’s early weeks. But the scene-stealer of the afternoon was Park Ranger Rhonan Eshoo, who finished the speeches by leading the children present in a deputation oath, making them parks rangers with a responsibility to protect the park and keep it clean and in working order.
Mark Ross from PP&R Media Relations filled us in with more information on the additional ranger staffing. “We are recruiting for four positions for downtown night patrols and for four dedicated to PP&R sites in east Portland. The recruitment info is online,” says Ross, “[and] applications accepted until Nov. 6.” As to how the rangers will be deployed, less information is available, but Ross referred us to the following statement: “Portland Park Rangers respond to calls for service citywide and try to get to as many parks as we can on regular patrols. It’s hard to tell at this time how often rangers will be at Luuwit View Park—we have 200-plus properties, so [we] must take into account where calls for service come from, staffing issues and so on. Calls for service can be made to the ranger hotline at 503-823-1637.”
Ross also recommended that anyone interested in starting or joining some type of neighborhood watch or patrol to keep the park safe should contact the East Portland Neighborhood Office at 503-823-4550. The hiring of additional staff and general thought process toward protecting the park shows that these may be more than just words, as PP&R seems set on keeping Luuwit View looking great and working at full capacity.
The park also has a lighting system that promises to keep shady activity to a minimum after dark. “I can see the them from our house. I think that’s good and it will be a deterrent. I live just two blocks away from the park,” said Nelson of the lights.
Commissioner Fritz didn’t mince words about the presence she hoped to see from the park rangers. “In addition to putting more money into east Portland parks, I’ve always said we need rangers on the east side. When I took over there weren’t any,” said Fritz. “This park is defensively arranged so rangers or police can just drive right by and see if there’s anything going on. I think it bodes well for the future.”
Open, but not 100 percent
As good as things looked on opening day, there were still a few areas not quite complete yet. As we learned when we spoke to PP&R Project Manager Britta Herwig about the project over the summer, last year’s rainy season set the crews back mightily. Brent Allison is the project manager for Stacy and Witbeck, Inc., who led the Luuwit View project for them. He also spoke about the arduous construction process that brought this massive multifaceted park to life.
“We had historic rains last winter that came in October and really hurt our schedule. That was about a four-month setback,” said Allison. Because of that, the basketball courts, community garden and water feature were not open for business at the opening ceremony. “We worked in muck boots for nine months. When that soil gets wet, you’re halfway up to your knees real quick. That’s been the biggest challenge for us,” said Allison; “How do you build all this stuff in the mud? But the guys did a fantastic job, and it’s detail work, every bit of it.”
Allison says because of delays, the basketball court and water feature won’t be ready until spring. It’s doubtful anyone will mind that too much—at least not the absence of the water feature over the next seven months—and he added that the community garden should be ready to open in the next week, though it would also not be taking plants until the spring. “Sixteen acres of landscaping is a tremendous amount. When I did the takeoff on the irrigation pipe at one point, there was more than six miles of irrigation pipe on the project,” said Allison of the massive undertaking.
The city has plenty of experience working with Stacy and Witbeck, though not on parks. “We’re a transit contractor specifically. We just wrapped up the Orange Line for TriMet, and we do a good handful of TriMet’s light rail projects,” said Allison, “and each one of those has greenways or some landscaping component similar to a small park—but nothing of this scope. As a construction manager, this is my first park.”
The results are getting raves so far.
“He loves the swings, but he really likes that climbing wall feature. All the kids were playing on that,” says Nelson of her son Henry’s love of the park. And if the opening weekend is a sign of things to come, it’s going to be getting a lot of foot traffic in the last days before rains set in.
On the Sunday after the opening, even the Nelsons took their son back to Luuwit View and estimated they saw at least a hundred people there.
On a sunny day a few days after the park’s opening, Eugene and Eva Laxer, who live next door to the new park, were walking their three dogs in the off-leash area. “I’m a complainer,” said Laxer. “I complain about everything, but this park has exceeded my expectations five times over.” They moved to east Portland a few years ago from Atlanta to be near their children, who have all migrated to Portland over the years. “We’ll be coming here every day to walk the dogs.” He paused, then motioned towards Mount St. Helens. “It’s a great view.”
Luuwit View Park (formerly Beech Park)—pronounced Loo-WIT
Park cost: $11.8 million funded by Parks System Development Charges, which is revenue from development across the city that is intended to support growth—not general fund tax dollars.
Location: Between Northeast Fremont and Shaver streets and from Northeast 126th to 132nd avenues in the Argay Terrace neighborhood.
Vehicle entrances: Northeast Fremont Street at 127th and 129th avenues and Northeast Shaver Street at 129th Avenue.
Pedestrian access points: Northeast Beech Street and 126th Avenue, Northeast Failing Street at 131st Place and Northeast Failing Court at 132nd Avenue
Size: 15.7 acres
Hours: 5 a.m. to midnight
Amenities: Expansive lawns, an accessible playground, a misting water play feature (Spring 2018), grand views, a youth soccer/sports field, a full-size basketball court (Spring 2018), a Portland Community Garden and a teen area. The latter includes a climbing structure, two ping-pong tables, a group seating area and a skateboarding area. The entire teen area will be covered (Spring 2018) with colorful sports-court surfacing. Other park features include accessible picnic areas, a covered shelter, restrooms, public art and a fenced off-leash dog area. A multi-use paved trail connects the entire site, and additional soft surface trails creating options for walking loops.
Parking: 68 parking spaces, including four for disabled drivers in two lots that are lockable at night.
Park Ranger hotline: 503-823-1637
Interested in starting or joining some type of neighborhood watch or patrol to keep the park safe? Contact the East Portland Neighborhood Office at 503-823-4550.