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Senn's Dairy Park dedicated


From left, Parkrose Neighborhood Chair Mary Walker, Portland Parks & Recreation Executive Director Zari Santner, Christine Charneski, community organizer and City Commissioner Nick Fish at the low-key grand opening of Senn's Dairy Park.
As low-key as it was, last month's grand opening of Senn's Dairy Park was still a moment of triumph for some Parkrose community activists and one community organizer.

The one-acre, L-shaped parcel on Northeast Prescott Street at 112th Avenue contains an open grass field on the west end, a play structure on the east end and a community garden on the south end. Tile markers, when set in their proper places, will name and describe each of the native plants on the outskirts of the improved area.

It is a modest facility, designed to serve the local community, and is well used. Volunteer and principal at nearby Faithful Savior Ministries School Stephanie Thornton says it is a convenient 15-minute bike ride from her home, and she often comes there to read or eat her lunch.”

Christine Charneski, who was employed as a local community organizer under the Target Area program, says that in a 1999 community survey a public open space emerged as one of the highest priorities. The Parkrose School District at that time placed restrictions on the use of its facilities for non-school related activities. The vacant former brownfield was virtually the only place where such a facility could go.

Much of the next 10 years represented a tug of war between the community and the then-named Portland Bureau of Parks, with the issues symbolized by, but not limited to, the park's name. Charneski recalled that the name Prescott Park was designated as a placeholder, with the assurance that a more elaborate naming process would occur later. Then bureau personnel declared that Prescott was the future park's name and that no substitutes would be considered, particularly Senn's Dairy. Community members, led by Joe Rossi, championed this forbidden name, and the bureau eventually gave in.

There were other disputes involving the bureau's low priority for improving the small site and the degree of brownfield rehabilitation needed. “You would have one person make a solemn promise, then have someone else make a different decision and refuse to budge,” Charneski said. Despite all this, the finished product adheres closely to the concept created by planner Becky Morrell in 1999.

Thus there was some vindication when Bureau Executive Director Zari Santner declared at the ribbon cutting, “When the community came to ask for this, the bureau said no. The community was right, and the bureau was wrong. We need to have a process for citizens to come up with ideas, and a chance for citizens to make their dreams come true.” She gave praise to the many people involved, including Rossi, former Parkrose Neighborhood Association Chair Marci Emerson Peters, current Chair Mary Walker and Christine Charneski. Of the latter, Santner said, “The community is lucky to have activists like you. This is a fantastic place for the community and your children.”

She then introduced Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the bureau, as “someone who believes in parks, who indicated when he was running for election that he wanted to have Parks & Recreation as part of his management portfolio.”

Fish showed up an hour early and helped Walker and her husband, Brian, set up for the celebration. He said the park sported the best-looking community garden he'd seen.

“Sometimes you see us on council spend a lot of time on matters that don't seem to affect you. We don't often get to celebrate our good neighborhoods,” Fish said. The dedication was “the beginning but not the end of our partnership with Parkrose.”

Fish also reminded those present of the completion of the East Portland Aquatics Center, the completion of a master plan for Beech Park, and the opening of a skateboard facility at Ed Benedict Park, together with a pledge to construct two new soccer fields on the Parkrose High School campus.

“East Portland is on our radar,” he said. “None of this would be possible without you as partners.”

Walker reminded those present, “There is strength in numbers,” and urged them to participate in the neighborhood association to make life in Parkrose better.

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