28 April 2006

Along the Crooked River

Prineville, Oregon
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Although spring was officially ushered in over a month ago, the weather hasn’t wholeheartedly corresponded with the season until this past week. With spring just beginning to bud, the landscape of central Oregon is not yet parched, cracked, and baked to a crisp. Descending from the plateau into the Crooked River Valley made me reminiscent of other high desert locales I’ve called home: southeastern New Mexico, Salt Lake City, and the valley south of El Paso, Texas. The desert grows on you after a while.

This was only my second visit to Prineville, which is home to the Les Schwab Tires empire. For now, it still retains its small-town feel where its appeal continues to draw native sons and daughters home to raise their own families within its intimate atmosphere. There’s no doubt that the natural landscape has much to offer: nearby lakes and reservoirs for water activities, Smith Rock State Park for the rock climber (or observer) in all of us, and the Three Sisters Wilderness area and Mt. Bachelor for all those snow sports.

On the horizon, however, a contrast is surfacing. The marketing of an outdoor lifestyle with all the amenities in nearby Bend, Oregon, and subsequent growth in both the job and housing markets has produced all the makings for a population boom that is already in the works. The overflow from neighboring Deschutes County is cropping up in Prineville, and will more than double the population when the planned developments are completed over the next decade.

18 April 2006

A Little Recognition for Riddle

Riddle, Oregon
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
If you were to conduct a quick search on the internet to learn more about Riddle, Oregon, chances are, very little would come up.

At least, that was my experience. Usually I can find some small tidbit of information to inform me before arriving in a new place. My searches returned nothing but empty pages, and the southern Oregon tourism website doesn't even acknowledge its existence.

As I was leaving town yesterday, I took this photograph from my car window. And as I look at it now, I realize that it alone portrays a fairly accurate picture of Riddle.

The fact that the sign itself is carved out of wood is apropos for a town with several lumber mills. Even the small re-forested hills in the background signal what is the predominant industry in this part of Douglas county: timber. The local high school student body is known as the "Irish," hence the shamrock and green arrow. The 2006 Miss Junior Rodeo Queen, Alicia, lives here. She’s been riding horses since she was seven, and is a barrel racer. No need to note the population of about 1,000 citizens on the sign. Not much changes around here.

13 April 2006

The End of an Era

Trojan cooling tower
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
In the early morning hours of 21 May 2006, the 499-foot cooling tower of the Trojan Nuclear Plant is scheduled to be demolished by Controlled Demolition, Inc. This is the same company that imploded the Seattle Superdome in 2000. I write about this impending event not to spark any sort of environmental debate, but rather to reflect on the role Trojan had as a symbol associated with the small town I grew up in: Rainier, Oregon.

Last fall, when I first heard that PGE was planning on having the tower demolished, I was surprised. Trojan had closed nearly 20 years early in January 1993. I graduated from high school a few months later and left Oregon to attend college in another state. Five years later, my parents retired and relocated to Idaho, so I hadn’t realized that PGE has been working on decommissioning the plant since 1996. The early closure had a sizeable economic impact on our community, but I always thought even in dormancy the tower would stand as a silent sentinel along the river.

Growing up in Rainier, I didn’t think much about Trojan or what it may symbolize to other people. It was a part of my known environment, and consequently I thought it had always been there. My parents were teachers in the local school district, as were the parents of four of my classmates. Other classmates’ parents were loggers, longshoremen, or worked for one of the local paper and pulp mills along the river. Some worked at Trojan, just another fact in the fabric of my childhood. In the past, my father had been a tour guide there during the summer.

There I participated in bikeathons for cystic fibrosis, went to church picnics, and attended a friend’s wedding reception -- all at the park at the base of the Trojan cooling tower. PGE owns over 600 acres along the Columbia River, and they established a park with trails and bike paths around some of the surrounding wetlands. The location of the park didn’t strike me as odd or out of place until many years later. It was just another part of the community.

PGE is encouraging curious onlookers to watch the implosion from their television screens. I don’t know if the cameras can do it justice, or if I can resist watching the fall of the tower from across the river in Washington. But I do know it marks the end of another era in Rainier’s history.