Havel stressed that what unifies Stub is not so much design as tribute—the place is an homage to the timber industry. The diminutive Loran LaSells “Stub” Stewart (1911-2005) was a timber baron as well as a stalwart advocate for Oregon parks, so several trails at his namesake park bear timber-themed names, like Skidder Row and Felling’s Wedge. “In that area, timber is just what you breathe in the morning and what you let out of your lungs when you go to sleep,” Havel told me.
I am a non-native Oregonian, an emigré from New England, and if you asked me to cut down a tree, I’d have to consult howstuffworks.com. Still, I have to ask, humbly: Isn’t, like, half the state of Oregon already a tribute to the timber industry? Shouldn’t a park afford us an escape from that grim reality?
To be fair, when Stub’s planners began seeking a site in 1998, they had far fewer options than Oregon’s park czars did back in the 1930s, when iconic state parks like Silver Falls and Ecola State Park came into being. But the state should have spent its money on a site less ravaged than Stub.
Great parks are always the spawn of a single genius.
Like, for instance, beside Willamette Narrows, a sparkling, steep and skinny stretch of the river near West Linn. Here, Metro has acquired some 600 acres—two islands, dotted with wildflowers, and a swath of shoreline leading up to Canemah Bluff. Deer and coyote roam through the forest, and ospreys soar over a stretch of river unscarred by human habitation. The Narrows would be a delightful destination for kayakers and hikers, but currently no roads lead to the shoreline. Building the roads and parking lots needed to make the area accessible would cost about a million dollars.
But even if splendors such as Willamette Narrows are wiped out, I’d argue that we could still keep building good parks. We need only remember why people go to parks. We go, as Olmsted wrote, to savor “a specimen of God’s handiwork.” We go to rejuvenate, to breathe deeply and get a glimmer of the natural majesty that was here on the land before landscape architecture—and even human settlements—ever existed. And we can find that glimmer in the most trodden and unlikely of places. When I visit Tanner Springs Park downtown and see where the space’s architect, Herbert Dreiseitl, set a stream gurgling amid alders and slough grasses, I hear the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who wrote, “And for all this, nature is never spent;?/?There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”
At Stub Stewart, sadly, I don’t hear any such poetry. I hear chainsaws and trees falling, and I hear bureaucrats keyboarding away in sterile offices, drafting unwieldy plans, far, far away from the wonders of nature.