New ‘Visitors Center’ opens at Powell Butte Nature Park

Find out why neighbors and park supporters laud its replacing of the ‘old red shed’ …

This isn’t an artist’s conception – it’s a photograph of the new Powell Butte Nature Park Visitors Center, now open to the public on weekends.

Many people there for the festivities said they’d been looking forward to the day the new Powell Butte Nature Park Visitors Center would be opened to the public.

Marked by a low-key ceremony, June 28 was that celebratory day – attended by many neighbors, project supporters, and key Portland Water Bureau executives – but no City of Portland commissioners or officials.

About the new Visitors Center, Friends of Powell Butte President Tamra Dickinson says, “Overall, I’m thrilled!

“Our organization had a strong voice in advocating for changes in the Nature Park, in connection with the construction of the [Powell Butte Reservoir No. 2] project,” said Friends of Powell Butte President Tamra Dickinson, an 18-year member of the association.

“We advocated for the Nature Park to have a full-time caretaker, with a respectable living situation – instead of a dilapidated double wide with a hole in the bathroom floor,” Dickinson told East Portland News. “Many of the fall line trails were built straight down, they became eroded and muddy. They’ve redone trails, and they’re now well-designed, and built to shed water.”

Their other recommendation was to build an “Interpretive Center” as part of the Visitors Center. “We need a place to be able to have education and help people really understand the resource that Powell Butte has been, and continues to be.”

Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Association President Karen Hubbard, and Gordon Hubbard, inspect the new Visitors Center.

Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Association President Karen Hubbard commented, “This facility has been needed for a long time. The modern restrooms are a welcome sight to myself and every other hiker who comes up to Powell Butte.

“To make sure that we have a good facility, one that will be useful on into the future, is awesome!” Hubbard enthused.

Visitors marvel at the wall-sized aerial view of Powell Butte and the greater Portland area.

Centennial Community Association Chair Tom Lewis agreed. “I’ve watched the planning and building process for quite a while; it’s been a few years.”

He and other Centennial Community Association neighbors who participated in the public process stressed the importance of not putting up a hodge-podge of buildings. “We wanted to see that the building had a farm-like theme. It all looks even better than it did on paper – and that final design was attractive.”

About the Visitors Center, Lewis commented, “The building itself is quite nice, and the displays they have here are amazing. It shows the history and wildlife of the area, and shows how our water system works.”

Portland Water Bureau Public Information Manager Tim Hall welcomes guests to the grand opening of the official opening of the Powell Butte Nature Park Visitors Center.

Before serving the center’s grand opening as master of ceremonies, Portland Water Bureau Public Information Manager Tim Hall recalled how, long before construction began, they’d begun gathering information about what the community wanted to see, after the reservoir project had been completed.

“Actually, it was part of the Land Use Process required for the ‘Powell Butte Reservoir 2’ Project,” Hall clarified.

Not far from the site of the new Visitors Center, Hall recalled, had been the only “public facility” located in the nature park.

The new visitor center replaced the “little red shed” – the only visitor amenity in Powell Butte Nature Park. PWB archive photo

“There was a small red shed that was once close to the site,” Hall recalled. “It served as the maintenance building and the restroom for the entire park. As you remember it was very small. So we were pleased, constructing the Visitor Center, we are able to expand the restroom facilities.”

To fulfill the “Interpretative Center” component of the Land Use Agreement, the Visitors Center features displays which – on fair weather days – swing out under large canopy doors. “Both the Parks Bureau and Water Bureau wanted to educate neighbors and visitors about our water system,” Hall said. “There are a number of displays which show how water comes into the city from Bull Run, and how it is distributed throughout Portland and to our wholesale customers in Washington County.”

Durable and informative display panels pivot out, under the shelter of a large, raised window-wall.

There are also some exhibits concerning the wildlife and plants that are on Powell Butte.

“And on the outside of the building, there is a display of Native American culture,” Hall went on. “We have learned from tribes that this was a place that had value and significance to the Grand Ronde people – primarily as a hunting ground.”

Portland Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff talks with visitors about the Visitors Center, and the new reservoir project.

Many visitors commented that the Visitors Center is both a beautiful and a substantial building that compares very favorably to many of the City of Portland’s “public art” installations.

Portland Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff said the park improvements are part of the “Mitigation Plan” specified as part of building their second 50,000,000 gallon reservoir on the site in outer East Portland.

“Projects like this don’t fall under the ‘1% for Art’ rule,” Shaff told East Portland News. “But, we did take a lot of care in putting together this Interpretive Center.

“This building is designed to last for a long time,” Shaff pointed out. “One of the things that we do well is to build things that last for a long time. We’ve been in existence for 115 years. And I’m hoping that somebody comes back in a few decades from now and says ‘Wow! This is a pretty cool facility!’”

Visitors Center Open Weekends
The new Visitors Center is currently open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The restrooms are open during all park hours, seven days a week.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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