Many were once gathering places for pioneers – ferry platforms and camps for new travellers and fresh and anxious citizens. Some were early powerplants: mills and powerhouses. Others are land that was returned to the county after its owners died, having not left it to family or perhaps dissolving it into the fizz of an insolvent estate. Others were donated purposefully due to their historical significance – a significance that’s often hardly documented.
The feeling of abandonment varies degrees county to county; in some – Clackamas for instance – the parks are well tended, planned, and have interpretive boards about plants and bridges. In others, a sign has been knocked over and an outhouse has begun to eat itself. The sense of lawlessness is what I sought and what I enjoy about these soft corners on the sides of inconvenient roads.
While these parks were often once places that generated or powered communities, I sought them out for isolation. The woods have begun to grow crowded; the extraordinary places require leashes, permits and planning. I found that seeking the ordinary and the covered in wet leaves and gray skies led me to solace.
During a period of several lonely and groundless months I spent a great deal of time in such pursuit. I discovered it was not only a quest for the idle with a dog and truck but also a new way to document Oregon’s history of habitation, land use, sense of community and the values that we attribute to those notions. I shall continue my visits and documentation in spite of the conflicted sense that part of the draw of county parks is their inability to inspire much interest in anyone else.