Thornton natural area? It’ll be a while – Hasso Hering


A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Thornton natural area? It’ll be a while

Written March 20th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

East Thornton Lake on Tuesday afternoon. The “natural area” is on the right bank.

It’s been 10 years since the Albany City Council spent $2.25 million to buy 27 acres of fallow farmland and brush on the south side of East Thornton Lake. But its development as a natural area open to the public remains in the indefinite future — if it ever comes about at all.

A reader wondered recently if there was anything new with the East Thornton Lake Natural Area. The short answer is no, there isn’t.

The city of Albany bought the land in 2009 from a Salem developer, using a state grant and a million dollars from the city’s Pepsi-settlement fund. The purchase ended a bitter fight over plans to subdivide the acreage for single-family housing. Neighbors and others strongly opposed the development, fearing among other things that it would damage the lake’s ecology. There also were concerns over access to and egress from the development.

City officials made it clear at the time there were no plans for immediate development of the acreage as a park, through there was talk that eventually it could become a laboratory for school studies of the area’s plants and animals. Early in 2017, students from the University of Oregon developed various concepts for the land.

When I wrote about this in October 2017, there was talk about hiring a consultant to design improvements, such as a parking area and some trails, and having something happen on the ground in 2019 or ’20. The schedule has slipped, however.

“The current budget includes money to complete some site planning for East Thornton Lake Nature Area this year,” Parks and Recreation Director Ed Hodney told me a few days ago. “However, as has been the case for a few years, we will continue to put off development of any improvements until we are confident the P&R budget can support the maintenance of a new park. The next couple of budget years look extremely tight, so we will not commit to construction at this time.”

Hodney will retire at the end June. (Of the applicants for the job, the city has interviewed eight via video and picked four finalists for in-person interviews on April 15.)

“I will get the planning work going soon,” Hodney told me, “but the decisions to build and maintain new parks will be left to my successor and others.”

So, if you’re waiting to visit an established and developed East Thornton Lake Natural Area some time in your life, don’t hold your breath. (hh)

13 responses to “Thornton natural area? It’ll be a while”

  1. Mort Harkins says:

    Is there still a turtle crossing in that area? As traffic increases we must keep this crossing patrolled!

    • DSimpson says:

      Funny! The turtle sign was the source of quite a few eye rolls a few years ago. That, and the people who already had houses on or near the water were the biggest proponents of protecting the ecology/habitat.

  2. CHEZZ says:

    The new State Park on Buena Vista Road is a wonderful local addition with trails and river access, parking, restrooms. Maybe the State can take it on and make it happen, protecting wildlife and turtle crossing too!

  3. Richard Vannice says:

    I have traveled North Albany Road since 1963 at least twice, and sometimes more, a day and have never seen a turtle. Has any one seen one crossing the road?

    • J. Hanschlatter says:

      Biologists have studied the issue and determined that turtles prefer to remain out of the hustle and bustle, preferring to cross roadways during the evening hours when fewer are watching.

  4. S. Whittle says:

    By it’s very existence, East Thornton Lake is already a natural area.

  5. CHEZZ says:

    Yes, I have made a full stop for a single turtle crossing the road. I loved it! In the 1990’s.

  6. Arn says:

    So whose pockets rec’d the remainder of the state grant and Pepsi money if it’s not being spent for its intended purpose: Thornton Lake Natural Area?

  7. Andrea S says:

    Personally, I am glad the city bought this area to preserve as open space — and I don’t live near it (though I drive by it daily). I am a proponent of keeping some natural areas amidst tight neighborhoods. Even if there are no turtles to enjoy it, I believe humans, deer, and other creatures will enjoy it for many generations.

  8. Rachel La Brasseur says:

    Can I fish off the bridge?

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Don’t see why not.

    • Pat Riot says:

      Yes, but you’ll only catch toxic green slime in the months of May through October due to both increasing excessive fertilizer run off from lakeshore and adjacent properties and a warmer and drier climate. Since the early 2000’s, both Thornton Lakes suffer from toxic green algae blooms half of the year depriving most life in the lakes of oxygen. But there is hope. The lakes could revert to healthy past times with oxygen sustaining all year long if the surrounding land owners greatly reduced their use of conventional fertilizer and/or switched to organic products. No oxygen begets no fish equals no turtles.


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