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A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

What’s the deal on natural area?

Written December 1st, 2015 by Hasso Hering
You can park here if you want to explore the natural area stretching into the distance,

You can park here if you want to explore the natural area stretching off into the distance,

In 2009 the city of Albany bought 27 acres of former farmland on the south side of East Thornton Lake for $2.25 million. There once was the thought of building a parking lot and paths so people could enjoy the place as the East Thornton Lake Natural Area. But that prospect has retreated into the indefinite future now.

The area lies just east of North Albany Road. On a bike ride the other day, I stopped at a little parking apron off the street, apparently put there during this year’s road reconstruction as an eventual public entrance to the natural area. I wondered what if anything had happened to plans for doing something with the land. By email, Albany Parks and Recreation Director Ed Hodney gave me an update.

“The ETLNA project (first phase improvements) is postponed indefinitely,” he wrote. “While money is available for planning, design and initial construction, I recommended to the Council last year that we delay construction due to insufficient operating funds for a new park. We’ll reconsider this action if and when the revenue picture improves. Meanwhile, I will be proceeding with the planning and design phase this year in preparation for the construction phase, pending an improvement in operating funds.”

So, can people explore the acreage now, without benefit of improvements except for that driveway? “It is open for wandering,” was the way Hodney put it.

The area had been a focus of a hot land-use battle during the last decade. Neighbors fought plans for a lakeside subdivision there, and eventually the council ended the fight by agreeing to buy the land from its Salem owner. One million dollars of the purchase price came from Albany’s Pepsi settlement stash, $250,000 from park reserves, $610,000 from a combination of donations and a $558,926 state grant, and $390,000 in city parks development fee revenue.

The state grant, by the way, obligated the city to develop the land for recreation by 2014, according to a story I wrote in December 2011. Evidently that condition has been set aside or otherwise nullified. You might understand the parks director’s reluctance to build another park and maintain it with the money he has. The current parks maintenance budget allows for a mere 8.5 full-time-equivalent positions to look after 895 acres of park land all over town, not to mention an estimated 13,000 trees. (hh)

6 responses to “What’s the deal on natural area?”

  1. Oldtimer says:

    It was politically correct to appease homeowners that did not want a big modern building. Like the huge Bonaventure project. Not everyone desires to live next to such. The appeased homeowners on East Thornton Lake will in time have to accept crowds being crowds, noisy and littering at times. They really wanted their area left alone. What’;s a million bucks to the City? It was more important than bad potholes and streets needing repaving. It is not Hodney’s fault or idea. He is between a rock and a hard place.

  2. Shawn Dawson says:

    27 acres of empty land sounds great to me. When I was in grade school, this is the type of areas where we explored, flew kites, played ball. I haven’t been to look at this area though, now I’d like to. Thanks Hasso.

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:


    $2.25 million for “wandering.” If the pond turtles had vocal cords even they would be lamenting this huge waste of public money.

    I predict a new “park tax” will now be imposed to fund the operation. Or, perhaps the money will come in the side door from the “rain tax” being developed. Or, perhaps the money will come in the back door from more increases to the “privilege” taxes we pay. And did anyone mention that the city is looking at a dramatically increased unfunded PERS liability (see recent Oregonian articles)? Get ready for it, folks, the city will be inserting its fingers into your wallet yet again.

    • Bob Woods says:

      Gee Gordon, there you go again.

      The city bought waterfront property that the people will own forever. It’s available now in an undeveloped state, and will be available in the future when money is available.

      It’s called having Vision and Foresight.

  4. A Centrist says:

    I grew up in an eastern megalopolis (before we knew what that meant). Walked the Pennsy yard to see what was new, flew kites over the broken foundations of an old housing project. Nearest significant patch of grass was a mile away behind a chain link fence — aka playground. Never saw such as this “undeveloped” property. Be thankful for what you have here. Even the worst is beyond the best that I knew once upon a time

  5. Andrea says:

    I’m glad that Albany purchased this land. I value some open space amid our neighborhoods and city. It’s good to know that we can “wander” there (funny!).


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