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<i>Its back: </i>Westmoreland Park Casting Pond refills

But, NO Milk Carton Boat Races in '07
by: David F. Ashton, Neighbors come to see the water spray into the Westmoreland Casting Pond as it fills for the first time in five years.

For half a decade, Westmoreland Park's casting pond (and model yacht basin) was dry.

And, for a time, it looked as if this unique water attraction, on which construction began 70 year ago in Southeast Portland, would simply be filled with dirt and forever lost.

But on Friday, September 29th, THE BEE was on hand to see this historic pond refilled. Neighbors who watched the water spraying into the Casting Pond all said they were pleased, but for differing reasons.

Saw history being dug by hand

'I'd say it was 1937 when I saw them start to dig the pond,' recalled lifelong neighborhood resident Fred Rigutto, as he took a break from his morning walk.

'I must have been 12 years old. It was a WPA project. Some workers would dig, others would shovel dirt onto piles, others put it into wheelbarrows; others shoveled it into trucks and drove it away. They kept a lot of people working here.'

Rigutto smiled as he recounted seeing the pond filled for the first time, watching casting contests and model boat enthusiasts captain their yachts. 'In the winter, they'd drop the water level, it would freeze, and we'd go ice skating. It is truly unique. I'm glad they kept it; I don't know of another like it in the country.'

Boater's passionate dream restored

Neal Paddison couldn't hold back his smile. He said he was born and raised in Eastmoreland, and now lives in Westmoreland, only blocks from the casting pond.

'We formed a neighborhood of people who were determined not to lose the casting pool.' Paddison explains, 'I was appointed to the citizens committee working with Portland Parks and Recreation to develop a new master plan for the park.'

But his hobby, Paddison told us, 'really, it's my passion, is building radio- controlled model ships. The Pond is a 'dream venue' for model boating. The beautiful park setting, a calm, reflecting pool; you can't beat it. There's enough room for electric and steam craft to be running on one side of the pond, and model sailboat clubs to race on the other end.'

From a practical standpoint, Paddison added, the smooth concrete bottom allows captains to safely retrieve distressed watercraft wearing hip waders.

Roosevelt credited

'When they first lost the water supply,' Paddison related, 'they talked about making this historic Portland landmark into a soccer field. The pond was completed in 1939; it will soon be 70 years old. I don't know of any other urban casting pond, anywhere.'

Paddison said President Teddy Roosevelt was an avid fly fisherman. 'We'r e told he personally made sure this particular WPA project would be built here in Portland.'

[READER COMMENT: "Teddy died in 1919, and the WPA was established in 1935 as a project of Franklin Roosevelt, who had a special wheelchair outfitted for fishing. So this probably should say FDR, not Teddy." We agree that was probably who Paddison was referring to.]

Rights to transfer water solves problem

'We are filling the pond - without drilling a well - by transferring unused water rights from Eastmoreland Golf Course,' explained Jeff Milkes, S.E. Services Manager for Portland Parks and Recreation, as he watched water flow into the pond.

He added, 'We had to coordinate with the state fish and wildlife department to assure the whole ecosystem wouldn't be interrupted by our using water from Crystal Springs Creek.'

Future irrigation use pays for pond plumbing

Because it will be used as an irrigation retention pond, this move will save citizens hundreds of many thousands of dollars in payments for city water, Milkes said, as he introduced us to the park bureau's irrigation specialist, Mike Carr.

The water is being pumped out of Crystal Springs Creek, Carr said. 'We have a 15 hp pumping system with a foot [intake] in the creek. A 4' line brings water to the new pump station at the south end of the pond. The water is pumped into a 3' line that takes the water to the north end of the pond.'

The pond holds 2.8 million gallons of water, said Carr. At 100,000 gallons a day, it took less than a month to fill the pond.

In early in 2007, park officials say they'll install a second pump system that will supply up to 400 gallons per minute to the park's irrigation system. 'We'll draw from the south end of the pond, instead of using costly city water. During our driest weather, we'll be able water the entire park in an eight-hour period.'

An additional benefit of this system is, according to Carr, the clarity of the water. 'By pumping water in to one end, and out the other, the water won't have the opportunity to stagnate.'

But -- no 'Milk Carton Boat Races' in 2007

'As far as we're concerned, we'd love to see events like the Milk Carton Races return to the park,' Milkes said. But it appears it won't be happening this next June, at any rate.

Unaware that the Casting Pond was being refilled with fresh water, Rick Jarvis of the Portland Rose Festival told THE BEE, 'There are no plans to revive the Milk Carton Boat Races, because of the efforts being put into the upcoming 100th year celebration. We haven't closed the door for the future; we love have as many community- and business-sponsored events as possible.' The races were the Rose Festival's only event in Southeast Portland.

Milk carton races or not, thanks to the dedication of neighbors and the diligence of the parks department, it looks as if a unique Portland landmark is back--to bring visitors to Westmoreland Park for many years to come.