Its time to PARTY

Grand opening for Foothills Park will get under way at 1 p.m. Saturday and will run through the evening
by: VERN UYETAKE, Kurt Minges, a maintenance worker with the Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Department, works Tuesday on preparing Foothills Park for its grand opening celebration this Saturday.

Lake Oswego is already known for having some of the most unique and well-maintained parks in the Portland-metro area and now the city is getting ready to celebrate the grand opening of the development of Foothills Park, which nestles up to the Willamette River.

The celebration gets under way Saturday starting at 1 p.m.

For years, the nine-acre parcel of land was an integral part of Lake Oswego when it was an industrial leader in Oregon. Because of its prime location near the waterfront, the Foothills area housed one of two enormous blast furnaces in the city. The other is currently being refurbished at George Rogers Park.

After the iron industry failed to turn Oswego into the 'Pittsburgh of the West,' the furnace was dismantled. The Foothills area was then used by the Flora Logging Company and the land was eventually purchased by the city of Portland in 1962 for the purpose of building the Tryon Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The remaining land was leased to a wood chip processing facility, which eventually stopped using the facility in the late 1990s, leaving behind a rather unsightly vacant structure.

'Before, the property was inaccessible to the public. We wanted to reclaim the river frontage,' said Josh Thomas, the citizen information coordinator for Lake Oswego.

Then, in 2002, Portland reached an agreement in which the city of Lake Oswego would purchase half of the nine acres and be granted an easement for the remainder of the property to be used as a park.

A parks and open space bond passed in November of 2002 provided nearly $10 million in funds for the purchase and, in 2005, construction took place to completely make over the riverside location in Lake Oswego.

'I've heard a number of people say that they were driving down Foothills (Drive) and were shocked that a place like this existed. We have a lot of great parks in Lake Oswego but this one is special,' said Kathy Kern, events supervisor for the Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Department.

Now, roughly a year later, what was once an industrial haven has turned into an aesthetically pleasing place for families and nature lovers to enjoy.

'It's a real gem. I think it's a very rare and beautiful property,' Thomas said.

The new and improved Foothills Park, completed last fall except for certain plantings that were put in this spring, features sweeping lawns with paths running parallel to the river. A large plaza with a water feature and a border of trees has been set up as well as a bridge leading to a viewpoint over the Willamette River and a structure built for picnickers.

There are also pathways that connect Foothills to Roehr Park and the Kincaid Curlicue. In the future, pathways could eventually run to Tryon Creek State Park.

Recently, a large circle of stones featuring some of the writings of William Stafford was dedicated at the park and is on display for park-goers to enjoy.

'There's really something for everybody. It's great to go down there and see families enjoying the sun and then to see people walking on the paths and looking at the sculptures,' Kern said.

Perhaps the most visible and exciting feature of the new park is the grassy amphitheater and stage. This new venue will provide the city with a perfect location for the annual Summer Concert Series and other events throughout the year.

The amphitheater will be put to good use at the grand opening celebration for the park, which will be held Saturday starting at 1 p.m.

At that time, a variety of backyard games, including bocce, badminton and croquet will be held for the public and there will be face painting and other activities for children.

Then, at 5:30 p.m., Mayor Judie Hammerstad will welcome the guests formally followed by an impressive line-up of entertainment.

At 6 p.m. Ron Steen and the New Orleans Horns will play a two-hour set before yielding to blues legend Charlie Musselwhite who will play songs from his most recent album.

'It's an impressive assortment. We're really lucky to have performers of that caliber,' Thomas said.

Finally, at 9:15 p.m. a large and colorful fireworks display will close out the evening's celebration.

The park is currently open to the public and, although the initial construction has been finished, the city is excited about the potential for bigger and better things with Foothills.

'We've had a lot of nice comments so far and people have really enjoyed (the park) in the evenings. It's been quite a turnaround,' Thomas said.

Foothills Park is located at 199 Foothills Drive along the Willamette River in Lake Oswego.