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Envisioning a 'natural playground'

Design charrette gathers public input on how best to develop unused piece of Iron Mountain Park

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - Community members pore over maps and discuss design options for the new segment of Iron Mountain Park at a city-hosted charrette on Saturday. Thirty years ago, the City of Lake Oswego purchased a multi-acre parcel along Iron Mountain Boulevard with the goal of transforming it into a developed part of the larger Iron Mountain Park. Those plans fell through, though, and the property has sat largely unused for the last three decades.

But that’s about to change.

The city’s Parks & Recreation Department is moving forward this year with a new master plan to develop the area and integrate it into the rest of Iron Mountain Park, with ideas that range from a picnic area and trailhead to a “natural playground” that would encourage children to form a more direct connection with the world around them.

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - There isn't much room for parking at the current entrance to a 3-acre piece of Iron Mountain Park that city officials hope to develop into a natural playground.Details are still being finalized as officials gather input from area residents and current park users to help create the final design.

“We have a bunch of structured play (in Lake Oswego),” says Ryan Stee, a planning and natural resources manager for Parks & Rec. “We don’t have anything like this.”

The land in question is a roughly triangular space located between Iron Mountain Park and Iron Mountain Boulevard, directly east of the Lake Oswego Hunt Club. A stream runs through the middle of the parcel, paralleling the road and leaving just under one and a half acres of developable space on each side.

Stee is spearheading the project, which he says has been on his to-do list for a long time.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for six years, since I started,” he says.

Iron Mountain was first developed as an iron mine in the second half of the 19th century and has several trails left over from that era. The initial 49-acre area was donated to the city in 1963, and in the last 25 years, the city has purchased additional property along Iron Mountain Boulevard to add to the park.

Unlike the rest of the park, the smaller portion next to the Hunt Club is not heavily forested. It is currently being used as a staging location for construction of the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership project. It was also used in the 1990s as a dump site for debris generated by the 1996 flood.

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - Water project crews currently use part of Iron Mountain Park adjacent to the Hunt Club as a staging area. The equipment is scheduled to be gone by June.Some city residents already use the area as an access point to Iron Mountain Park, but Stee says there’s currently only enough space to park one or two cars by the road and the lack of restrooms means many people try to use the facilities at the Hunt Club next door.

The plan is to develop the area with minimal amenities and an emphasis on connecting with nature. So that means while there will likely be restrooms, there will probably not be a playground — at least not a conventional one.

“It’s not going to be a Foothills Park or a George Rogers Park, where there are athletic fields,” Stee says.

Instead, Parks & Rec hopes the area can feature a nature playground, which would trade out monkey bars and plastic slides for sticks, trees and other more natural features with minimal modification. Stee says the natural playground concept has been gaining traction lately and is seen as a way to encourage children to form a more direct connection with the world around them.

Other features under consideration include a picnic area and a trailhead to connect the new area to the system of trails in the rest of Iron Mountain Park. The trailhead is a major focus for Stee, who says he wants to make sure the park’s overall trail system is accessible and enjoyable for everyone nearby, regardless of whether they’re on foot or horseback.

“We want to make sure neighbors continue to have a great experience,” he says.

None of the features have been finalized yet, because Stee and the department are still busy collecting public feedback. On Saturday, they hosted the first major public input event — a design charrette at the Palisades building.

Attendees were divided into groups of six or seven at a series of tables, where they could get a close-up look at maps of the area and mock-ups of design plans for the park.

Participants were encouraged to make their own suggestions, and each table came up with a vision for the park. Enthusiasm for the project was high, and most of the 30-40 community members in attendance seemed to agree with the idea of keeping the area as natural as possible.

“I love the fact that it’s a natural area in a suburban area,” Lake Oswego resident Doug McKean told his tablemates, “and I would like to see that character remain.”

Though the groups’ suggestions differed, they often shared a theme of minimal environmental impact. Many participants wanted restrooms, but said the toilets should compost waste rather than connect to the sewer system. Most people wanted additional parking, but suggested a permeable, gravel lot surface to avoid stormwater runoff.

Stees’ ideas for a nature-based play area and a trailhead were both popular. Others suggested shared facilities with the Hunt Club, a lower speed limit on nearby sections of Iron Mountain Boulevard and the addition of signs and placards detailing the history of the park and Iron Mountain.

One topic that received a lot of focus was the stream and wetland areas running through the park. The final plan will include restoration of those areas, but many participants wanted to emphasize them, and multiple table groups independently came up with the idea of building a small boardwalk through the wetlands.

“We recognize that one of the best places to create wetlands is where wetlands used to be,” one table spokesman said.

The next phase of the project will be an online charrette to gather additional public input. Once Parks & Rec has a good understanding of what the public wants to see in the new park, Stee says they’ll turn to a professional design team from Oregon-based ESA Vigil-Agrimis to map out the project. The team will be instructed to incorporate the most popular suggestions from the community into their design.

“(Equipment from) the water project leaves by June, and we want to know by then what we’re doing,” says Stee. “We hope to know by April or May what it could look like and what it could cost.”

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..