COURTESY OF PP&R - About 100 people waited in line on a cold morning, Monday, Jan. 4, to reserve space for their weddings in Portland parks. Portland Customer Service Center Manager Shawn Rogers drove through the snow and ice early that morning to open the center, which was supposed to be closed.As snow and ice shut down most of the Portland area early last week, dozens of people with visions of spring and summer weddings dancing in their heads lined up in the cold outside the Portland Building hoping to reserve space in city parks for ceremonies.

One big problem: The Customer Service Center was closed for the day.

Enter Shawn Rogers, Portland’s Customer Service Center manager, who drove for more than an hour from his Lake Grove home early in the snowy, icy morning of Monday, Jan. 4, to make sure most of those people could reserve spots. He handed out semi-official vouchers so people wouldn’t lose their places in line.

At the beginning of each year, Portland Parks & Recreation takes reservations for weddings in the city’s 200-plus parks and facilities. During the first week, reservations are taken at the Customer Service Center counter, by phone or by mail. Beginning Monday, Jan. 11, reservations are taken on the parks bureau website.

It’s a busy time, Rogers says, with people lining up outside the Portland Building on Southwest Fifth Avenue hours (sometimes days) before the Customer Service Center opens. In the first week of 2016, the center has handled about 280 reservations. By the end of January, the city could see nearly 400 park site reservations, he says.

Then came the snow and ice. About 1 to 1.5 inches of snow fell Sunday, Jan. 3, in the Portland area, with trace amounts of freezing rain falling a day after that, and temperatures hovering near freezing, making travel slippery and dangerous in some places. Many streets were difficult to navigate. TriMet trains and buses were slowed, with some hilly routes delayed.

From Sunday, Jan. 3, to Wednesday, Jan. 6, city crews spent more than 3,600 hours spreading 24,000 gallons of deicer and 1,100 cubic yards of gravel on nearly 1,700 lane-miles of streets.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - About 1.5 inches of snow blanketed the Portland area Sunday, Jan. 3, slowing traffic and shutting down city offices. The city's Shawn Rogers opened the Customer Service Center early Monday morning, Jan. 4, so people could reserve park space for their weddings.

An unusual start

In the early morning of Monday, Jan. 4, however, streets were still pretty slick. By the time Rogers arrived at the downtown center at about 6:30 a.m., 85 to 100 people were standing in the cold waiting to get into the ground-floor office, which wasn’t supposed to open that day. Mayor Charlie Hales had told all non-essential city employees to stay home as snow and freezing rain fell around the city.

But Rogers says he couldn’t send people waiting in line home after they’d braved the cold for hours — in some cases since Sunday night, Jan. 3. Members of Rogers’ staff, who worked in the center until 9:30 p.m. Sunday, warned him that about a dozen couples were already outside, waiting for Monday morning so they could be first in line to reserve park space.

“If it hadn’t been for those people in line, I probably wouldn’t have come,” Rogers says. “I’m not considered an essential employee.”

Rogers improvised. On Sunday night, he whipped up an official-looking voucher with numbers 1 to 150 on his home computer and planned to use it to hold places in line. “We don’t use a voucher system, so this was new,” Rogers says. “It seemed to work fairly well.”

On Monday morning, Rogers gingerly guided his car onto snowy streets and slowly headed for downtown Portland. “The hardest thing for me was getting out of my driveway,” he says. “Once I got out, it was a fairly slow drive.” (His normal 20-minute commute on Interstate 5 became a 90-minute ride through snow and ice.)

When he arrived, Rogers opened the Customer Service Center doors and handed out vouchers. By the end of last week, his 17-member staff had handled about 110 reservations through the semi-official voucher system, Rogers says.

He closed the center at about 10:30 a.m. after helping dozens of people on his own (Rogers didn’t call in extra staff because he feared it would be too difficult to them to get to the office). On Tuesday, Jan. 5, people were back in line hoping for a second crack at reservations.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is in charge of Portland Parks & Recreation, praised Rogers as a "great example of parks staff who provide outstanding service to Portlanders."

"Despite the horrible weather, Shawn took the initiative on his own to make the extra effort and ensure that people who had arrived in person for wedding permits were appropriately served first," Fritz said. "I commend Shawn and the entire Portland Parks & Recreation customer service team for their hard, hard work on that morning and in the days after. Their work is especially important since this is the first January where everyone who is in love in Oregon and throughout our country is eligible to apply to be married in one of Portland's wonderful parks."

It’s the most unusual start to the reservation season Rogers has seen in his 20 years with the parks bureau. “We’ve had snow before, but this was the first time we had a day when city employees were told to say home,” he says.

“If I had sent (people waiting in line) home to come back another day, I couldn’t imagine that would be in any way a warmly received decision.”

Kevin L. Harden is digital media editor for Pamplin Media Group. 503-546-5167. email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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