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Plans for Boones Ferry Park and French Prairie Bridge progress but at very different stages of development

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN -  Wilsonville citizens met at Boones Ferry Park to view the most recent master plan Tuesday, June 5. For months, a colossal shadow loomed over the Wilsonville Parks and Recreation department's plans to transform Boones Ferry Park.

Wilsonville City Council had yet to determine the exact location of the French Prairie Bridge, a bike/pedestrian structure that would extend across the Willamette River near the park.

But, after the French Prairie Bridge Task Force recommended aligning the bridge with Boones Ferry Road earlier this year, the parks and recreation department could begin to plan under the assumption that the task force's recommendation would carry the day.

And the same week that the City held its final open house to garner feedback on its plans for the park, Wilsonville City Council approved the bridge placement along Boones Ferry Road.

"By getting both of these done, it's enhancing one of your (city council's) goals and that's to improve the access to the Willamette River," parks and recreation advisory board chair Steve Benson said at the June 4 City Council meeting.

Parks and Recreation staff, working with consultants, previously put forth three possible plans that each focused on different goals — river access, activities and historical accentuation. The final draft plan, revealed by City staff and Design Concepts Principal Robby Layton at the open house, leans toward the former idea.

The plan's central tenant is to improve access to the Willamette River by building an overlook so park users can more easily view the river, a water equipment rental shop, parking and a floating fishing dock. The overlook would require the removal of some trees near the fence that separates the river from the park.

"I would say 95 percent of the people we've talked to, the number one thing they wanted is better river access," Wilsonville Parks and Recreations Director Mike McCarty said. "River access was the number one goal for doing this plan."

The draft plan — which still has to be adopted by the City Council — would also move the current park playground further away from the Tauchman House and closer to the water to create room for a plaza at the Tauchman House. The basketball court would be moved closer to where the playground currently resides and a parking area on the side of the park closer to the sewage treatment plant would be added as well. The newly imagined park includes a dog park, a restroom facility, trails at the top of the park and picnic tables.

"The idea is to create an esplanade of activities in the park that are pushed to the river so that they feel connected," Layton said. SPOKESMAN PHOTO: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - The Boones Ferry Park master plan aims to improve access to the Willamette River at the park, a desire that showed up frequently in surveys and public meetings.

Open house attendees, who split up into four groups and expressed their views as a group, generally liked the idea of improving river access.

"The whole access to the river, being able to see it more, being able to enjoy it because we live so close, that whole aspect we really liked," one representative of her group said.

Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp echoed that sentiment at the June 4 City Council work session when the parks and recreation staff presented the plan.

"I hope that we're able to do the access to the river component because I think that's a theme that we have been hearing for at least two decades that I'm aware of in Wilsonville," Knapp said. "People feeling like, 'We've got this river coming through here but unless you really work at it you can't even see it.' I think that's a very significant piece of

this."

However, multiple attendees at the open house were concerned about the possibility that improved river access and boat rentals could lead to an influx of park users, overwhelming the neighborhood. At the council meeting, Knapp reminded residents that the park is a regional park rather than a neighborhood park, indicating that it is designed to be used for residents from throughout Wilsonville.

"It's a regional park and it's one of a very limited number of areas where people in the area can really access the river and it has the historic component so the need for a regional park and the suitability of a regional park is different than a neighborhood park," he said.

Layton said motorized boat users would be deterred from Boones Ferry Park because access for such users would be infeasible, but that river-goers who use small devices such as canoes and kayaks can carry their devices down to the dock.

McCarty said staff did not add many recreational activities to the plan precisely to temper problems with overcrowding.

"Not making it to where it's so active with the ball fields and practices where the neighbors and everybody here say 'This destroyed the whole look of the park,'" he said. "We wanted to keep the historic look, keep the trees, keep the forestry look."

The French Prairie Bridge Task Force graded the Boones Ferry Bridge location as preferable to two nearby alternatives — funneling the bridge to Southwest Tauchman Street or a route near the Wilsonville Wastewater Treatment Plant — in terms of connectivity and safety, emergency access, compatibility with recreational goals, compatibility with existing and built environment, and cost and economic impact.

At the June 4 meeting, Wilsonville City Council unanimously passed a resolution to approve the Boones Ferry alignment.

"A lot of years of work have gone into this project and I'm just happy to see it take a step forward. I know there's a lot more work to be done," Councilor Susie Stevens said.

If funded, the bridge would likely affect the old orchard that sits near Boones Ferry Road. Two of the four groups at the Boones Ferry Park open house expressed disapproval of this possibility.

"It's gonna wipe out this part of the park, which is a neat part of the park and an old part of the park. The orchard has been here forever," one attendee representing his group said.

Layton and McCarty said the Boones Ferry alignment would be the least invasive of the three alignment options.

At the City Council meeting, former Wilsonville Mayor John Ludlow testified during the public hearing and questioned the bridge's potential to receive funding and its practicality for emergency vehicle access.

"I think it's a bicycle and pedestrian bridge and a very expensive one," Ludlow said.

Councilor Charlotte Lehan said the bridge will be useful for second responders rather than first responders to emergencies.

"The ability of the second responders with special equipment to get the highway open again is where the emergency access would be most helpful for the freeway," Lehan said.

Now that the bridge location has been decided, Wilsonville will need to garner funding. Knapp said doing so could prove challenging and that the city would need help from other jurisdictions and revenue sources.

"It's clear there is a pretty fair amount of support across the region, not just in Wilsonville. If it's just up to Wilsonville, I doubt this will get built because I don't think Wilsonville is going to come up with the money by themselves," Knapp said.

Knapp, though, said if the bridge is built, it could be an economic and tourism boon.

"I think there's significant economic drivers — tourism components, people to stay in our hotels and tour down the valley," he said. "We don't have the castles like they have in France but I think we have really top-notch scenery that can be attractive. I think there is potential there."

Wilsonville City Council will consider approving the Boones Ferry Park master plan this summer.

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