Ownership of former Cascadia State Park transferred to Linn County

By Scott Swanson
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Cascadia residents, officials from county, state and federal agencies, local residents and about a dozen Native American tribes members gathered Wednesday, Sept. 21, to officially transfer ownership of the former Cascadia State Park to Linn County.

“A great thing has occurred,” County Commissioner Will Tucker told the crowd of about 75 people who gathered to celebrate the event and feast on salmon and fry bread contributed by the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde.

The 256-acre park sits on land that was an important meeting spot for Native Americans for centuries and also provided camas bulbs, a vital food resource. The park is located at the juncture of Soda Creek and the South Santiam River. It includes a hiking trail through a lush old-growth forest to the 134-foot Lower Soda Creek Falls.

In addition to “primitive” camping facilities, the park stands on the site of the Cascade Resort, which once included the Geisendorfer Hotel in the early 1900s, located alongside Soda Springs. The odorous water mineral springs were believed to have medicinal value when consumed. As many as 2,000 people would visit the resort on Sunday afternoons. George and Jennie Geisendorfer ran the popular resort for nearly 45 years before selling the land to the state of Oregon in 1941.

State parks officials have acknowledged that the park, located 75 miles by road from the Detroit Lake, the next closest of the state’s parks, was difficult for the state to maintain. In 2007 it was completely closed to the public for the winter due to staffing issues.

Linn County has managed the park for three years and took it onboard in July. Wednesday’s ceremony was the official recognition of the ownership transfer and culmination of work that began more than two decades ago.

Tucker gave a synopsis of the project, thanking all who were involved. He singled out Cascade Timber Consulting and its president, Milt Moran, which owns land around the park, including the “Cascadia Cave” location near the park, which includes ancient petroglyphs created by Native Americans.

“Milt, I thank you and I thank the Hill family for all you’ve done,” Tucker said.

“We wouldn’t have (nearby) River Bend (campground) if it wasn’t for that man and his relationships with the Hill family. We did a little land swap, they did a great gift.

“I’ve never dealt with Milt where he hasn’t given me more than I’ve offered up in exchange. You’re a man of honor and integrity and you’ve done the right thing for this community for a long, long time.”

U.S. Forest Service retiree Steve Coady told the crowd that the Cascadia Park area is “very culturally significant” to the indigenous people.

Coady, who worked extensively with former Sweet Home Ranger District Archaeologist Tony Farque for “at least 16 years,” doing living history presentations, recounted how early settlers reported that Native Americans from the Warm Springs area would cross the mountains on “ancient travelways” to the Willamette Valley to pick hops and other crops.

“This is one of their areas,” Coady said, gesturing toward the east where there is a large meadow where indigenous people collected camas bulbs, which they roasted and ate like potatoes.

“There was plenty of deer, bear and other animals to hunt in the area,” he noted.

Native Americans Dietrich Peters, left, and Dean Armstrong conduct a smudge ceremony to mark the occasion.

Dietrich Peters, a Grande Ronde elder, assisted by Dean Armstrong, of the Lakota tribe, performed a traditional smudging ceremony and provided the salmon-based feast, which Peters said was a traditional part of Native American gatherings.

He said it is important to bless the land, talk with each other and share food.

He said the blessing was a way of providing thanks to “Grandfather.”

“There is a good energy here, we share that with everyone,” Peters said.

Peters explained how important the camas fields were to migrating tribes and that the soda water that was so abundant, acted like medicine and called them “healing waters.”

Tucker said that one of his goals in working with the state to take ownership of the park, which had proven difficult for the state to manage, was to protect the “really critical” cultural treasures in the area, in particular the Cascadia Cave.

“Part of my desire in taking this on was that I thought maybe we could do a little bit better job of monitoring and, perhaps, controlling it,” he said.

Commissioner Sherrie Sprenger called the ceremony a “moment in time that has been coming for a very, very long time,” noting that many people in the community “have had their fingerprints on this.”

She said she had had conversations nearly 15 years ago with Lisa Sumption, now director of the state’s parks, about the needs of Cascadia Park.

“We’re privileged to be trusted, because that’s what this is about,” Sprenger said. “This is how we use this land, not abuse this land. This is how we enjoy this land, this is how we celebrate this land.”

Commissioner Will Tucker, left, makes a point as Parks Director Brian Carroll listens during the Cascadia Park transfer ceremony.

She praised Parks Director Brian Carroll and his Parks Department team members, who, she said, are “one of the most phenomenal county park departments in the state of Oregon. And I don’t say that as your county commissioner; I say that as your former state rep who saw lots of counties across the state.”

Sprenger pointed out Jean Burger, the unofficial mayor of the unincorporated Cascadia community, as a “champion” of the community who has been “an instrumental part of the transition of this park from the very beginning. Not very many of us here today can say we were here from the beginning, but Jean Burger can.”

Stater Parks Director Lisa Sumption said the park has “so much cultural significance” and she also recognized Linn County Parks as an exceptional system.

She pointed out how successful Linn County has been in managing the nearby U.S. Forest Service campgrounds and she added Cascadia Park “is in great hands.”

Carroll called Wednesday’s ceremony a “wonderful journey” that has “taken a career to get here.”

Carroll recently celebrated his 25th year as parks director and said talk about the park transfer began about a year after he started work here.

“We are fortunate that State Parks did a lot of infrastructure work at this park before turning it over to us. That is very important and greatly appreciated,” Carroll said.

Carroll also thanked members of the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde for providing valuable input and historical information about the site.

“It shows they have a lot of trust in our parks staff and the work they do,” Carroll said. “The tribes actually wrote a letter of support endorsing the transfer.”

Carroll also thanked Commissioners Tucker, Sprenger and Roger Nyquist, who has long supported the project.

Jane Gourley and grandson James Gourley check out the now-outdated state park sign.

Both Carroll and Tucker thanked neighboring property owner Cascade Timber Consulting, land owners the Hill family and its president Milt Moran, who chairs the Linn County Parks Commission, for their strong support of not only this project, but many county parks projects.

Also representing the Parks Commission was Darryl Dukes and fellow members are Mellissa Barnard, Ken Bronson, Daryl Dukes, Mike Hurd, Rich Kellum, Rachel Maynard and Paul Timm.

Sweet Home City Council members present were Dylan Richards and Angelita Sanchez.

In addition to Burger, an honored guest was former State Senator Mae Yih, who strongly supported the transfer effort.

– Linn County Communications Officer Alex Paul contributed to this report.