Lake Oswego celebrated the long-awaited opening of the Hazelia Agri-Cultural Trail on Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Luscher Farm.
Mayor Kent Studebaker and other City officials attended the event, along with several of the local community members who worked for years to bring the trail to life, including Stafford Hamlet resident Ann Culter, who played a key role in the project's working group, and Rick Cook, whose historic family farm serves as one of the stops along the trail.
The group of more than 90 attendees also included several members of the Hinatsu family, whose historic farm lies along the southern part of the trail; Art Stevens, who donated Stevens Meadow to Lake Oswego; Regis Raujol of the Luscher family; and Jon George, secretary of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council.
Studebaker and George each addressed the group, and then together cut the ribbon to officially open the trail.
The four-mile trail consists of a series of 10 color-coded informational placards installed along a walking route on Rosemont and Stafford roads between Cooks Butte Park and the historic Whitten farmstead, with Lake Oswego's Luscher Farm serving as the approximate midpoint.
"It's all tied together," Cook says. "There's so much history out here, but it's never been documented as a region."
The trail shows off the diverse history of the Hazelia area and is intended to complement the Oswego Iron Heritage Trail that passes through downtown Lake Oswego. The two trails overlap at the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery, where many of Lake Oswego's early residents are buried.
Cook says the Hazelia trail is intended to highlight the untold second half of the story, when former miners turned to farming in the Stafford basin.
"Where's the rest of the story?" he told The Review last year. "When (the iron industry) went belly-up, where did the people go? To tell the history of the agricultural piece — that's why we wanted to do it."
The Shipley-Cook farmstead was originally purchased and settled by Adam Shipley, one of the early pioneers who turned to farming after Lake Oswego's iron-mining industry petered out. Rick Cook's great-grandfather, James Preston Cook, purchased the farm in 1900, and it has remained in the Cook family for 117 years and six generations.
The farm had become overgrown by the 1980s, but in 1993 Rick Cook moved in and began to restore it — a decades-long process that involved several other members of the Cook family who live nearby.
The initial goal was simply to clean up the property, but Cook says that after the City purchased a quarter-acre of the farm's land in 2003 to make room for a traffic circle on Stafford Road, the family's focus turned to preserving the farm as an historic landmark, and in subsequent years the group won a series of historic designations to protect the farm.
In 2014, Cook began campaigning for the farm to be incorporated into a cultural heritage trail in the same vein as the Oswego Iron Heritage Trail, which opened two years earlier. He and a handful of other interested neighbors, including Culter, began meeting regularly to discuss the project. Cook describes those initial informal meetings as "like a book club."
The group began to divide the different topics and historical areas among themselves to conduct further research, Cook says, and they quickly found the scope of the project expanding beyond just the Shipley-Cook farm.
"The big goal was that we didn't just want a heritage trail," Cook says, "but to tell the story of the people who are now in the Pioneer Cemetery. There's so much history out here that has never been told."
One of the first additional sites to be added to the list was the Oswego Grange, which Shipley built in 1875. The building served as a community hub, assisting farmers with planning and doubling as a schoolhouse.
"We wanted not only the agricultural piece, but the cultural piece — that's how the grange came into it," Cook says. "The grange was the internet of the times."
Other farmsteads joined the growing list of potential trail sites, including the Hitatsu and Whitten farms on Rosemont Road and Luscher Farm itself. Steven's Meadow, the adjacent Crawford Land Claim, and Cooks Butte were added as well.
For many of the added sites, the group reached out to owners or descendants to write the placards, giving them a chance to tell their own stories. One of the panels, which was written by the Grand Ronde, tells the story of the area's original Native American inhabitants.
After a year of meetings, Cook says the group began reaching out to the City and the Historic Resources Advisory Board to seek help with turning the project into a reality. The group applied for a grant to fund the placards, and then worked to finalize the list of sites and the text on each sign.
Narrowing down the list was challenging, Cook says. The more the group dug into the history of the area, the more potential trail sites came to light.
"Do we talk about the (Oswego) canal?" Cook says. "But then how many panels are we going to do?"
Eventually, Cook says the group used the Stafford Road traffic circle as the trail's geographic central point and expanded it out from there until it was an appropriate size. The signs were finally installed on June 29, and the group members say they're already drawing the attention of people walking through the area.
"People are already starting to stop by and read what's on the panels," Culter says.
"Hopefully they'll be intrigued by the signs and keep going," Cook adds.
For Culter, who lives in the Stafford Hamlet, the opening of the trail presents a great opportunity to teach visitors and residents alike about the unique history of the Stafford area. That's an important message to communicate, she says, especially given that Lake Oswego and other nearby governments recently signed a five-party agreement with Metro regarding the partial future development of the area.
Now more than ever, Culter says, it's critical to get people invested in preserving the rural area and its history.
"The timing was perfect," she says.