Ron Gavette isn’t one of those octogenarians who sits on his porch watching the world go by.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Gavette just has a rather intense to-do list.
Back in 2012, he decided to create a small park on the north bank of the Umatilla River near Pendleton’s Main Street Bridge. Recently, he added a trail.
It all started when he decided to get rid of an eyesore. He and wife Penny regularly walked downtown from their North Hill home and had a good view of the bank as they crossed the bridge.
“It was a mess,” Gavette said. “There were overgrown blackberries, wild roses and locust trees. People threw mattresses and other debris down there, along with cuttings from their yard.”
With the city’s blessing, Gavette set out to transform blight into a tiny oasis. First, he created a short path down to the river from Northwest Bailey Avenue, near the Pendleton Center for the Arts. In the center of the park, he cleared out a spot for a burn pile, then began chopping out weeds and vines. A crew from Lost & Found Youth Outreach helped for a day, with the city providing two trucks and two drivers to haul trash and other debris to the dump.
Gradually, the park took shape.
About a year ago, neighbors placed a sign at the top of the path (across the street from First Christian Church) that reads, “RON GAVETTE PARK: This area was cleared and made a place of respite by Ron Gavette — a neighbor and advocate for all that is good. Rest and be thankful for the beauty and the peace that has been created here.”
Gavette has observed an increasing number of people using the unofficial park. He often notices people sitting on the bench or picnic table, strumming guitars, eating lunch or just gazing at the water. During a visit on Tuesday, he smiled as he watched a woman stroll along the river’s edge with her dog.
Those who visit the park will likely see an assortment of animal life. During Gavette’s recent visit, a great blue heron launched itself from the top of a cottonwood tree, a seagull sunned itself on a river rock, swallows swooped and smaller birds twittered all around. A squirrel chattered. Neon blue dragonflies navigated like tiny helicopters on joy rides. Water bugs skittered across the surface of the water. A snake slithered into a pile of branches.
Gavette, retired supervisor at the Boardman coal-fired power plant, maintains the park himself. He mows a grassy area — a native grass — with a weed eater every few weeks. He gathers branches carried into the park by spring flooding. He picks up occasional trash, but has been surprised by how little he finds.
“There’s not a lot of litter, but there’s been some vandalism,” he said.
Gavette pointed to a nearby maple tree where spray paint marred the bark. Several months ago, someone absconded with a bench he placed at the park. Gavette replaced it, but chained this new one to a tree. The bench is heavy enough not to float away during spring flooding.
Recently, Gavette cleared trail westward for seven blocks and a short way to the east. The retiree spent many hours using a bow saw to clear branches. He opted against a chainsaw to avoid disturbing wildlife.
“I try to be as quiet as possible,” he said.
Gavette walked along his trail, calling it “primitive,” but realizing it might be a good thing. Across the river is the more traveled paved path of the Pendleton Parkway. Unlike the parkway, this trail wends through the woods and grassy openings in a way that plunges the walker into nature.
Gavette carefully navigated a small log he had placed over a marshy spot and stepped off on the other side. The aroma of mint was thick. Up ahead, he noticed something that made him frown. Someone was camping on the trail. Gavette walked up to the red tent and called out to the occupant. A groggy voice answered from within, protesting that he wasn’t bothering anyone. Gavette advised him to move on, then continued his walk.
On the way back to the park, he passed a tree gnawed by a beaver. A little further, he pointed to a tree that had been lying across the path until a neighbor cut through it with an axe. Wood chips littered the ground. This neighbor is just one of many people who have caught Gavette’s spirit and have added improvements to the park. Others plant flowers and pick up trash. Retired Pendleton City Manager Larry Lehman recently decided to purchase a second bench for the park, a place he visits often.
“The park is gorgeous and it brings you close to the wonderful Umatilla River,” Lehman said. “I appreciate what Ron did here.”
Gavette’s tiny park probably won’t become part of the city’s park system any time soon. The city would need to find money for upkeep and also provide access for people with disabilities.
Gavette said he will continue maintaining the oasis he created for as long as he can. He loves to see people there.
“People are enjoying it,” he said. “That’s what I get pleasure from.”
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.