Pilot Rock High School students Coen Little and Carly Smethers grunted, struggled and hefted the asymmetrical chunk of tree over the edge of the big metal dumpster.
One more piece of debris ready to haul Thursday morning from Pendleton’s Community Park in the wake of McKay Creek flooding in the second week of April. The waters now are their usual quaint burble, but tons of river rock, trees big and small and an array of detritus remain over much of the park.
Little, a freshman, and Smethers, a senior, were among the dozen Pilot Rock high schoolers who ditched classes with their teacher and track coach Kimee Haguewood on perhaps the best day of this year’s spring to participate in the effort to reopen Community Park.
“I feel like there is a lot of negativity going around and we’re trying to spread some positivity,” Smethers said.
Ten students from Pendleton High School also participated in the park cleanup, along with several other community members and staff from the Pendleton Parks and Recreation Department. Kaley Cope, communications coordinator for city parks, said 35 people in all pitched in from 9 a.m. to noon for the event. Given the amount of rubble and such, she said, the volunteer help is significant.
Elisabeth House, PHS senior, dropped stone after stone from gloved hands into 5-gallon buckets. She said the rocks were everywhere. Her group filled so many buckets they lost track, and that was with more than an hour to go. Removing the rocks is a big deal. Park crews can’t mow until the stones are gone.
Community Park is home to the Pendleton Rotary Disc Golf Course. Lincoln Williams was working to ready the park for this weekend’s disc golf tournament. Past contests have drawn 120 players, he said, and while some targets need a bit of work, he said the event would go forward.
Parks and Recreation director Liam Hughes shouldered his share of the burden. He said he hoped to have some portion of the park open Thursday afternoon.
“We’re just going to chip away at what we can get done,” he said.
For now, that does not include the park’s east side playground, where piles of stones cover the soft bark under the swings, slide and more.
“We pulled a full trailer load with rocks and crud out of the playground,” Hughes said.
Crews have to excavate the area, lay new bark and test all of the equipment. But that work has to wait on the construction of three new playgrounds.
City parks in 2017 raised $95,000 through a $56,500 state grant and smaller private grants to replace playgrounds at Aldrich, May and Sherwood parks. The grants expire soon, Hughes said, so his department needs to build the areas or pay back thousands of dollars. The department then will turn its focus to the Community Park playground.
Getting through all the projects is going to be its own hurdle for the department. Hughes said the department is down 60 percent staff, including six to eight vacancies in seasonal positions and a full-time staffer in the office. Crews are putting in overtime and coming in on weekends to stay on top of the workload.
“We’re definitely feeling it,” he said.
Many of the volunteers and staff felt the strain of the sweaty labor Thursday. Little from Pilot Rock took a few big breaths after he and Smethers unloaded that wedge of wood. Dirt and splinters covered his T-shirt. He said the grind was worth it to help folks enjoy the park again.