Early champions of the Pendleton River Parkway had a daunting task in the early 1980s — persuading property owners along the proposed two-and-a-half-mile walking path to sign easements.
Pendleton River Parkway Foundation members went in pairs. Eventually, every property owner signed.
The parkway, now known as the Pendleton River Walk, turned 30 this year. Planning started more than a decade earlier. The original vision included a walking path, pedestrian bridge, plaza, wildlife preserve with nature trails, picnic area and boat basin and a series of low dams with flood gates.
Amy Aldrich Bedford, a demure but determined civic leader, led the charge.
“She was the driving force,” said Bud Moore, original board president and now-retired Pendleton pharmacist.
Bedford herself attributed the original idea to Art Evans, who chaired a city beautification committee and proposed a parkway in 1969. But Bedford was the engine. “She has dogged city officials, researched property titles and pushed the plan through a slow-moving bureaucracy,” said a 1985 East Oregonian story. The dogging was necessary, Moore said, because Mayor Joe McLaughlin had rejected the parkway idea as too expensive.
“We didn’t have a lot of support from the city at the time,” Moore said.
The river, except for installing a levee to prevent flooding, had largely been ignored. The public rarely used the dirt and gravel path atop the levee, said board member Marie Hall.
“It was utilitarian. Nobody looked at it for its beauty,” she said. “There weren’t many parkways around rivers yet — Pendleton was way ahead. The idea of turning the river into a feature was really new.”
Hall said she’d gotten pulled into Bedford’s orb when the latter walked into the East Central Oregon Association of Counties office one day in 1978. Hall, then 23, worked there as a land use planner.
“Amy walked into the ECOAC with plans rolled up under her arm,” Hall recalled. “She spread out the plans and talked about her vision for the parkway.”
Hall found herself pulled into the dream. When Bedford asked her to serve on the parkway board, she readily agreed.
The foundation hired Portland architect Richard Gabriel to conduct a parkway study. Gabriel, speaking by phone this week, said he reviewed existing conditions, analyzed community objectives and prepared a preliminary design. The strip of land alongside the river had promise. Gabriel remembers meeting several times with Bedford who “was determined, yet elegantly understated in her determination.”
“We were excited about the potential,” he said.
The proposed parkway would eventually extend two and a half miles from near Highway 11 to Highway 37, connecting the Round-Up Grounds, baseball fields, Washington Elementary School and other locations. Before the project could proceed, though, property owners along the route had to grant access.
“Amy asked a number of us if we’d be willing to knock on doors,” Moore said. “We would tell them what we were planning to do and ask whether they’d be willing to grant an easement.”
Among those knocking on doors, Bedford and board member Hazel Hubel were an especially persuasive duo. Most of the property owners were receptive.
“They got the ones who were supportive, then went to the ones who were hesitant,” Hall said. “They really listened to objections.”
Some owners worried about privacy or had safety concerns, Hall said, but most were solved creatively, by agreeing to special concessions such as fences to screen yards from public view.
“About the issue of crime, I remember Amy getting a little impatient about that,” Hall said. “She said there was no reason to think there’d be more crime because of a park along the river. She viewed the parkway as one more park.”
Pendleton Parks & Recreation Director Pat Dunham visited with every property owner. Most of their deeds, he said, showed ownership to the middle of the river.
“A lot of the owners weren’t sure they wanted the public back there,” Dunham said. “They worried about people throwing things in their yards.”
Ultimately, each and every one agreed.
“There were a few holdouts, but they eventually caved in,” Moore said. “Amy was a very convincing person.”
Bedford, who ran the East Oregonian’s commercial printing operation for years, fit her parkway activities into a busy schedule of work and other civic activities. The always-impeccably dressed Bedford preferred to stay just outside the limelight.
She was delighted when work got underway in June 1985 on the first half-mile section of parkway, which ran from the Southwest 10th Street Bridge to Southwest 18th Street. The $104,000 project included benches, lighting, shrubbery and a wooden shelter, funded mostly with federal and state grants. Six additional stretches of parkway appeared in the next 12 years. The River Walk now runs from Highway 37 east to beyond the Little League Park. A pedestrian bridge named after Bedford connects the high school and Aquatic Center with the Round-Up Grounds.
Dunham, as Parks & Rec director, wrote numerous grant proposals over the years and presented the proposals at federal and state meetings. He said city crews provided much of the labor. Still, Dunham doesn’t doubt who served as the Parkway’s biggest mover and shaker.
“Amy Bedford was the mother of the parkway,” he said. “She was a bulldog, but she did it in such a nice way. She was very persuasive. She wouldn’t let herself get discouraged.”
At the River Walk’s dedication ceremony, Bedford said: “It just seemed this town should have a parkway. I’m a native and I’ve been here a long time and I just got stubborn and didn’t want to give up.”
These days, the public path is a magnet for walkers, cyclists, birdwatchers and others. The parkway doesn’t include all the features on the original design, but much of Bedford’s vision has come to life.
This week, Gabriel said thinking back to the parkway project was like visiting “a ghost out of the past,” with many of the details hazy, but he clearly remembers Bedford’s determination.
“While this work occurred over 40 years ago,” the architect said, “the memories of Amy’s vision, enthusiasm and grace will always remain.”
Gabriel plans to attend Saturday’s Reconnect to the River event, celebrating 30 years of Pendleton’s River Walk. The event includes a free barbecue at noon at Roy Raley Park with music by James Dean Kindle and the Eastern Oregon Playboys. East Oregonian Publisher Kathryn Bedford Brown — Amy Bedford’s granddaughter — will speak about the grassroots efforts that lead to the development of the parkway.
Bedford, known as the Spark of the Parkway, won’t be there. She died in 2007.
No doubt her presence will be felt anyway.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-966-0810.