Following the flow of history

Scott Swanson

Bobbing along on a pontoon boat on Foster Lake Thursday afternoon, Sept. 1, local business people weren’t really watching the water.

Instead, their heads were turned toward Glenda Hopkins, a longtime volunteer with the East Linn Museum, who was telling stories about the lake and people who used to live under its waters – before the South Santiam River was dammed in the late 1960s.

This was the inaugural session of the 2022-23 Cascade Gateway Leadership program, organized by the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce to help local businesses and their staff become more ingrained into the east Linn County community and history.

“The purpose is really to take business leaders of the community and help them get to know the community a little more intimately,” said Rebecca Grizzle, executive director of the Lebanon Chamber and a Cascade Leadership graduate herself.

“We take people who are not from here, along with people who are native to Lebanon and Sweet Home. It’s fun to watch them discover things about their community they didn’t know about.”

One of those on the boat, piloted by Wes Collins, was Melody Jordan Reese, who until Aug. 1 was director of the Sweet Home Chamber and who participated in last year’s program. Grizzle recruited Reese, a Lebanon resident, to help organize this year’s Cascade Leadership.

“I think the biggest part was just getting to know other local professionals from a wide range of businesses throughout Linn County,” Reese said. “You see these people once a month for nine months. It’s a great way to expand your network, get to know the community.”

The program, in its 19th year, continued through COVID-19, though somewhat curtailed. It typically runs from September of each year through May, on the first Thursday of each month. It doesn’t involve much sitting around, Grizzle and Reese said.

“We had a fun day,” Grizzle said of the Sept. 1 itinerary. “Hardly anything went as planned.”

The group of 16 participants started in downtown Lebanon, where Grizzle provided a little history of that community.

En route to Sweet Home, they stopped at the Indian Council Tree in the Liberty area, before heading to the East Linn Museum, where Hopkins gave them a tour of the facility. After lunch at The Point restaurant, they moved to Calkins Boat Ramp at the east end of Foster Lake, where Collins took them on a spin around the reservoir as Hopkins provided some commentary.

She described how local pioneer Andrew Wiley (Wiley Creek) settled in the area in 1852 and then, in 1859, with some other local residents, decided to scout out a route across the mountains “because they were getting tired of having to travel around Mt. Hood to get livestock.”

Over two months they worked out what became the Santiam Wagon Road, stretching from Lebanon into eastern Oregon and served as the primary means of transportation across the central Cascade Mountains for most of the 74 years (1865-1939) it was in use. The road served as a livestock, freight and stage route facilitating trade, commerce, and communication, which significantly contributed to the economic enhancement and settlement of both regions, Hopkins said.

Hopkins also discussed how the William Mealey family built a seven-gable house near the river that would have been inundated by the waters of the reservoir when Foster Dam was built. Mealey’s youngest daughter, Rachel, and her husband purchased the house for $1 and had it moved to the north side of North River Drive, where it still stands, about half a mile east of Lewis Creek Park.

She also discussed how a portion of the community of Foster was buried by the reservoir, how Foster was eventually annexed to Sweet Home due to problems with drinking water supply from shallow wells that, at one point, were blamed for an outbreak of typhoid fever.

That’s a pretty typical day for Cascade Leadership participants, Reese and Grizzle said.

“Most of the time it’s field trips,” Grizzle said. “We get together in the morning, when we have a sponsor (for the day) who tells us about themselves. Then we’re out and about, all around.

“My favorite part about Leadership is visiting things people have either never heard about or don’t have access to. We used to go to White’s Electronics in Sweet Home. We go to Entek. We’ve been to the mill in Sweet Home – really interesting things.

Education Day, she said, usually involves visits to CompNorthwest medical school and East Linn Christian Academy. Public Safety Day might include a trip to the shooting range with Lebanon police, a demonstration of the Jaws of Life by the Lebanon Fire District, a lesson in CPR, a jail tour.

Reese said she especially enjoyed Government Day during last year’s schedule. Participants met with Lebanon Mayor Paul Aziz, state Rep. Jami Cate and Linn County Commissioner Sherrie Sprenger, who was Cate’s predecessor in the House of Representatives, who took them on a tour of the Linn County Courthouse.

“We learned a lot from our local officials that work in our county,” Reese said. “It was a great way to understand the processes a lot better.”

Sprenger, Reese noted, is a participant in this year’s program and was one of those on the Foster Lake tour.

This year, Reese said, she “gets to” help plan the Natural Resources Day itinerary, which, she said, she also really enjoyed as a participant.

“Last year we visited the natural reserve in Lacomb, Bogwood, which was fascinating. Then we visited the Roaring River Fish Hatchery, Foster Dam and Burcham’s Metals (recycling business in Albany).

“The days are just jam-packed,” Reese said. “We make stops sometimes in multiple towns across the county.”

Grizzle said cohorts are typically limited to 20 participants, and she’s eager to see more individuals from Sweet Home and Brownsville participate.

“I remember when we first started talking about having a leadership program, we didn’t call it ‘Leadership Lebanon’ because we wanted to include east Linn County,” she said. “Sweet Home and Lebanon are not big enough to have their own program.”

Cost is $500 for the nine-month program, with a discount for nonprofits, she said.

“It’s absolutely worth it,” Reese said. “I think Sweet Home businesses should take advantage of it, sending a team member once a month, getting a Sweet Home business into the network with the movers and shakers in all the other communities.”