Rotarians take lead on trails at Hobart Park

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home Trails Committee will host a trail walk at 10 a.m. this Saturday, March 12, at Hobart Park. The public is welcome. Participants should meet at Hawthorne School, 3205 Long St. Round-trip distance will be about two miles. The difficulty will be relatively easy, but participants are encouraged to wear waterproof footwear, due to the possibility of standing water or mud.

Work has begun in earnest on the 60-acre Hobart Natural Area park south of the rodeo grounds and Foothills Drive in the city of Sweet Home, and the community is rising up to help.

Members of the Sweet Home Rotary Club, which has adopted the park, accessible from the south end of 35th Avenue and the east end of Foothills Drive, as a project. They have been working in recent weeks to clear brush for trails and the city Parks Board is considering engaging a wetland consultant to help put together a feet-on-the-ground plan for trails in the wetlands portion of the park.

Members of the Sweet Home Trails Committee, an ad hoc group of local citizens interested in hiking, running and cycling, are discussing how they can get involved, as has the city Tree Commission, and the high school Forestry Club is expected to help out later this year.

“Work has commenced mainly because of the driving force behind the Rotary, said city Planning Services Manager Laura LaRoque “They decided they wanted to do a local project. They took the lead on getting the park ground-truthed (confirming the information on planning maps), then getting it cleared.”

The park, much of it once pastureland, was donated to the city by property owner Lawrence Hobart, who had already built a small housing subdivision along Foothills Drive, in 2004. Hobart planned to develop it until he learned that the wetlands contained the endangered plants and would be considered “locally significant” by the state. So he deeded 59.57 acres, the south half of the property extending past the city limits, on condition that it be made part of the city parks system, but managed as a natural habitat for non-motorized public use, and that it would bear his name.

As city officials plot their strategy in developing the park, they’re factoring in the presence of three local species of plants: the endangered Bradshaw’s lomatium, and the Methuselah’ s beard lichen and tall bugbane, both of which are considered “sensitive” species.

Bugbane, also called “rattletop,” is a perennial herb in the buttercup family that grows 4 or 5 feet tall in wooded areas. Its name comes from the fact that the plants are said to put bugs to flight by the rustling of their dried seed heads, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica on-line.

The work being done is based on a plan for the park, developed in 2013, that “we’re currently in the stages of carrying out,” LaRoque said.

She said plans for the wetlands area, which occupy the north end of the parcel, mostly meadowland beneath wooded slopes, could include boardwalks and, possibly, some bridges. During the wet season, most of the wetlands area is standing water and deep mud.

LaRoque said plans include the removal of female ash trees that are taking over the meadow area, which the high school Forestry Club has committed to helping with later this year.

Above the meadow, Rotary members have cleared trails, which LaRoque said will get a layer of chips or gravel.

“We will be applying for some grants,” she said.

Rotary President Cindy Glick said the 23-member club “wanted to see some action” in the development of the park and decided to get involved. To adopt a park, an organization has to commit to six working visits per year to the facility.

“We all agreed it would be such an asset for community,” she said. “We felt we could easily meet the labor requirement.”

She said Rotary members are hoping to get one of the trails named after Ozzie Shaw, the father of the Linn County Parks system and a Rotary member for 50-plus years, who died Dec. 29, 2015.

Rotary member Ken Bronson, who is also an avid hiker, runner and cyclist, said he sees “ a lot of potential in that whole park.” Bronson said he’s worked at Hobart with other club members on several occasions so far this year.

During the last week of February he and others were busy with chainsaws, clearing brush, small trees and downed logs that littered the marked trail areas. He noted they’ve seen plenty of evidence of wildlife in the area, including a cougar kill and a downed log that appeared to have been ripped up by a bear.

“It can be developed into a natural area that’s useable,” he said. “It’s just more of an outdoor experience that’s right in the city. That’s the key thing. You’re in town, but you can get away and enjoy the outdoors without having to drive.

“I can run from my house, take my dog, and have an outdoor experience.”

Dave Glick, another Rotary member and Cindy Glick’s husband, said he thinks Hobart will become “a shining star in Sweet Home, especially in the summer months.

“You’ve got almost 70 acres of land there that is going to be just perfect for families to get out and enjoy themselves.”

He envisions trails with signs to educate the public about the endangered plant species, as well as other animals and plants in the park, which offers a variety of habitats.

As a retired cross-country coach, Glick also said he considers the park perfect for junior high and high school meets. Currently, there is a lack of proper facilities for such events in Sweet Home, which has led to an “under-the-radar” status for the high school and junior high programs, despite their success.

LaRoque said the community interest is encouraging.

“This is gaining momentum,” she said. “It’s not widely known that the park exists and if people do know, they don’t know what it has – animals, plants, various habitats. It’s not intended to be pretty well-groomed.”