Park with no access vexes visitors, neighbors

Lack of money for a dedicated road to the forest preserve complicates access

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 

At the main entrance to the Lauretta Norene Forest Preserve, a blue sign bears these words: "for the preservation of open space and enjoyment of the citizens of Clark County."On the road leading to that entrance are two more signs: "NO TRESPASSING" and "TRAFFIC ON THIS ROAD IS UNDER SURVEILLANCE." Not exactly a welcome mat.

The park itself is open to the public, said Bill Bjerke, operations superintendent for parks and grounds maintenance at Clark County's Department of Public Works.

"It's just hard to get to," he said.

There's no direct public access to the park, part of an 84-acre natural area in Brush Prairie. Getting there means either driving along a private road -- already a persistent headache for residents who live nearby -- or hoofing it from a school or dead-end road.

Both visitors and neighbors say they'd like a better solution.

The Lauretta Norene preserve was created through a land donation to the county in 1992, dedicated to the memory of a woman whose family lived there for decades. The park sits just north of Laurin Middle School, between Northeast 134th and 149th streets near Northeast 97th Avenue. The area is used by the school for nature walks or educational outings.

Bjerke said the county also gets occasional calls from people asking how to access the park. Entering from the south -- walking in from the end of 97th Avenue -- is the best bet, he said. That requires crossing an empty field that's also owned by the county.

County officials have discussed building a public access road directly to the park, Bjerke said. But don't expect it to happen any time soon.

"That's something that's going to have to be planned out," Bjerke said. "We really have no dollars to do anything right now."

As public parks go, the Lauretta Norene Forest Preserve is a gem. Well-kept trails meander through lush woods in a quiet, serene setting. The area is surrounded mostly by open fields and rural homes.

Sunny Hess is among those living along the road leading the forest preserve's north side. The park isn't a problem, she said.

"We just object to the county using a private road" to get there, she said, adding that she'd like to see the county make use of another public space next door: the Lucky Memorial Dog Park in Brush Prairie.

Hess said she sees someone using the private road nearly every day to reach the park, depending on weather. People generally don't park on it, she said, as it's only one lane. A small gate at the entrance offers some room for parking, but not much.

Visitors entering the natural area from the south, from 97th Avenue, will find a trail marked as the Groth Nature Area. Designated in 1997, that's part of the same area that connects with the Lauretta Norene park. Another trail enters the forest farther east, from the middle school.

The area represents more than a pleasant outing for Portland resident Colleen Hosmer. She's the Norene's granddaughter and knows the land well from her childhood.

"All these memories are out there of every Sunday being spent in that area," Hosmer said. "It was a lot of fun to be out there."

Hosmer said she hasn't returned much in recent years, but does enjoy seeing her grandmother's name on the entrance sign. But Hosmer, like others, said she hopes more people will be able to enjoy the park someday.

"There could be just a lot done with that (to) make it just a wonderful place for the public," Hosmer said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com