In 1921 a group of Bend citizens, most of them women, led a successful campaign to have the city acquire 11 acres of land along the Deschutes River and protect it from development. Those 11 acres became Drake Park, the "jewel in the crown" of the city's park system.
Over the decades Bend has continued to add riverfront jewels: Harmon Park, Pioneer Park, McKay Park, Riverbend Park, Farewell Bend Park, Columbia Park and others. It's a record that speaks well of Bend's appreciation for the beauty and recreational value of the river and its environment.
Now the Bend Metro Park & Recreation District is about to add another jewel: Miller's Landing, a 4.7-acre parcel on the east bank of the Deschutes just downstream from the Colorado Avenue bridge and across the river from McKay Park.
The property was once a lumber yard for the Brooks Scanlon mill and was owned for more than 80 years by the Miller family, owners of Miller Lumber. The Millers formed a partnership with Brooks Resources, called Millbrook LLC, to develop the area by putting as many as 37 townhouses on it.
Unfortunately for the Millers and Brooks Resources, but fortunately for lovers of the river and open spaces, the real estate market collapsed before Millbrook LLC could go through with its plans. Miller's Landing was put on the market, and last spring the Trust for Public Land obtained an option to buy it for $1.8 million. Earlier this month, Park & Rec committed to purchase it from the trust for $1.1 million. The purchase will be paid for with $850,000 from the district's general fund and $250,000 in Oregon Lottery money.
At more than $234,000 an acre the price tag for the Miller's Landing acquisition might seem a bit steep, especially with the real estate market as depressed as it is. But the location of the property, more than just its size, makes it well worth the price. By providing public access to that bank of the Deschutes it will be a critical link in the riverfront trail system. It also will be crucial to efforts to reduce the hazards of the Colorado Avenue dam and spillway and to develop a whitewater park downstream from the dam.
The motives of the Miller family and Brooks Resources might not have been completely altruistic; by selling the property to the Trust for Public Lands they at least got some money for it, and they took it off the property tax rolls. But they could have held onto it until the real estate market perked up and built their townhouses then - or sold it to some other developer who would. Instead they gave the trust a shot at it, and for that they deserve thanks.
The trust and Park & Rec also deserve recognition and gratitude for seeing the opportunity and taking advantage of it before it went away; if they hadn't moved quickly we probably would have ended up someday with townhouses looming over the river. GLASS SLIPPERS all around.