Hillsboro has launched a remarkable public art project at a new city park. Join me on a visit to Orenco Woods Nature Park, where you’ll find one of the most unique outdoor art projects I’ve ever seen.

Last summer, the park, located at Northwest Birch and 224th, received a new bridge, creating a critical crossing over Rock Creek. The 200-foot-long bridge was a marvel to watch as it was lowered down.

Mary Loftin, spokesperson for Hillsboro Parks and Recreation, said the 42-acre park has been on the fast track. The park transformation began in April 2016 and was completed this past February.

“This park is incredible!” noted Loftin. “It has three majestic bridges, a nature play area which is the first in our city. And Rock Creek runs right through the park property and it is filled with all kinds of wildlife.”

That’s nothing new for a place that’s always been close to nature. A hundred years ago Orenco was the 1,400-acre Oregon Nursery Company with orchards galore. The nursery even grew its own apple dubbed the Orenco Apple, prized for its sweet and delicious taste.

But the orchards all but disappeared during the Great Depression. The property then became a popular golf course that thrived for nearly three decades.

More recently, developers bought the land and planned to build nearly 300 single family homes on it. That plan was sidelined in 2008 when the economy soured.

The property was purchased by the Trust for Public Lands, then eventually purchased through a partnership between Hillsboro Parks and Metro. Now the landscape is becoming something new and special.

“You want to wear comfy shoes and walk the 2.5 miles of trails,” noted Loftin.  Bring a picnic lunch and don’t rush. Listen to the birds, enjoy the scenery for each season of the year there’s something to do here.”

Along the Rock Creek Trail at Orenco Woods Nature Park, home to 100-year-old Douglas firs, be prepared for something that will stop you in your tracks.

An artist at work!

Patrick Dougherty prods and shoves willow and red-twig dogwood saplings until his Stickwork sculpture takes form. He constructs unique wooden sculptures by bending and shaping sticks and branches into place.

The Stickwork sculptures are monumental art works that reach 15 feet and reflect a career that spans more than three decades.

“I was bit by the art bug in the early 80’s,” noted the longtime sculptor. “I decided I’d like to spend my time outdoors. I’ve always loved to make things and started pursuing it to that end. It’s just turned out great.”

I’ll say! Dougherty’s art can be seen in scores of countries and American states.

He creates 10 wooden sculptures each year on a schedule that leaves little down time. He crisscrosses the country and builds a different sculpture in a different community each month.

Hillsboro officials thought Dougherty’s creations would find a perfect home under the giant firs along the Rock Creek Trail.

“I think it’s amazing for there is so much animation in these Stickwork faces and their expression, said Valerie Otani, spokesperson for the Hillsboro Public Art Department. ”People are immediately drawn to it and that’s a big part of it. We want to create landmarks in the landscape, in our cityscape — places that you remember.”

Dougherty added, “The sense that something might be peeking out, looking around, staring through to visitors, that’s what this work is all about. All of those kinds of feelings are going to be elicited when you walk down the path and see these big heads and wonder: ‘what’s going on?’”

What’s ‘going on’ is certainly a most exciting crowd-pleaser for visitors of all ages and a fine compliment to a vision for open space at an escape from the city hub-bub.

about author Grant McOmie

Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.

In this Grant’s Getaway

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