2022 Year in Review

Photo by Kenneth Roberts

January 5 - Cottage Grove had a remarkable year in 2022. As COVID mandates lessened through the state, events and social opportunities around town reemerged. Business took in a sigh of relief and for those that were able to withstand the shutdown, and the citizens of the Coast Fork Willamette Valley began to shop again, gather again, and grow as community again. 

Below are selected stories from 2022 that made headlines in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Library reopens full time
By Damien Sherwood, January 5, 2022

On Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, the Cottage Grove Public Library reopened to the public once again, this time fully staffed and back to its full-time hours. The library has endured a seesawing of operating hours and staff availability since 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions and eventually remodeling construction.

“Being back to full staff is really helpful,” said Head Librarian Natasha Chitow with some relief.

The library recently sent out its latest email blast with a list of notable highlights from the year past, including thanking patrons that checked out 25,419 items in 2022. The use of the Rainbow Seed Exchange began in March; the most popular seeds borrowed were carrots.

Two exhibits were new, one titled: “Thinking Money For Kids” taught children about money, budgets and spending in their personal lives. The second was titled: “Anywhere But Here,” an exhibit to create discussions about housing discrimination in Oregon.

Summer Reading participants read 124,620 minutes. With 487 participants, that's an average of 32 minutes per week for each participant. The library also introduced new programs like Craft Tutor, Baby Laptime and Family Game Night. The reopening of the library gave Cottage Grove citizens a signal that the pandemic restrictions were soon lifting.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in January:


High vaccine clinic turnout shows ‘general demand’
By Damien Sherwood, February 10, 2022

A two-day COVID-19 vaccine clinic week run by Lane County Public Health (LCPH) saw a sizable turnout which resulted in LCPH returning for future clinics. The site was chosen to diminish the risk of such a recurrence, said Cottage Grove city staff.

The planned two-week clinic at Bohemia Park, funded and operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA), shut down on its third day of operation on Jan. 24.

Protesters had previously told The Sentinel that their core message was anti-force — or an argument against mandates — rather than anti-vaccine. Some attendees of the Chamber of Commerce clinic expressed to The Sentinel, however, that they did not feel the protesters were honoring their choice to get the vaccine.

Protesters who spoke with The Sentinel at the time disputed that they were intimidating and emphasized a desire to see “informed consent” around vaccine administration, arguing that vaccines are more dangerous and not as effective as mainstream health authorities have claimed.

Some said they respected the rights of people to choose, but simply wanted to inform others about what they regard as damning evidence against the vaccines’ safety. Others criticized the use of FEMA and public money to run the clinic.

Despite the conflicting views and signage on either side of the street, the atmosphere on N. 14th Street for those two days was calm and at times even pleasant as there was some intermingling between the two groups.

While it is unlikely opinions were fundamentally moved on either side as a result of such events, the clinic provided at least one example of community members’ ability to disagree without overt animus.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in February:

Dorena’s Dilemma
By Damien Sherwood, March 22, 2022

Part I: The rural community looks to alternate solutions in its search for fire coverage

Dorena residents Dan Holt and George Swain were working to solve an old problem in Dorena: providing the area with sufficient firefighting coverage.

“It worries people who live in Dorena,” said Swain, who has lived in the Dorena area for 65 years. “You know, we don’t have a fire department on the books and we are very concerned. And the more people that we can get concerned about our situation, the more likely we’re not going to turn into a Blue River.”

Blue River was one of the communities burned in the Holiday Farm Fire of 2020 that scorched more than 173,000 acres on either side of the McKenzie River.

One alternative solution has been Dorena’s volunteer group, spearheaded by Holt, which responds to area fires with a loose-knit group of vehicles scattered among the community. The group began forming only a couple years ago, but it’s not the first time Dorena residents have tried to address the need for fire responders.

“That issue out there is not a new one. It’s honestly been going on for decades,” said South Lane County Fire and Rescue Chief John Wooten. “Even back in the days of Cottage Grove Fire Department, they knew they didn’t have fire protection. And so, the issue of a structure burning out there is not a new one.”

“And they had two [fire] trucks up until the ‘90s,” said Swain. “We were covered.”

Swain and Holt recall the proposal for a fire district in Dorena making it onto the ballot when the mill was still there, too, which may have been part of the reason it ultimately failed. Voters rejected making the district and, after the mill closed, Dorena residents found themselves in need of a solution.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Part II: A closer look at the challenges facing Dorena volunteer firefighters and explored options.

Click on the link below to read the full story.


Other notable stories in March:

Homeless shelter site gets green light
By Damien Sherwood, April 28, 2022

Approval to develop a site on Hwy 99 for a low-barrier homeless shelter narrowly passed a city council. In a 4-3 vote, the council voted to approve development of the city’s proposed Highway 99 site for a low-barrier homeless shelter. Councilors Kenneth Roberts, Candace Solesbee and Greg Ervin voted against the proposal, with councilors Mike Fleck, Jon Stinnett, Chalice Savage and Mayor Jeff Gowing voting in favor.

The vote followed months of several hours-long discussions among the council about the city’s proposed plan to address homelessness in the community as well as a town hall presentation which elicited public responses to questions about the city’s proposal. As a result of an April 11 meeting where councilors hit a stalemate on the issue, the item returned to his meeting’s agenda.

The issue has stemmed from both a court case and resulting state legislative action. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the case of Martin v. Boise [2018] held that cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available for their homeless population. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2019, effectively holding the circuit court’s ruling.

Oregon House Bill 3115 codified the ruling into state law, which will go into effect July 1, 2023. The legislative act will force many cities, including Cottage Grove, to make certain code changes to stay in compliance and will ensure cities don’t criminalize homeless camping without offering people alternative places.

While Cottage Grove city councilors have generally agreed on the need for the code changes, the question of whether the city should take further action to address homelessness and what such a project might involve has been the subject of deep disagreement.

City staff have proposed using city property at 2205 Hwy 99 as a low-barrier shelter to assist homeless in the community with management and operation conducted by a contractor.

Ultimately, the council voted to authorize only the first portion of the recommendation, namely the development of the Hwy 99 property as a low-barrier site. The narrow passage of the plan reflected the divisiveness of the issue not just within the city council, but among the public as well.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in April:

Hope for homeless vets
By Damien Sherwood, May 12, 2022

Part I:

About an hour-and-a-half drive west of Cottage Grove, Camp Alma is home to a project by Veterans Legacy, a nonprofit formed in 2016 with a mission to provide veterans a safe, supportive environment for healing and eventual reintegration into their communities.

The 105-acre plot of land features a complex consisting of dormitories, a kitchen and dining area, a lounge, gym, library and laundry facilities amid a serene, forest setting. Though staffed by just three volunteers, the camp offers the potential for skills training in gardening, food preparation, food preservation, construction, maintenance, basic financial management and job interviewing.

Currently there are five veterans living at the camp. “These guys out here right now are doing a
fantastic job,” said Dan Buckwald, executive director of Veterans Legacy. “I have been so pleased with their production and how they’re getting along.”

Buckwald has his own serendipitous history with Camp Alma. In 1991, Buckwald came to Camp Alma, which was known as the Sheriff’s Office Forest Work Camp at the time. He soon learned that inmates coming through the camp had talents and skills worth cultivating. In assigning inmates to work he thought would fit them, Buckwald found that they would often put in 10 or 12 hours a day.

After securing a deal with the county to purchase the plot of land, Veterans Legacy began putting its vision to work in 2020, just as COVID-19-related restrictions began sweeping the country.

As Buckwald is fond of saying, “When the world shut down, we opened up.” Around 17 people had come through the program as of last May, but the camp temporarily shut down last year due to COVID and financial burdens. It opened up again in full early this year.

To this day, though, the operation is still running completely on donations. Only three volunteers, including Buckwald, maintain the camp and rely partially on the camp’s residents for general upkeep.

“The only paid staff we have out here is a peer mentor, who has been through veterans court, who is a combat veteran that had his own PTSD issues, had his own self medicating issues with the veterans court, and he now works for us and for veterans court as a mentor,” said Buckwald.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Part II of this series looked at individual cases at Camp Alma and examined some challenges and possible solutions in addressing homelessness through the project.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in May:


Roe v. Wade overturned by Supreme Court
By Sarah Glass, June 29, 2022

Though the court decision left the power to ban or allow abortions in the hands of the states, the right to an abortion remains protected under Oregon law. On Friday, June 24, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court Justices voted 5 to 4 to overturn the decision made by their predecessors nearly 50 years ago. Since then, national news articles have been cascading down my social media feeds in the form of headlines flaunting descriptions of violence.

On the Democratic side of the political divide, Roe v. Wade and abortion rights have been considered a provocative symbol of the women’s human rights movement as well as a tool to help thwart gender discrimination. Both advocates and legal activists in support of the cause tend to conflate unfettered access to abortion services with the health and welfare of women.

On the other side of the aisle, many proponents of Republican ideals view the abortion debate in an entirely different light. Those that prescribe to the “pro-life” camp tend to view abortion as a tragic expression of fear and death. Especially in cases where a fetus is consensually conceived and where it appears that it will be born in good health, there are people that believe terminating a pregnancy is essentially tantamount to the act of ending a life.

The state retains what some might perceive to be among the most liberal abortion laws in the country and what others might call some of the most progressive. The State of Oregon allows access to late-term abortion and government-funded services. Earlier this year, the state legislature allocated $15 million during the 2022 legislative session for the state’s Reproductive Equity Fund (HB 5202). Money from this fund is slated to be used to help women who may not be able to secure an abortion procedure in their home state.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in June:


Mine Ore Cart Races offer 'dashes of madness' at BMD
By Kyle McGowen, July 21, 2022

In 2021, a new tradition was born into the Bohemia Mining Days (BMD) event. The inaugural Mine Ore Cart Races were a hit within Cottage Grove last summer, and the community saw it return on S. 10th Street during BMD weekend.

For the Mine Ore Cart Races, a team must not only endure the physical taxation caused by the racing event itself, but they must also build the vehicle necessary to engage the task — their own mine ore cart. On racing day, three brave souls come together to form each competing team: two “miners” provide their ore cart with propulsion power while a third team member — called the “Tommyknocker” — has to hitch a ride inside the cart and wait to fulfill their purpose.

“It was real fun, a lot of work,” said Porter Snyder, who was part of Team Northwest Customs.

When asked how exhausting participating in the race was, Snyder replied, “It’s not comparable. That’s a big cart with a person inside. You’re pushing [to go] as fast as you can, drag racing down a block. It’s hard… You couldn’t really feel it when you’re pushing it back [to the starting line/finish line]… It’s all just adrenaline going back.”

After several successful heats, the winners of the 2020 inaugural Mine Ore Cart Races Championship — Team D&D Automotive — appeared as if they might have a shot at repeating. However, it was not meant to be. At the end of the day, nobody was able to top Team Northwest Customs. The team that consisted of locals Matt Bangle, Ayden Freeman and Snyder took first place in the final heat versus D&D Automotive. Team Covered Bridge Brewing Company took third place.

Dana Merryday was the main coordinator of the ore cart races this year. He is an active member in the community and has volunteered his time to help BMD and many other public projects throughout his tenure in South Lane County. Regarding the 2nd Annual BMD Mine Ore Cart Races, Merryday partnered with Bohemia Gold Mining Museum and Linda Olsen to make the event a reality.

Merryday says he would also like to get women involved in future events. “We [the event coordinators] were just talking about maybe having a women’s division.”

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in July:


Saginaw Vineyards new owners enjoy fruits of their labor
By Gerald Santana, August 4, 2022

Jack Tibbetts began buying wine at Saginaw Vineyard two or three years before he heard through the grapevine that the property was up for sale. At the time, he was searching for a house, and the idea of having a farm intrigued him. Moving from Santa Rosa, Calif., Jack and his wife, Ali, desired a more slow-paced environment where they could raise their two-year-old, Casey, in a supportive community with small-town values.

Admittedly, the Tibbitts didn't know what the process to acquire the land and run the business would entail. Undeterred, Jack and Ali made an offer on the property, and it was accepted by its previous owners, Karen and Scott Byler (Who began the Saginaw Vineyard brand in 1991). An owner with three years of winemaking experience was needed, however, so the Tibbitts tapped Ben Gilbert (who had been recommended by the Bylers) and brought him on as co-owner.

In late September 2021, Gilbert and the Tibbitts family began to harvest fruit with Scott Byler leading the crew. Within three days, and with very little preparation, the combined crews representing the past and future of Saginaw Vineyard got things organized and began making wine together. The Bylers stood by their buyers with patience.

Saginaw Vineyard’s new team intends to keep the prize-winning wines they are known for, they said, as well as introduce new ones. One of the new grape varieties Gilbert is focusing on is Cabernet Franc. Principally grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Cabernet Franc is a hotter plant, thriving on heat and growing well in southern Oregon latitudes.

After a two-year hiatus, Saginaw Vineyard has brought back the seasonal music series Friday Night Live, which will continue through the summer. They have also scheduled monthly farmer’s markets, craft fairs, movie nights and special member-exclusive events including catered dinners. The vineyard is also available as a venue on which to host weddings and other private parties and events.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in August:


Citizens voice concern over Cottage Grove Police use of force
By Gerald Santana & Chantelle Meyer, September 22, 2022

Cottage Grove Police Department (CGPD) officers’ use of force took place during a welfare check for Alexander Harrelson, a mentally ill, schizophrenic man known by police in the area on Sept. 1, 2022. The incident was recorded in The Sentinel’s police log on Sept. 8, occurring at approximately 2:45 p.m., with multiple callers alarming dispatch.

Witnesses began making calls to CG Dispatch sometime around 2:15 p.m. and described the men as playing music loudly and one handling a long, metal sword. In security camera footage taken from multiple placements of the building surveillance, Harrelson can be seen wielding a sword and then calmly setting it down beside him. He allows the person he’s with to hold it briefly. Harrelson then changes his clothes and puts on a black hooded sweatshirt.

A responding officer at the scene can be seen in the footage, taking control of Harrelson’s wrists and placing them behind his back. Meanwhile, another officer walks over to Harrelson and pulls down the hood, attempting to take control of Harrelson’s left arm. Harrelson becomes off balance and takes several steps forward, falling to the ground while one officer lands on him and the other loses the grip on his left arm. Harrelson looks to struggle with the officers during the arrest and, then, both officers can be seen punching Harrelson.

Nearby witnesses describe the citizen holding Harrelson down while the officers continue their attempts to subdue. Harrelson was taken to Cottage Grove City Jail and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault. The Sentinel has reached out to the Cottage Grove Police, but those calls were not returned as of press time.

At Harrelson’s hearing on Sept. 15, several concerned citizens planned to arrive at noon as word spread about the incident through an article published by Eugene Weekly on Sept. 14. But the hearing was moved to 11 a.m., causing frustration for those demanding answers over accountability in response to police tactics during this arrest.

The City of Cottage Grove released the following that afternoon, “Police officers are routinely confronted with unique and dynamic situations that require unique and dynamic assessments and split-second decisions. The CGPD uses every incident as an opportunity to review our tactics, policies and training and will constantly strive to improve when necessary and possible.”

Harrelson’s mother, Claudia Harrelson, who also lives in Cottage Grove, posted the following statement on a Facebook page: “He is an unmedicated bi-polar paranoid schizophrenic with ADHD, ODD and mild autism. He thought he looked cool sword dancing with a sword someone had made and given him. He had been doing it for a while there and was in no way aggressive.”

A group of people gathered outside the CGPD on Friday to protest the event and call for accountability, holding signs that read “Body Cams Now,” “Not OK” and “Stop Police Brutality.” They requested policy changes, discipline against the involved officers and the use of body cameras on the police force.

“South Lane Mental Health is deeply concerned by the recent conflict that occurred between Cottage Grove police officers and a member of the community we serve,” the health organization posted on its website.

The organization is working closely with First Presbyterian Church, under a wrap-around program called ACT (Assertive Community Treatment), working with therapists that help build relationships with clients, help clients identify personal strengths, provide talk therapy, suggest resources needed to acquire skills and support and assist clients in developing and implementing individual plans.

South Lane Mental Health is currently not in a position to create a program like CAHOOTS, the agency is already facing staff shortages, but Canino advocates for still having those difficult conversations.

“We recognize that many of the institutions in American society have roots in institutionalized discrimination, which includes the mental health field,” said Alison Canino, South Lane Mental Health’s Executive Director.

“We believe it’s important to recognize this as we move forward in our work with our community partners. We hope to bring together local and county partners using a trauma-informed lens and to ease defenses rather than add to them. We feel the need to emphasize that our neutrality is not indifference. Vulnerability will create change,” Canino shared.

On Dec. 23, 2022, it was announced in a press release by city staff that Cottage Grove officers were exonerated after Sept. 1 internal investigation.


Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in September:


Meet the candidates for Cottage Grove
By Gerald Santana, October 27, 2022

The Chamber, along with the Blackberry Pie Society and Cottage Grove 912 Project, held a Mayoral and Candidate Forum on Oct. 12, 2022, at the Community Center, where nine candidates were given multiple questions and equal time opportunities to express their vision, stances and platforms for their candidacies in the last Nov. 8 General Election. The office of mayor of Cottage Grove, Ward 1 councilor, Ward 3 councilor and councilor at large were all on the ballot.

The candidates running for the position of mayor were incumbent Jeff Gowing, who had held the position since 2017, and local business owner and current city councilor Candace Solesbee. The three candidates running for councilor at large positions were Mike Fleck, who has previously served on the council, along with Robert D. Kidder and Daniel D. Wilson.

Filing for Ward 1 seats on the council were Donald L. Morris and Chalice Savage, who was appointed by the city council in 2021. Ward 3 received two applicants for positions on the council: Chris Holloman, a local business owner who is on the board for SLCF&R, and Dana Merryday, a substitute teacher who is also on the City of Cottage Grove Budget Committee.

Candace Solesbee was elected mayor for two years; while Chalice Savage, Dana Merryday, and Mike Fleck were named as duly elected councilors to their respective offices by a majority of votes in this election cycle.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in October:


Contractor teaches students construction essentials at Crow
By Gerald Santana, November 10, 2022

Crow High School students are learning the ropes in construction with their instructor and local Cottage Grove contractor, Kyle Kishen. Since September, Kishen has been teaching construction classes in the mornings and running Kyle Kishen Construction with the remainder of his day.

“I have a great team that makes it work really well. I am only two months in, but I'm totally enjoying working with the kids and seeing them step out of their comfort zone and try new things,” Kishen said.

In these classes, they are all getting along and learning practical skills in a crafty trade. And for Kishen, working with a mix of high school students on their initial project — a sturdy shed — will lead them all to complete additional projects.

On their first project, the class was able to sell the shed and are now building another shed to sell. Next will be a greenhouse for the AGG department. Later, Kishen will soon be building tiny houses for the homeless funded by St. Vincent DePaul.

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in November:


Cottage Grove Cares: Beds for Freezing Nights
By Cindy Weeldreyer, December 2, 2022

Creating a nonprofit organization from scratch takes a while. It took nearly a year to appoint a board, submit an application to the Internal Revenue Service, collect community feedback, create an operations manual, recruit volunteers, find an insurance company to insure an unproven group involved in a liability-rich activity, raise money to pay for that premium and, lastly, assemble the supplies needed for Bed for Freezing Night’s first activation in November 2010.

For a decade, the winter-time nonprofit was sustained by mission-driven volunteers, the generosity of annual donors, the support of businesses, the faith community, Community Sharing and the City of Cottage Grove. Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) Catholic Church and First Presbyterian Church offered to serve as the shelter locations.

In early November this year, after being on hiatus for two winters, city officials contacted BFN President Ruth Linoz about resuming the program. They explained the pallet shelters were now at the Highway 99 site and the former warming shelter site on 12th Street would be used as an overflow site for tent campers.

Linoz convened with BFN Board members and met with staff from Community Sharing, the city, OLPH Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church and Carry It Forward to quickly create partnerships to resume the church-based emergency warming centers.

In the new collaboration, City Community Coordinator Teresa Cowan assists with volunteer recruitment. To speed things along, Community Sharing designated BFN as one of its committees to operate under its insurance policy. The agency’s food pantry provides individually-wrapped snacks and heat-and-serve items when available.

Community Sharing Executive Director Mike Fleck is proud of how multiple community organizations are coming together to provide a local warming center on freezing nights this winter. The Catholic Church serves as the primary site. If an activity is scheduled at the church on a freezing night, BFN activates at the Presbyterian Church. Pets are only allowed indoors at the Presbyterian Church.

Linoz said they welcome BFN’s new partnership with Carry It Forward, the nonprofit organization that is managing the Highway 99 pallet shelter site. Still, the church facility and warming center volunteers are not able to serve every person who wants to come inside on a freezing night.

She explained how BFN welcomes the city’s assistance with volunteer recruitment, Community Sharing’s operational support and CIF’s experience and resources with the unhoused population to maintain BFN’s mission, “to provide a safe, warm place to sleep for those who wish to come inside during the coldest nights of the year.”

Click on the link below to read the full story.

Other notable stories in December: