As Cottage Grove rings in a new year, The Sentinel takes a look back at some of the top stories of 2021, a year which in some ways served as a second chapter to 2020’s local and national hardships. However, despite a pandemic lingering in the background, 2021 also provided some light at the end of a gruelingly long tunnel. On top of the return of its classic Bohemia Mining Days festival, Cottage Grove inaugurated several new events to celebrate community and support its local businesses. New services for those in need of food and shelter emerged. Opportunities to socialize in person returned. Here’s a look back at some of the stories that defined our community in 2021...
Warming shelter program
Though off to a late start this season, Cottage Grove’s new warming shelter program has hit its stride as users have found a place to thaw on freezing nights.
Since beginning operations last month, the Community Sharing Warming Shelter has activated four times and served in total 28 people seeking respite from the cold.
“It took us quite a while to get up and running,” said Community Sharing Executive Director Mike Fleck. “There’s actually a lot more to this than what it seems.”
Recruiting, creating manuals, setting COVID-19 protocols and budget planning have taken up much of the preparation energies, he said.
Community Sharing assumed responsibility for the project last fall when local shelter provider Beds for Freezing Nights stated it would be unable to provide its services this season. It does, however, remain a supporting entity for the current program.
Rural Organizing Project takes on food pantry status
As communities continue to feel the burden of the pandemic’s economic devastation, food security has risen to be a more prominent issue in many households.
In response to that demand, the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) in Cottage Grove has established another pillar of support in the community by acquiring status as an official food pantry.
“A lot of what we’ve been doing is convening people around emergency access to food during the pandemic,” said Executive Director of Rural Organizing Project Jessica Campbell.
ROP is a statewide grassroots organization which focuses on multiple rural issues through autonomous work in communities, often addressing topics related to equality and justice.
Shortly after its current space on Main Street was donated to the group two years ago, the building began serving as a hub for victims of the 2019 snowstorm to rest, fill up on basic provisions and connect with others.
As ROP continued to serve in partnership with other organizations in the community, Campbell said the group’s importance of addressing needs in the area became clear, especially after COVID-19 restrictions began.
Boone selected as assistant to city manager
Former City Councilor Jake Boone was selected today to fill the role of the newly-created Assistant to the City Manager position.
Boone accepted the offer and will begin the job on Monday (March 15).
“I’m obviously very happy about it,” said Boone. “This is kind of my dream job. I’ve wanted to get into this local government stuff professionally for a long time, which is why I went back to school to get my bachelor’s and my master’s in it.”
Boone has a bachelor’s in planning public policy and management from the University of Oregon and continued on to get a master’s in public administration, which he obtained last spring.
He stepped down from his 10-year position on the city council last month to pursue the assistant position.
The final selection was made by City Manager Richard Meyers today at the end of a screening process that began in early February.
Cottage Village celebrates tiny homes completion
An energetic community turned out to celebrate the completion of the last four houses of Cottage Village’s 13-home project on Tuesday.
The open house event allowed attendees to wander through tiny homes as the crowd was treated to barbeque and speeches of gratitude.
“It’s just been incredible work as we seek to help households and families secure, permanent, safe, affordable, wonderful, decent, lovely housing,” said SquareOne Executive Director Dan Bryant, praising the work done by staff and volunteers. “Because every person deserves a home.”
SquareOne’s stated goal is to create self-managed communities of cost-effective tiny homes for people with low incomes in need of housing.
The Cottage Grove project aims to serve area residents with very low incomes (under 50 percent area median income) who are currently unable to access affordable housing or are at high risk of losing their current housing. It operates as a housing cooperative run by the residents.
The village was developed by SquareOne Villages in collaboration with the Cottage Village Coalition (CVC) — a local extension and committee of SquareOne — with the goal of bringing a permanent, affordable tiny house cooperative to Cottage Grove.
BMD bounces back
Bohemia Mining Days (BMD) made a much-anticipated return to Cottage Grove last weekend. Despite swirling uncertainty about its many layers of execution, the festival was largely deemed a success – an accomplishment evoking both relief and gratitude from many of the organizers.
“I can’t say enough for our production crew,” said BMD President Don Williams. “All of these people have put in hours and hours and hours – not just an hour here and there, but hours of time and energy and/or money.”
After choosing to cancel last year amid coronavirus safety and financial uncertainty, similar issues challenged the organization to find solutions and work-arounds for this year’s festivities.
Normally a three-day event, this year’s festival took up only the July 17-18 weekend, but still managed to squeeze a whirlwind of events and performances into its schedule as it moved its location from Coiner Park to the downtown historic district.
Saturday morning kicked off with the Grand Miners Parade, featuring a total of 37 entries, returning familiar businesses and organizations to the annual march down 10th and Main streets.
At noon, the main stage kicked off the weekend with the Calvary Creek band’s arrangements of nostalgic pop songs as vendors unfurled their tents throughout the downtown area.
CG area lakes see record low lake levels
Lake levels have taken a noticeable dip this year.
As of Wednesday, Dorena Lake was reported holding 37 percent of its maximum conservation storage for summer with Cottage Grove Lake stood at 27 percent.
“I’ve worked here for 16 years, and this is the lowest I’ve ever seen it this time of year,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Christie Johnson.
Johnson noted that this is also the first year she has seen the Wilson Creek boat ramp at Cottage Grove Lake closed at the start of the season.
“And my supervisor has worked here even longer than me, maybe 20 years. And she’s never seen that happen,” she said. “So, it’s pretty historic.”
This year, lake levels dipped lower than levels of years past starting around the beginning of April.
The Army Corps of Engineer’s “water control diagram” sets the ideal water levels throughout the year.
From mid-May to the beginning of September, water is to be maintained at the lakes’ highest conservation levels. Fall requires a gradual drop and, through the winter, water levels are maintained at their lowest point. On Feb. 1, lake levels are allowed to begin climbing back along a curve up to the maximum pool.
This year, both Cottage Grove and Dorena lakes were able to follow the refill curve back up until April when each fell short and continued to decline.
Keaton celebration showcases CG history
Driving in a westward direction down Main Street in Cottage Grove, Buster Keaton stares down anyone passing into downtown.
Not long ago, fences surrounded the mural as artist Connie Huston was hard at work repairing the wall and refreshing Howard Tharpe’s original work.
“With the destruction that had happened, it was either get rid of the mural or refresh it, because it was in such bad shape,” said Huston.
The restoration effort was galvanized in part by City Councilor Kenneth Roberts, who helped put together a committee, sponsored by the Cottage Grove Historical Society, to oversee the fundraising, hiring of Huston and management of the grant funds provided through the Historic Landmark Commission.
“It’s amazing how in the time of pandemic, when I started this, people came forward and wanted to help,” said Roberts. “This is a great way to show that community can still come together and work, even in a pandemic. I’m so proud of everything that happened.”
Roberts hopes to eventually have murals all over Cottage Grove depicting movies that were filmed on location in the city. He is currently working on getting one of “Emperor of the North,” another railroad-based movie filmed in 1973.
Village Green to shut doors by end of month
For more than 60 years, the Village Green has served as one of Cottage Grove’s premier hospitality hubs. At the end of this month, the property will close its doors amid uncertainty about its future as ownership is changing hands.
Since news of the transaction leaked through posts onto social media earlier this month, the Cottage Grove public has voiced strong opinions on the matter. Amid rumors that condominiums or a truck stop will be built in its place, many have expressed dismay that the landmark may be erased from the community.
Though staff have reported being informed that they should find new jobs, precise details about the new owners’ plans for the facility have not been forthcoming.
Multiple sources close to the transaction have confirmed that, among the interested parties, Brent Lanz, owner of Lanz Cabinets in Eugene, is one of the buyers of the property.
Lanz did not respond to requests from The Sentinel to comment on the future of the resort, but a staff source has reported that the new owners have expressed interest in replacing most, if not all, hotel buildings with apartments.
The RV park, main building with restaurant and lounge and wedding garden are reportedly to remain, however it was stressed that even these plans are likely not finalized and should be considered open to change.
As such, even those close to the process can only speculate on the property’s future.
Rallies for freedom continue on Main
Each Thursday for the past several weeks, demonstrators have occupied the corner of Highway 99 and Main Street in bid to voice their disapproval with COVID-19-related mandates.
Many drivers honk in support. Some stop to heckle. Others have even staged their own counter-protests. Regardless, the weekly rallies seem to be growing and include committed members who have taken to the streets in other cities as well.
The demonstrations average around two dozen people who, though loosely organized, have come together under common causes such as a resistance to vaccine and mask mandates.
“We’re not anti-vax, we’re anti-mandate,” clarified one demonstrator who asked to remain anonymous.
Broadly, attendees also held common opinions about Governor Kate Brown and President Joe Biden.
“We don’t like Kate Brown, obviously,” the demonstrator continued. “We’re fed up with Joe Biden as well.”
Many in the group voiced concern that the vaccine mandates are part of a scheme to take away freedoms and considered actions by Brown and Biden to be forms of tyranny.
Others at the rally echoed similar positions on the mandates when asked, emphasizing a “pro-choice” position respecting the decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine (which some at the demonstration said they had received) while rejecting a requirement to do so.
Spooky fun kicks off inaugural ‘Halloween Hootinanny’
By event organizer estimates, at least 3,500 costumed trick-or-treaters turned out for the inaugural “Halloween Hootinanny” in Bohemia Park on Oct. 29.
Thousands of pieces of candy were distributed from at least 60 businesses and nonprofits participating in the event, which was sponsored by the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce, the City of Cottage Grove and nonprofit Downtown Cottage Grove.
The three-hour celebration directed families through a winding gauntlet of Halloween-inspired tents and a seemingly endless supply of candy.
Organizers are already planning to institute the event as an annual Cottage Grove feature.
“We haven’t had a single negative response,” said Events Coordinator Shane May. “It was 1,000 percent a success. It was so cool to see our community and businesses come together. Everybody wants us to redo it.”
Local restaurant Jack Sprats (center) was voted “Coolest Overall” for its “Candyland” tent decoration.
SLSD board votes to dismiss staff over compliance
Five teachers were dismissed from South Lane School District (SLSD) on the grounds of “insubordination and neglect of duty” while one resignation was accepted in a majority vote by the SLSD Board this Monday (Nov. 8).
The virtual meeting, which was held as a special session that morning, saw the board enter executive session twice to consider information regarding the dismissals. The board also accepted testimony from educators being considered for termination.
“We are very saddened that we ended up in this spot,” said Superintendent Yvonne Curtis. “It was my goal originally … not lose one staff member.”
The employees were dismissed in a 6-1 vote, with only board member Jerry Settelmeyer opposing.
Three Bohemia Elementary School teachers, one from Harrison Elementary School and one from London School were terminated. One Harrison Elementary School staff member’s resignation was also approved in the same vote.
The dismissals follow an Oct. 18 deadline for Oregon educators and healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, though religious and medical exceptions could be granted under the order.
All those terminated on Monday had been approved for exceptions, said Curtis.
For the nearly 50 staff in the district who had been approved for medical or religious exceptions, SLSD provided a document which included legal references and directed unvaccinated staff on additional expectations.
These expectations include wearing a KN95 mask at all times and in all locations and submitting to weekly COVID testing, two issues which were among the most heavily criticized by staff on Monday.
BMD leaders step down
At its Nov. 11 meeting, the Bohemia Mining Days (BMD) Board of Directors voted unanimously to hire Scott Borgioli as its new festival coordinator on Monday (Nov. 15), replacing Cindy Weeldreyer, who is stepping down from a position she has held since 2015.
Borgioli said he was thankful for the opportunity to become the newest festival coordinator and looks forward to working closely with board members, sponsors and volunteers to continue BMD in 2022.
“I want to thank the BMD Board of Directors for selecting me serve as its new festival coordinator,” he said. “My wife, Gilda, and I have lived in Cottage Grove for several years now and we’re committed to growing deep roots in the community. We share a strong spirit of volunteerism and believe in giving back. Volunteers are an important part of BMD. It’s my desire to build a community of togetherness through the recruitment of many volunteers. … I have no doubt that, together, we can all make BMD 2022 a successful event.”
Borgioli also serves as KNND Radio’s meteorologist.
“The board was impressed by his positive attitude, experience as a team player in other organizations, and especially his strong commitment to engaging more youth in community service,” said Weeldreyer after the vote, also citing Borgioli’s experience producing emergency preparedness and other large-scale events in California’s Central Coast region.
Weeldreyer’s replacement follows BMD President Don Williams also stepping down from his position earlier this month.
Gowing announces run for state legislature
Cottage Grove Mayor Jeff Gowing announced on Tuesday (Nov. 30) he is seeking the office of state representative in Oregon House District 12 (HD 12) in the 2022 election.
“After support and encouragement from friends and family, I have decided to officially announce my intent to run,” he stated.
Gowing, who will be running on the Republican ticket, said a main motivator for his decision was his sense of Salem’s loss of focus on rural communities due to a lack of legislators coming from local governments.
“I feel the majority of Oregonians are wanting a change in Salem and I feel I will be the change they are looking for,” he said, adding that his own approach would include more interaction with constituents.
Regardless of the outcome of next year’s election, Gowing has said this next year will effectively be his last in public office in Cottage Grove.
Inaugural Christmas events light up weekend
The success of two inaugural Christmas events last weekend may have laid the groundwork for new winter traditions in Cottage Grove.
Both the Christmas Kick-Off at Bohemia Park on Saturday and the four-day-long Christmas at the WOE (Western Oregon Exposition) reported overwhelmingly positive turnouts to their first-year events.
“It was a perfect start to the holiday season,” said Chamber of Commerce CEO/President Shauna Neigh.
Saturday evening’s Christmas Kick-Off brought life to Bohemia Park with a public tree lighting, carols and the “Festival of Trees” giveaway, the latter of which distributed 41 trees into the community by lottery.
Park pathways were lined with dozens of local businesses’ and organizations’ uniquely decorated Christmas trees which were raffled away at the end of the evening.
By all accounts, the event’s first-year launch was a truly successful rallying of the community.