Every urban natural park of any size urgently matters for our seriously declining native pollinators, birds, and biodiversity; for carbon storage and shade; and for the human spirit. But in downtown Bend, Oregon, Deschutes County Commissioners voted 2 to 1 early in 2022 to “redesign” the county-owned, 25-year-old Worrell Wayside Park. To “redesign” means to dynamite one of the city’s few remaining lava and native plant outcrops and flatten it to make 68 more asphalt parking spots.

When I attended this past Saturday’s event to Save Worrell Wayside Park, an Anna’s hummingbird hovered above blooming goldenrod and rabbitbrush. I wandered the winding uphill trail past pygmy nuthatches in the ponderosas. Even a dragonfly zipped by within a rocky haven that is home to marmots, lizards, bumblebees, butterflies, many migratory and resident songbirds, deer, and a host of life that will all be erased if this travesty goes forward.

Blooming goldenrod–a super important and beautiful fall pollinator plant with trees in the background. Blow this up for a parking lot? NO.

Donna Owens and Alice Elshoff are not going to let that happen on their watch. The movement to Save Worrell Wayside Park is blossoming. These two Bend advocates and a growing team of supporters have held seven events this past year and are making plans for a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the park’s creation on September 24th. The park is named for William Worrell and features a large plaque honoring him as “Educator, Scholar, Leader, Entrepreneur, Athlete, Veteran.”

Does this saga have you singing Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi? “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” In this case, it isn’t over yet. As long as the natural park remains and the people are speaking up, there is hope. To reverse the decision takes just one commissioner changing his vote.

The rationale for blowing up the 1.29-acre gem for parking (with the use of deceptive language like “redesign” and “redevelop”) appears to be that it’s the cheapest option at $2.5 million for more parking to accommodate a planned expansion of the county courthouse, and the destroyed habitat will include green lawn with “more of a courtyard kind of feel” for events like farmers tables. (Story here).

Save Worrell Wayside Park event: Alice Elshoff is on the left in the green shirt. Donna Owens is in the center speaking to two women

As Donna and Alice demonstrate, there’s an ideal event space already on the corner–the one I participated in Saturday as one of three local authors, along with a fine artist Jeanne Debons, and Think Wild, a wildlife hospital and conservation center for Central Oregon. Green lawns also take a lot of watering and are ecological dead zones. As climate change worsens drought, touting more green lawns over the existing xeric native plants is irresponsible at best.

I’ve seen no evidence of any effort by the county commissioners to put a dollar value on the park’s ecosystem services, to conduct a scientific inventory of the biodiversity, or an environmental analysis. The natural park is an oasis for people, too, in an already parking lot and asphalt-heavy area of businesses, government offices, and a daycare center. Here, children can run the pathways and explore among the boulders in a natural playground. Workers and families take their picnic lunches to tables along the pathways in the shade.

One of several picnic spots along the trails of Worrell Wayside Park

Replace this haven with yet another parking lot? That’s at odds with the City of Bend’s Adopted Community Climate Action Plan, which aims to lessen the need for driving by offering better public transit, and pedestrian and bike-friendly routes. More people are already traveling by E-bikes–requiring far less parking.

The City of Bend should be revisiting this outdated requirement of more parking spaces to go with the courthouse expansion. Times are changing, especially after Covid when more people are working from home. If there actually is a justified parking need? Don’t destroy nature. The commissioners had other options, including building a parking structure on a developed site.

Bend is developing fast as people rush to the community for the glories of big ponderosa pines, flyfishing rivers, Cascade mountains, and open spaces. The pace accelerated as the city became a “ZoomTown” during Covid (working remotely without driving to offices). Visitors also pour in equipped with mountain bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, skis, and snowboards. Everywhere is new construction, from houses, apartments, and hotels to box stores. The speed of destruction is terrifying. I thought Oregon’s good land use laws would better protect this community, but there are loopholes. Money talks.

And so do people! I tell this story for a local and a larger audience, because Worrell Wayside Park is not the only place under assault. I’m inspired by these bold women coming out in below-freezing temperatures in winter and on through the seasons to call attention to the plight of the park.

They are not alone. A new survey shows that more people are worried about climate change than we think. We are many. We are powerful with our love of this planet and future generations. So do speak up. Join in. Climate change is not a partisan or environmentalist issue, it’s a humanity issue.

Worrell Wayside Park–at the little lava summit–notice the wonderful native plant community.

Here’s another takeaway. What seems like a small local story can become a national one. At the Save Worrell Park Wayside event on Saturday, I met a famous Bendite who is known as “the clothesline lady.” In 2007 Susan Frankie ( then Susan Taylor) defied a homeowner owners association rule preventing hanging laundry on clotheslines outdoors, an act that she continued and led to an almost $1000 fine ((See her opinion piece in 2012 here).

Susan’s story went national. She appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and on the Colbert Report (the last one is a must watch). Her reason? She spoke up about the dangers of global warming and the importance of reducing our energy use. That sparked national attention on “The Right to Dry” movement. Since then, Aubrey Butte altered their policy to allow clotheslines with screening fences, but Susan has moved east of town where she can hang up as many clothes to dry as she wants–ah freedom!

I believe it’s time for the national news to pick up this story, too. Or maybe Joni Mitchell will sing for us, as she did with such courageous joy at the Newport Folk Festival. Paving paradise for a parking lot? Not on our watch.

To take action, tell the three county commissioners to revisit their decision and drop Worrell Wayside Park as an option for a parking lot. Add your reasons. Send your email here: citizeninput@deschutes.org. Or put a letter in the mail: PO Box 6005, Bend, OR 97708-6005, Attn: BoCC. Hundreds of letters have come in; let’s flood their offices!

Bend is a national destination for outdoor recreation and natural beauty–so whether you live here or not, take a moment to weigh in. Visit the Save Worrell Wayside Park website for more details and information on the upcoming 25th park anniversary event.

Wherever you reside, pay attention to your local natural parks. Make sure they are safe, valued, cared for, and protected. Stand up for tree ordinances and planning laws that retain native plants and reduce sprawl. Reach out to neighbors and invite them to join you in growing native plants for pollinators. . Remember, ordinary people who care can become extraordinary. There are a lot of us out there!

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Story note: Alice Elshoff is humble. In 2016 she was named Bend’s Woman of the Year for her decades of conservation and education advocacy, including organizing “Grandmothers Against Bullies” to rally in protest of the Bundy’s occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, also in 2016.

View of the county office building and parking lot below Worrell Wayside Natural Park facing east.
Guess what? There’s another parking lot on the west side of Worrell Wayside, too.
Destroy this beautiful natural park to make it all parking? No.
Activist Donna Owens speaks to a Central Oregon Daily News reporter filming her at the August 27th Save Worrell Park event. The story is here. (Notice that unfortunate term here of “redesign” instead of the accurate “blow up.”)
View from Worrell Wayside Park of existing parking and the county building
Along the Trail at Worrell Wayside-Rabbitbrush in bloom–pollinator heaven

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

So they paved paradise
Put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swingin’ night spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise put up a parking lot
They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged all the people an arm and a leg just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise put up a parking lot
Hey, farmer
Put away your DDT
Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and bees please
Don’t it always seem to go
You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise put up a parking lot
Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi come and took away my old man
Oh, don’t it always seem to go
You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise put up a parking lot
They put up a parking lot
A parking lot
Paved paradise