Cedar Mill Pathway System

mystery plaque

History in the News

mystery plaque

By Kathy McCullough and Virginia Bruce

One day a Cedar Mill resident discovered a heavy cedar plaque in her shed. It was beautifully carved and included the words “Cedar Mill.” Its origin was a mystery until Virginia Bruce published a request for information in the October 2020 issue and the community came forward with a wealth of memories.

It all goes back nearly a half-century. Residents realized in the 70s that Cedar Mill school children needed a safe way to walk or bike to school. There was no sidewalk and they had to share an increasingly busy road with traffic.

This map was part of one of the newsletters sent out to supporters and participants in the project.

Gary Peterson, Cedar Mill resident, was the catalyst for what became a community-wide effort. (The same core group had already landscaped Cedar Mill School and founded the library!) He rallied friends and neighbors and they formed a committee to make a sidewalk—two and a half miles of five-foot-wide asphalt-paved path along the south side of Cornell from Murray to Miller. A mimeographed and mailed newsletter kept everyone informed since of course these were the days before the internet!

The group raised $20,000 for the project over the space of a year, with cash donations from the community, auctions of valuables including Trailblazers memorabilia and gift baskets from neighborhood retailers, and a flea market (could have been the origin of Second Edition?). Washington County chipped in as did THPRD. The path was finished in 1978.

Engineering students from Portland Community College helped to survey the path, noting vegetation, driveways, and other obstacles that needed to be accounted for. Much of the labor was provided by Youth Corps members, who worked alongside the neighbors.

Western Oregon Dispensary

Builders of the original path were stymied by a section where the path crossed Cedar Mill Falls between NW 118thand 119th. There was no money for a footbridge. But a personal tragedy was turned into a living memorial. In July of 1979, Larry Vincent, 15, died in a tragic accident. His parents, Andrew Vincent and Barbara Lokting, honored their son by building the bridge to ensure pedestrian safety and offer a viewing area for the falls. Even the National Guard participated and Andrew Vincent, a landscape architect, designed the structure.

A grand celebration marked the completion, with a ribbon cutting followed by a parade and party at Cedar Mill Elementary.

The community turned out to celebrate the opening of the path, with a party at Cedar Mill Elementary at the end.
The community turned out to celebrate the opening of the path, with a party at Cedar Mill Elementary at the end.

The final part of the story is the plaque. Kim Holden reports, “I am the daughter of the artist, Richard Helzer, who hand carved the plaques. When the walking path was paved along Cornell Road, he was approached about making signs for the community. I believe there were eight to ten in total. Unfortunately, many disappeared. The one that remained in place the longest was mounted to the old footbridge.”

Helzer was a well-known artist in the region. He founded the Art Program at PCC Rock Creek. The art gallery there is named in his honor.

In the late 90’s the county saw the need to widen the road along some segments although it would eliminate much of the path. Residents asked the county to at least restore about three-fourths of a mile of the original path, but the county did not agree due to space constraints.

Now a new county project is underway that will install bike lanes, curbs, and wide concrete sidewalks along most of the old route where sidewalks were still lacking.

Many people contributed to this story: Diane Mitchell, Jan Firth, Diane Alexander, Neil Soiffer, Kim Holden, Leslie Peterson Sapp, and Janette Gill. It takes a village to do history! Big thanks especially to Janette Gill for lending her scrapbook pages with clippings, newsletters, and a sheet of the letterhead the community used to spread the news. She was the group’s treasurer, keeping track of all those donations and expenditures.

Over 50 people were listed as having taken some part in the project!