Lake Oswego neighbor reflects on 50 years of community
While some may see change as bad, Paul Lyons does not.
Lyons has lived in Lake Oswego for more than five decades, and his dedication to service, local history and the community’s natural areas and parks is undeterred. If anything, it’s only grown.
“In some ways, it’s changed for the better. There’s a lot more community involvement. There’s a lot more diversity,” said Lyons.
When he was a student at Oregon State University, which he mentioned amusedly was still called Oregon State College when he graduated, Lyons began working on environmental and preservation campaigns. This passion extended to preservation in the Lake Oswego community when he moved from Corvallis. Born and raised in North Portland, Lyons had seen the negative impact that developers and government officials could have on natural areas.
He volunteered for many of former Gov. Tom McCall’s environmental campaigns — such as the beach bill — but was inspired by the women who spearheaded the Tryon Creek State Park campaign.
“(A developer) was going to build about forty mid-rise condominiums on the hillsides. Three hundred women got together, went door-to-door in Southwest Portland and Lake Oswego, and petitioned and raised money. They went to the Governor’s office, and they said, ‘We want you to buy that land and preserve it.'”
Lyons chuckled at the memory of the community’s unrelenting dedication to the environment and preservation.
“I realized that if we tear down our trees or tear down our history, then what’s it for? If it’s only to make a little bit of money, that doesn’t work — that isn’t that worthwhile,” he said.
In 1975 Lyons caught wind of a development in his community that he believed would be detrimental to Lake Oswego: a highway through downtown.
Lyons got a call from a friend who worked for The Oregonian.
“He says, ‘Paul, have you heard about the fact that they’re going to be cutting down a couple hundred of the white oak trees?’ I knew right where it was. He said, ‘They’re extending 217 through Tigard over to I-5, but instead of stopping there, they’re gonna go right down to the middle of Lake Oswego. They’re going to build a bridge right over to Milwaukie.’ And I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”
Lyons went to the city manager, city engineer and city attorney to confirm that the highway extension was happening and show them the documents he’d gathered. The project was news to them. Eventually, using the documents Lyons and The Oregonian reporter had gathered, a lawsuit ended the proposed highway extension. The compromise to connect 217 to the river became Kruse Way.
The local preservation efforts that Lyons is most proud of are the Lake Oswego tree code and Friends of Springbrook Park.
Lyons wanted the city of Lake Oswego to establish a code to protect the trees like the ones in his Uplands neighborhood during new home construction. Former City Councilor Joyce Cohen helped Lyons propose the tree code, which set the requirements and permits for tree removal.
“I established the tree code in 1992, and I was a home builder at that time. I was building houses for some pretty famous people, and I was staying busy and doing very well,” said Lyons. “I got threats from a couple of builders; they heard about what I’ve done; they didn’t like that at all.”
Lyons is also passionate about the work he’s done at Springbrook Park. Springbrook was established by the city much like Tryon Creek was — through a campaign of concerned neighbors who wanted to prevent the area between the golf club and the middle school from turning into a “cookie-cutter” housing development. Lyons remembers the petitioners for Springbrook going through his neighborhood 50 years ago.
In 2004, Lyons realized he needed to organize the community again to maintain and care for the park. Along with a small group of fellow neighbors, Lyons established Friends of Springbrook Park and used donations from the community and funds from the city’s parks and recreation budget to establish close to three miles of gravel running trails. The trails are used by Lake Oswego High School’s cross-country and track teams for training.
With the help of local Eagle Scouts, Lyons also built a play area and information kiosks in Springbrook.
“There were a bunch of trees that had been cut down on the school property, and (the city) gave them to us. We cut them up, and we made stumps so the kids can walk around on these little stumps. The city approved what we had laid out, and we created a play area that we still maintain,” said Lyons.
Lyons’ passion for Lake Oswego preservation and history is not overlooked at the Oswego Heritage House. When Kathryn Sinor started her new role as a Heritage Council executive director, Lyons was among the first neighbors to welcome her and bring in binders of Springbrook Park history.
“The thing that came up a lot when he was talking to me about this was the role of women through all of this. He wanted to make sure they got their due and that they were highlighted and the work that they did to make sure these parks existed,” said Sinor. “He’s very much trying to make sure it’s not about him and centering these people that did this work.”
Lyons attributes much of his thinking about preservation, history and living to a talk he heard by the author Don Miguel Ruiz and “The Four Agreements.”
“I practice them every day: Be impeccable with your word, don’t make assumptions, don’t take anything personally, and always do your best,” said Lyons. “That’s my philosophy and my practice. I try to do my best.”