Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
It is a beautiful and sunny day in Northern Oregon. Taking advantage of the sun while it is still out, I head up to a hiking trail. Nearby McIver park nestles in to the Clackamas River, and I pause to look at its beauty. I look back and I see a solitary figure approach me. She is wearing a half shirt covered by a faux-leaped vest, Lennon specs and has feathers in her hair. Great the Genius Loci of Portland is on another 70’s kick.
She isn’t real, well not in a corporal sense, she is the embodiment of everything that is the greater Portland area. “Whoa dude the president is coming.” She tells me is a husky voice.
“Obama?” I ask.
“No Tricky Dicky. We just need to all think positive thoughts Dick Nixon’s way and then he will end the war, man.” She says in an almost childish voice.
“What War?” I ask, knowing I am playing the straight man here.
“’Nam.” She insists. “If we just open our minds…”
“I think you may have open your mind a little too much.” I chide her.
“Don’t you know about Vortex?” She cries obviously disgusted with my stick in the mud bourgeoisie manner.
I nod, I am aware that over forty years the only state sponsored music festival in the US, took place in this very park.
In 1970 Richard Nixon was going to Portland to speak to the American Legion. Now this was a time of great domestic unrest. There was protest and rioting in streets where ever the president went. And it was feared that this would continue when he arrived in Portland. The FBI believed that there would be 25,000 legionares and over 50,000 antiwar demonstrators. They also felt that this was going to lead to intense violence.
In an attempt to ward of the violence Oregon Governor Tom McCall came up with an idea. He proposed the only ever state sponsored music festival to be held in Milo McIver park, outside the sleepy little town of Estacada Oregon, about twenty five miles below Portland. The media at the time stated that successful bands, Santana, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane would be attending. This turned out to be untrue and only local bands played the venue. Drummer Ginger Baker of the band Cream attended but he did not perform. To sweeten the deal for any hippies that might have been on the fence about attending the week long festival, the governor’s office let it be known that for one week and that week only no narcotics or public decency laws would be enforced. (Basically the hippies could get high and naked and not be arrested if they were in that park that week.)
In addition to music and one must assume a lot of drug use and sex, there were anti-war teach ins and yoga classes. With free food provided by organic food stores and local co-opts. It was quite well attended with reportedly at one time eighteen miles of cars outside the parks gates.
Because it was only local bands Vortex I is remembered as a political event not a musical highlight. Honestly it was a win win situation. Not only was no violence, the governor’s popularity sky-rocketed, and even though the hippies didn’t get an end to war they got high and laid, which was pretty much the best they could have realistically hoped for. Although this was definitely evidence that the anti-war effort did not need to result to violence to make its point.
Oh and for the record, Nixon cancelled and never went to Portland.
Now a days Vortex is pretty much forgotten by most people, but McIver Park is still there. It is a five dollar a day parking permit, or for thirty dollars you can get a pass to all of the Oregon State parks good for two years. McIver is huge on a map McIver is larger than the nearby city of Estacada
Anyone who has watched Portlandia or walked in to Powell’s and saw their well-behaved pets allowed sign, knows that Portland loves dogs. And McIver has an awesome dog park. It is huge enough that if you have a dog that is skittish about being near other dogs that you can play fetch with Fido and not worry about running into other dogs.
There is also a hundred acre Frisbee golf course that is said by many to be the best in the state of Oregon.
There are both horse and hiking trails. I am told there is even an app out there that can help you find your way through said trails. On one of the trails there is an old abandoned barn. The signs outside say it is kept there for a way station for Thompson Long Eared Bats. Only here in Oregon would they preserve an old dilapidated building as a bat refuge right in the middle of a state park.
There is camping facilities with running water and even hot showers. Most of the sites where you can place your tents have easy drive up access. Bird watching here is high point with people telling me they have seen both golden and bald eagles in the park. Personally In have only seen hawks and turkey vultures.
The park also gives you access to the Clackamas River. It has several ramps so launching boats. It is in most places a pretty tame river ride (Again I haven’t gone river rafting here so I am going on second hand information) except for area near a dam. I am also told that it gets a lot less drunken yahoos than other places on the river so is good for families with kids or beginners.
The Genius Loci now looks more like a soccer mom on a day trip than a hippie war protester. In her khaki shorts, green Trail Blazers tee-shirt and a sweeter wrapped around her hips. Honestly I think I like this look more. She looks down the trails and out to the Clackamas river. “You know they say that history was made here in ’70, but I like to think families are making still making history here.”