City’s first impressions do matter

By Observer editorial November 01, 2013 10:40 am

The brutal honest truth is that some towns are downright ugly, and no matter how much lipstick you put on that pig, it isn’t going to win a beauty contest.

La Grande is different. At least it is if you enter town from the northwest on Highway 30, off Interstate 84. After enduring the dizzying curves of the Grande Ronde River valley, the driver turns off to La Grande, rounds a corner in the ponderosa pine woods and — voila!  — a city unfolds in grand splendor.

The overlook of La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley at Gangloff Park has been made more appealing as of late with the addition of a shade structure. 

Kudos to Union County’s Ford Leadership Institute Cohort 3 and community members for making it happen. The shade structure gives visitors a place to get out of the elements, and when weather cooperates, which is most of the time, Gangloff Park is a great place to hike around, see native plants, have a picnic and enjoy the splendor.

If Daniel Chaplin and Ben Brown could see it now, these founders of La Grande would be proud — unless, of course, they thought they were starting another Los Angeles. Chaplin laid out the original “Old Town” in the spring of 1862. Brown then built the first cabin at the corner of what is now B Avenue and Cedar Street.

Sure, times have changed. And how. The bright lights and big city beckon with job opportunities. Economic growth mostly eludes us. It’s not all bad. Because of our geographic setting, La Grande still basks in splendid isolation that explorer John Fremont talked about in 1843.

The northwest entrance to La Grande showcases not seclusion but an urban forest. It becomes quickly evident to observers why the city has won Tree City awards for so many years. The view also showcases, with Pioneer Park at its base, and all the ball fields, the skate park, the picnic grounds and the swimming pool, public open spaces in which to take pride.

The Grande Ronde Valley gives the whole scene definition. This is the border of the mountain kingdom we call home. Unlike some places, where the pig won’t win the beauty contest, this place has borders and doesn’t stretch indefinitely in a sea of fog and haze. 

Face it. First impressions mean a lot. If the first thing you see is miles of strip development, a mountain of dead cars or refrigerators in the yards of time-worn homes, you’ll probably think pig and not a town that could win a beauty contest.

Sure, most people blow by the Gangloff Park overlook. As the joke goes, it’s easy to overlook the scenery, even in La Grande. And sure, in the grand scheme, La Grande may come up lacking. Small city. Small college. Gateway to the Blue and Wallowa mountains, not Aspen. Hub of Northeast Oregon. No Disney World. No National Basketball Association team. No seventh wonder of the world.

Most people, trying to keep pace with the helter skelter, the throbbing instant communication of modern life, will zoom by. No problem. If you haven’t stopped for a while, take five minutes, or a lot more, and enjoy Gangloff Park, a La Grande gem.