Portland parks series: 'I was going to do it all by myself'

Portland parks series: 'I was going to do it all by myself'
Local resident James Redden (far right) accepts a Certificate of Appreciation from Portland Parks & Recreation. Redden was instrumental in the recent renovation of a baseball field at Overlook Park. (Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com Producer/Reporter)

PORTLAND, Ore. - Every so often a story comes along that reminds us that one person really can make a difference.

Every Friday we're putting the spotlight on a local park and this week we headed to Overlook Park, a 10.93-acre greenspace at North Fremont Street and Interstate Avenue.

One of the features at the park is a baseball field where little league teams play and thanks to local resident James Redden, it's gotten a much-needed facelift.

"My son played ball in North Portland all his young life and he started coaching. And he just got so frustrated with Overlook because they couldn't play when it rained and got muddy," Redden told us. "And then it just kind of clicked."

The ball field really did turn into a soggy mess a lot of the time and it wasn't that great of a place to play baseball. So Redden, who had been doing his best to keep it maintained, decided enough was enough and something had to be done.

"I was going to do it all by myself and I had a big five-year plan," he told us.

But once Redden started talking about his ideas, others soon stepped forward to help, including the Interstate-Kenton Little League, Portland Parks & Recreation, Valley Athletics, the recently departed Portland Beavers and Friends of Baseball.

The help included money, supplies and expertise. Redden even ended up chipping in his own money for the pitcher's mound and home plate.

And the result? A great ball field that kids can enjoy.

"Last year when our baseball season was here we had like one game here and now just practicing on it, you can tell there's a major difference," said ball player Brian LaClair.

"It was a lot bumpier," LaClair explained. "There was grass where this new dirt is. It was harder to play on but now it's a lot better. You have more traction because of the dirt."

The transformation really is amazing but you don't have to take our word for it. The change is evident in photos taken before the work was done and after the project was complete.

Redden, who spends a fair amount of his free time each week taking care of the ball field, said he's not quite done yet. He said he's hoping for a new dugout area, among other things. When we asked if he thought of maintaining the ball field at Overlook Park as his hobby, he said "no, it's my calling."

It's that type of caring and dedication that has earned Redden recognition as one of KATU's Everyday Heroes. Every week we spotlight ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make our neighborhoods better and Redden certainly falls in that category. His 'Everyday Hero' story will air in a couple of weeks on KATU News.

Redden is a great example of the difference that one person can make. He said the key is for people to get involved.

"The city doesn't have the time to do it all," he told us. "Everybody wants the city to do it all and everybody thinks the city should do it all. But they just don't have the budget or the time." 

On Friday, June 3, Portland Parks & Recreation honored Redden and all the others who stepped up to the plate, so to speak, to make a positive impact in the community. In the video below, Mark Ross, Public Information Officer for Portland Parks & Recreation, gives recognition to those involved.

Safety at Overlook Park

On another topic, we would be remiss if we didn't mention a recent incident at Overlook Park that raised some concerns for those who live in the area. In April, police made several arrests at the park after a group of about 30 suspected gang members had gathered there overnight.

The incident was unsettling for neighbors. One man we talked to immediately following what happened said it was his first time visiting the park and he would likely stay away during the evening hours. Neighbor Heather Carrion talked to us at the time as well and said "it's unnerving that there's so many people with actually loaded weapons on them around here."

We spoke to Art Hendricks, Security Manager for Portland Parks & Recreation, about safety concerns at the park. He said what happened in April was an isolated incident and Overlook Park is not known as a gang hangout. He said that particular group just happened to pick that spot to meet.

"I think Overlook Park is like a lot of parks, you know. Issues come up from time to time," he told us.

When we stopped by the park to take photos, we spoke to local resident Tess Anderson, who was there with her 21-month-old daughter. We asked her how she felt about safety at the park.

"I always feel fine here," she said. "I do always have my cell phone with me and I pay attention. But it's like any park, you know. And that incident happened like around 2 a.m."

Hendricks did point out that there was a high number of homeless people camping at Overlook Park last month. He said during May, Portland Parks & Recreation issued 19 park warnings and excluded three people from the park.

"We did see an increase in homeless camps and sometimes that is a result of other enforcement actions we take in other parks in the city, or increased enforcement downtown," he said.

Hendricks added that it's not often that they'll run into problems with the city's homeless, aside from the fact that city code doesn't allow people to stay at parks overnight. He said in general parks officials try to help people out if they can.

"We will see why they are in the park," he said. "Are they just passing through? Are they homeless? Are they in need of assistance? We will also contact JOIN and give them information for homeless shelters and other providers."

Getting to Know the Neighborhood

Coming up on June 9, Overlook resident Dan Haneckow will be taking folks on a walking tour to explore Interstate Avenue's roadside history, as part of the Ten Toes Express walk series.

It's free to join in. Just meet at Overlook Park, specifically at the northeast corner of North Interstate and Overlook Blvd., at 6 p.m. The tour will last for about an hour and a half to two hours.