Submitted photo ## Members of the Yamhill community gathered on a recent weekend to help spruce up the town.
Submitted photo ## Members of the Yamhill community gathered on a recent weekend to help spruce up the town.

Harloff: Marriage of old, new the mission in Yamhill

When Kara Weber was casting about for a motto for the new Yamhill Downtown Association, she heard a resident advise, “Whatever you do, keep it Yamhill.”

Guest Writer

Rural Yamhill County resident Steve Harloff spent 33 years teaching English at Forest Grove High School. Upon retirement, he became a community volunteer. He is focusing his efforts on a handful of nonprofit entities, including the Yamhill Downtown Association. A musician and intermediate-level disc golfer, he joined his wife, Jane, in raising children Leanne and Jackson on property outside of Yamhill.

The YDA president, who moved to downtown Yamhill just a few years ago, knew this was the phrase she was looking for.

While lots of Yamhillians support YDA’s efforts to bring economic vitality to downtown, there are also many who don’t want to see the sleepy town lose its shadow of history and tranquility. With “Keep It Yamhill” as its official motto, YDA has an opportunity to unite both groups to share a vision of how Yamhill might move into the future.

Yamhill’s location on Highway 47, between Gaston and McMinnville, has long made it a “pass through” town for travelers.

In the late 1800s, though, it served as the starting point for a stagecoach run all the way to Tillamook. And in later years, it became a pleasant stop for train travelers going to Portland, thanks to a classy hotel

The YDA would like to add enough amenities in Yamhill that citizens and visitors might again find reason to spend some time  downtown, like in older days, when it featured a bakery and other lively shops. One of the YDA’s tasks is to convince residents a more visitor-oriented economy would never erode Yamhill’s sense of community — in fact, visitor spending would help preserve the local economy.

As the timber industry shrank, community involvement dwindled with it. The town became more insular; civic and community groups largely disappeared. The shining exception was the Yamhill Community Association, which sponsors Derby Days each summer.

The city endured a lengthy period when change was frowned upon. Keeping the city free from growth or change would keep costs and values down, they reasoned.

Unfortunately, this inaction caused the town to become unsightly in places. Thus, some of the most enthusiastic supporters of the YDA’s revitalization initiatives have been Yamhill residents of 30 or 40 years who are tired of the decay.

YDA board member Phillip Higgins argues, “Yamhill doesn’t need change, it needs maintenance.”

A few years ago, Jay Disbrow, a Yamhill city councilor, asked the community to create some focus groups. He felt it was time to renew interest in the town’s needs.

While the groups also cited safety and beautification, economic vitality downtown remained the key interest.

Weber emerged as a community leader able to negotiate with the people who opposed change, the people excited to revitalize the town and the people who simply didn’t care. She engaged business owners, meeting regularly with Larry Heesacker, who operates A-1 Logging, and Anita Borgaes, who owns Wine Country Properties and the 1912 bank building.

Yvette Potter, currently serving as mayor, encouraged the YDA to become active.

She hopes to see the city update codes in order to contend with derelict properties and create a master plan for future growth. While she would like to welcome more visitors to Yamhill, she also hopes to slow down cars and trucks as they travel through town.

While there are obstacles to this new economic growth — like major truck traffic moving through the middle of downtown, just like Carlton — there are also some features that should help. The city can boast of a lovely location on the edge of the Coast Range, historic buildings like the T&E General Store, a lively pioneer history, generally good incomes and an inviting range of restaurants.

More assets are developing, notably a new subdivision on the east side of town and construction of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, a pedestrian/cycling/equestrian corridor that will foster recreational opportunities. Further, the Trail will also serve as a safe walking/riding conduit for students living in Carlton but attending school in Yamhill.

The second annual Earth Day Cleanup occurred somewhat late this year, but once again proved residents of the city and YDA are willing to work hard to make downtown Yamhill more beautiful. The Saturday work session had 40 volunteers cleaning streets and sidewalks, trimming brush, collecting garbage and painting curbs and benches.

Support was lent by SOLV, First Federal, A-1 Logging and the city. A lovely touch at the end was downtown placement of 10 wine barrels filled with flowers and decorative grasses.

The YDA understands events help bring a town together, like its Fridays in August music lawn sessions, held last summer behind the former Rooted restaurant. It also sponsors an annual Beverly Cleary event featuring walking tours and art and writing contests, which has generated some curriculum used in third-grade classes.

Last year, the association participated in the city’s Holiday Tree Lighting.

Other activities are being planned, such as Beer and Bunnies, which had to be canceled this year, and Stories in the Park, a celebration of local history and storytelling. Weber said Beer and Bunnies will offer a family friendly chance to hold a cute baby rabbit while drinking a beverage on a grassy downtown lawn.

The biggest excitement in Yamhill currently, though, might be the pending opening of the new Larson House, operated by the Larson family of Carlton Corners fame. It’s going into the old Zippy’s/Rooted restaurant site, long a social hub in town.

The Larson House hopes to stage a soft opening in September, with YDA support. Heidi Larson suggested this might be the perfect starting point for more extensive revitalization efforts.

Even more important for the safety of Yamhill children, the city is hoping to receive a Safe Routes to School grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation. It would fund new sidewalks and improved crosswalks and walkways through the school corridor.

ODOT seems very aware making Yamhill a safe place to walk fits with efforts to revitalize downtown.

Locals realize the main crosswalk across Highway 47 in Yamhill is a nightmare. At the Holiday Tree Lighting, they watched cars moving quickly through town, one nearly taking out the entire police force when members attempted to cross.

The YDA is also weighing a public library, community garden and farmer’s market, along with better downtown lighting. More downtown shops are also on the agenda, Weber noting, “We have to give people a reason to stop.”

The YDA has created a survey for residents and merchants to determine what the community wants most. You can find out more about the association on its Facebook page.

YDA board member Higgins likened Yamhill to “a pair of broken-in jeans.” He said, “We need to do some mending at the knees and seat, all the places that get the most wear, in order to preserve it for years to come.”


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