Storytelling through the state’s parks

Doug Deur

When Arch Cape native Doug Deur thinks about his life on the North Coast, time spent in Oregon State Parks seems to be a common thread between his memories.

“I grew up with state parks on the coast,” Deur said. “My family has been in this area for generations. My grandparents watched these parks being built — they saved their gas rations to go to Ecola during World War II. Every time a baby was born, photos would be taken at Hug Point.”

Between those personal connections and a career studying national state parks history and North Coast cultural heritage as a professor at Portland State University, stepping up as the new coast representative on the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Commission seemed like a natural fit.

Deur has replaced Cannon Beach resident Robin Risley on the commission after she reached her eight-year term limit. The commission establishes policies, sets fees, acquires property and promotes the state’s outdoor recreation policy, among other tasks.

Commissioners serve four-year terms and are appointed by the governor, then confirmed by the state Senate. There are two other new commissioners starting their terms with Deur: Steve Grasty, representing Burns, and Victoria Berger, representing Salem.

When Risley came near the end of her term in May, members of the North Coast community started encouraging him to apply for her spot, Deur said.

“It’s about my personal connection to Oregon parks. I feel like all Oregon citizens have an obligation to take care of parks so future generations can see these same places I enjoyed and my grandparents enjoyed,” he said. “It was an offer I could not refuse.”

Deur has been studying North Coast history for years, which included publishing “Empires of the Turning Tide.”

The book, published and funded by the National Park Service, details the creation of the parks and tells the stories of the relationship between these places and indigenous people.

He’s also a founding member of the fundraising group Friends of Haystack Rock Awareness Program, the Ecola Creek Forest Reserve initiative, as well as other environmental groups and movements in Cannon Beach.

Parks and Recreation Department Associate Director Chris Havel said that, while all of the commissioners share a deep love of Oregon and the desire to improve the parks system within, Deur is notable for his background as a historian and anthropologist.

“In Doug’s case, his strong credentials as a historian fits in well with the department mission, with his experience with national registry, local museums, and with his role in the state through recreation and history,” Havel said. “I think people who are naturally drawn to that will find the commission a welcoming place.

State parks have many challenges before them. While on the commission, Deur hopes to address how to bolster infrastructure better to accommodate the influx of traffic at heavily used parks, such as Oswald West and Ecola State Park, as well as look for ways to improve beach access points with small land acquisitions.

But most notably, he wants to use his background to tell the stories of all Oregonians and their relationship to the parks system.

“We need to tell these stories so we don’t forget that these parks still mean something to Native Americans. Different communities have different stories associated with the parks that relate to their histories,” he said.

One of the most encompassing challenges is to figure out how to keep parks relevant for a culturally and demographically changing Oregon, Havel said.

Most of the growth and development of state parks happened between the 1950s and 1970s, Havel said. Since then, the demographic and cultural landscape of Oregon has changed, leading to usage changes such as an increase in day trips rather than overnight camping.

“In the last five years, we’ve had increasing visitation every year. We’ve found it’s many of the same people visiting more often, maybe not as diversified as it could be,” Havel said. “We won’t know if we are serving every Oregon city until we ask better questions.”

Deur hopes his background in cultural studies can help bridge this gap to encourage more park access for more people, he said.

“Oregon is changing. We want parks to be relevant to everybody,” Deur said.

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