Trammart News Service

INDEPENDENCE — The long and challenging year of 2020 is finally history, but some lesser-known happenings may influence the year ahead. Though not as newsworthy as coronavirus-related issues, these matters nonetheless have prompted a few predictions for the new year, thanks to findings from local experts.

Do they reflect trends that will be seen throughout the state? It’s possible. From the sudden “smitten by a kitten” movement to recent results showing that potholes are far from the most pressing problem on city streets, Independence may lead the way in municipal forecasting.

Inoperable vehicles

Abandoned vehicles are proving to be a public concern. Though the pothole in front of the Independence Civic Center has sparked comment, probably because it is noticeable to anyone dropping by with a utility payment, potholes are far from the most common complaint to the city’s handy app for reporting citizen worries, Indy Works. Streets with cracked indentions may look like homes for tiny tadpoles after a downpour, but Indy Works recorded far more car-associated calls. There were only three notifications for potholes compared with 58 for abandoned vehicles, according to Jason Kistler, the city’s information technology manager.

“Many of these abandoned auto complaints are regarding vehicles not being moved for time periods that range from weeks to months,” explained Robert Mason, chief of police for Independence. Calls came in for trailers, boats and recreational vehicles left on the street, as well as vehicles with missing parts, such as the lack of an engine.

Sometimes safety concerns prompt the contact. A vehicle parked close to a corner, stop sign or an intersection can block a driver’s field of vision, he said.

“Our city code has language that a vehicle can’t remain unmoved on public property for more than 72 hours, or on private property for seven days, with some exceptions,” Mason added.

Bend and Portland have reported the same challenging situations of inoperable or discarded automobiles. Is Independence a town that now reflects an identical trend in less-populated cities? It may be. Although unlawful abandoned vehicles are defined by Oregon statute, there’s apparently no mandate for cities to publish data on them.

Smitten with kittens

Increased cat litters are causing a feline adoption explosion. The tail-end of 2020 validated a pet-producing prediction by Independence veterinarian Robert Archer DVM, who indicated weeks ago that more unplanned litters were likely, due to the fact that veterinarians weren’t allowed to perform spay or neuter surgeries for a period of months after the coronavirus surfaced.  A representative of Hillsboro-based “Cat’s Cradle Rescue” confirmed that Archer’s forecasting was precisely on target, at least when it comes to the baby feline population. 

There’s been a huge rise in shelter kittens, but it’s been matched by the soaring desire for these young cats, according to recent animal adoption data. Some have referred to this response as the “kitten smitten” phenomena of the pandemic — rates of kitten adoptions are the highest they’ve been in years.

Adoptees in local homes need special protection, cautioned Joe Hillesum, known in his Monmouth neighborhood as the cat whisperer. Owners should put collars on cats with contact information, he said, noting that some can appear to need help when simply wandering around. He recently thwarted a well-intended cat-napping from a passer-by who mistook a mewing cat for lost and homeless.

The past few months have seen far fewer missing cat alerts, if their absence on social media is an indicator. In fact, at the Independence Airpark, there have been almost no such notifications, in contrast with past years when they were numerous. Asked about this unusual development, the president of the Independence Airpark Homeowners Association (IAHA) said he couldn’t speculate on the underlying reason.

“I really haven’t paid much attention to that sort of thing,” explained Gary Van Horn, who heads the IAHA board, adding that it’s “nice to hear, though.”

Tree city

Independence trees are gaining new residential respect. Independence has earned a “Tree City USA” designation by the Arbor Day Foundation for several years, but 2021 marks a leafy new turning point. A tree census conducted by city staff and volunteers identified each and every bark-bearing plant inside city limits. At a recent meeting of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), members looked over maps and lists of trees — and some HPC members picked their favorite. Seemingly tied for the biggest “wow” by HPC was a large flower-producing Japanese pagoda and a massively branched sugar maple.

But the census didn’t occur without some controversy: One resident objected that pine trees weren’t being given proper recognition for their historic importance to the ancient indigenous people of the area. And white oak trees failed to incite any special notice, either, despite being the emblem of the Independence-based Luckiamute Watershed Council (LWC). However, the LWC symbolized the tree’s significance by placing a white oak sapling in the Luckiamute State Natural Area, just outside Independence, in celebration of the LWC’s millionth planting. The little tree, named “Garry,” was toasted with champagne by LWC members as a naturally beautiful example of Oregon’s finest.   Asked about how the historic relevance of trees is determined, Independence HPC board member Curtis Tidmore said he is perhaps the worst judge of that because, while he favors protecting the city’s tree canopy, he doesn’t think it should be done “under the auspices of historic preservation.”

“I’ve got a specimen dwarf evergreen in my front yard — probably one of the oldest of its kind in the state — but no one would ever think to include it,” he said.

However, there does seem to be one tree in town that everyone agrees is historic. It’s at the entrance of Mt. Fir Park.

It’s grown from the seed of a Ginkgo tree that survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in World War II. Known as the city’s “Hiroshima Ginkgo,” it was planted last year as the centerpiece for a section there called the peace garden. Just before New Year’s Eve, the plant was checked — and found to be thriving.

Check thy speed

Independence is joining the self-monitoring motorist movement. This year, drivers in Independence will get a chance to see how fast they’re going — the result of new digital speed signs located in different parts of the city. It’s true that all cars have a speedometer that gives that information, but a frequent response to Independence police officers at traffic stops is that the person behind the wheel had “no idea” the car was traveling at the rate it was clocked.

If funds permit it, and the city’s traffic safety commission approves, signs ranging in price from about $3,400 to $4,500 will be considered for busy thoroughfares that include Hoffman and Stryker roads. Research on the signs was done by Independence officer Lance Inman, the city’s first motorcycle patrol officer. The units have the capability of using solar power, but perhaps not during what has been called Oregon’s misty “mushroom-growing” times.

Inman, who carefully researched the digital sign options, helpfully included a coupon from the manufacturer that would take hundreds of dollars off the price tag. It expired in November, but there is no reason to presume that this officer won’t find and obtain another money-saving one this year, observed Robert Mason, chief of police for Independence.

Walking in the rain

Will last year’s sudden fad of exercise-walking in the rain persist? With gyms and workout centers closed, “rain walks” gained some traction in Independence. That’s good news to research scientist Abram Wagner, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 

He and several colleagues published “The Impact of Weather on Summer and Winter Exercise Behaviors” in a science journal two years ago.

“What we found is that even somewhat mild weather, like rain, would push some people to exercise indoors, but a lot of people to just stop exercising all together,” he said, adding that the findings made him hope that people would find ways to continue exercising even during the rainy season. As it turns out, some inveterate walkers in Independence did just that.

“Proper rain gear gives us freedom from being inhibited by weather,” said Debra Plymate, a longtime pilot who’s accustomed to weather-watching.

The pandemic shut exercise facilities but “when the rain is light, the wind is light,” why not go for a walk? she asked. Plymate, who spent many years as an air traffic controller, said reading the direction of the rain may be important.

If rain is blowing sideways, “it’s probably a cold front, and the wind direction is from the south,” she said. So when walking, “turn south and walk into the wind on your way outbound for your walk, and it will be much better on the way back with the wind behind you.”

“If you walk with the wind behind on the first leg of your walk, you will be sorry on your way back,” she warned. Also, “don’t bother with an umbrella,” she added — just rely on good weather-proof outer-wear. Aside from that “attitude is everything,” she said, noting that picking a specific time and sticking to it, rain or shine, is important.

Wagner is thumbs-up on Plymate’s plan.

“I like the idea of rain walks,” the researcher agreed. However, there’s nothing wrong with indoor exercise, which could include short Pilates or yoga videos from YouTube, he said.

Native plants emerge

The battle of pretty flowers versus native plants seems over.

It never really was a battle, of course — but along the creek-side path in Inspiration Garden, several regular visitors began asking if the master gardeners were ever going to beautify the banks by Ash Creek. After all, the area above, which once resembled the untamed landscape of a foreign planet, had been converted by them to eye-captivating beds of flowers and trees, from a rose garden to a fruit orchard.

As a result of the indomitable force of nature, it appears the decision has been made. During the pandemic, the soil along the creek grew thick with native vegetation.

That’s just as it should be, according to Michael Cairns, the former project manager for the Luckiamute Watershed Council (LWC). The goal was to create a self-perpetuating riparian system that provides all the ecologically-enhancing “goods and services” within the small stream’s capability, an environment that fosters good water flow and a healthy refuge for young fish.

“That type of riparian system can’t function with significant manipulation, heavily used trails, and introduction of non-native plant species,” he said.

Kristen Larson, the executive director of the LWC, agrees. Though native plants might not be considered traditional landscaping choices, they are adapted to local conditions, so they require less work to establish and maintain — all the while improving and preserving conditions of streams like Ash Creek, she said.

So, 2021 appears to herald a wildly successful outcome for Ash Creek.

More take out please

Convenience stores have buyers chomping for more than gas.

When chicken wings went flying out of Jimmy’Z during the pandemic, was it a trend-setting sign for places outside Independence?

This certainly was seen elsewhere, too. Customers in the pandemic seemed hungry for carry-out food from one-stop shops that provide gas, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), based in Alexandria VA. While fuel sales lagged at these store sites, the purchase of other items actually rose, NACS surveys showed.

At Jimmy’Z on Monmouth Street there was a noticeable uptick in the demand for food, which occurred after Oregon expanded the supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP), an action enacted by the state after the wildfires. Patrons began buying hot food with SNAP benefits, explained owner Jim Newbeck. However, keeping the cases stocked was difficult.

“Our corn dogs were placed on back order and many times we were only allocated a few when we did get them,” he said.

Though his store “did fine” during coronavirus measures, there were manufacturing shortages.

“So, it’s not possible to tell exactly what is up or not since we never really had a complete hot case,” Newbeck pointed out.

For example, beer sales went up when bars shut down but “supply issues from manufactures made it a struggle to stay completely stocked up on everything,” he said.

It’s hard to predict whether or not the increased need for hot-case offerings will continue. The SNAP expansion was expected to expire at the dawn of the new year — and consumer tastes can be fickle. Two years ago, jalapeno poppers seemed to have a loyal following at Jimmy’Z. Last year it was stuffed spuds, according to an observant store employee.

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