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By Renee Lamoreaux
Rhododendron at a crossroads as it turns 100 posted on 01/01/2020

Steve Graeper, President of the Rhododendron Community Planning Organization (CPO), first came to Rhododendron in 1953, the year of his birth. His family bought a Steiner cabin (built in 1932) in the community in 1942, and it’s been in the family ever since.

“Rhododendron has been in my blood my entire 66 years,” Graeper said, noting his summers were spent on the mountain.

This month, Graeper and the whole community will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Postal Service commissioning the Rhododendron Post Office, 11 years after the unincorporated community of Rhododendron first formed as Rowe (named for Portland Mayor Henry S. Rowe). The centennial celebration will be held from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Still Creek Inn, 73365 E. Hwy. 26 in Rhododendron. Renee Lamoreaux created a special postmark cancellation for the event.

Out of its humble beginnings, Rhododendron became a thriving community of homes and summer cabins, then saw the construction of Hwy. 26 and its impact as drivers sped through or stop only to put chains on their tires during winter weather.

Graeper noted a number of moments that helped define the community, including some not for the positive, such as the flood of 1964, the widening of the highway, the closing of Gadwoods Market and the liquor store moving to Welches. But he also has an eye to the future, with the CPO’s Rhody Rising subcommittee, which formed in 2016 and hopes to spur redevelopment of the community into more of a destination.

“The vision for the future is that maybe we can redevelop that sense of community that Rhododendron once had,” Graeper said. “There was a little village atmosphere in Rhododendron. Right now we don't have that village atmosphere anymore.”

Among the possibilities that the Rhody Rising subcommittee is looking into for the community are a sign to identify Rhododendron and welcome visitors; sidewalks on both sides of Hwy. 26; pedestrian safety islands; street lighting; bike paths; and parks and paths leading to the Zigzag River and on the north side of the “Swinging Bridge.”

“It’s the future that I’m looking at,” Graeper said. “What is Rhododendron going to look like 10, 20, 30 years from now. But it’s not my vision; it’s a community vision.”

The group also developed a logo in 2018 as part of a contest, which appears on t-shirts and hats to help raise funds. The t-shirts will be available for sale at the Jan. 25 celebration, which will also include presentations on the history of the community and the post office, refreshments, cake and sheets of stamps with the Rhododendron logo, postcards and envelopes for sale.

A second celebration is also expected to take place on Saturday, Aug. 8, in concert with the annual Steiner Cabin Tour, which will feature 12 cabins along a 2.5-mile loop in Rhododendron this year. Graeper hopes to have different vendors and organizations stationed throughout the loop, offering food and information on the community.

The Rhododendron CPO will also hold a business meeting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Mt. Hood RV Village Resort, 65000 E. Hwy. 26 in Welches. Agenda items including the Centennial Celebration and a follow up on the Zigzag Integrated Resource Project, consisting of two timber harvests in the Mount Hood National Forest (MHNF) expected to take place in 2020.

By Garth Guibord/MT




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