By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
HUNTINGTON This city of 580 residents that flourished a century ago during the railroad era is back on track once again.
This time, residents are using a potent combination: a roll-up-your-sleeves effort on their part, donations of time and materials from neighbors and friends, and a grant that couldn't have been timed better.
Baker County's second-largest city's main drag has new curbs and sidewalks along Lions Park. Hanging baskets of flowers adorn downtown businesses. A planned mini-plaza near the post office will offer shade and water on hot summer days.
andquot;We just needed to put some color downtown, and we needed to do it at eye level,andquot; said Carmen Harding, who helped plant and place many of the hanging baskets. andquot;People who are staying at (Farewell Bend) State Park come here to see what the town is like. They tell us they like what they see.andquot; Sidewalks and curbs along Highway 30 through town came from a pair of unrelated sources. The Baker-Morrow Community Partnership allowed the city to use a $7,500 grant intended to begin construction on a fire hall to instead build curbs and sidewalk.
City leaders wanted the work to proceed at the same time that the Oregon Department of Transportation was repaving Highway 30, known as Washington Street as it proceeds through Huntington.
Ash Grove Cement in nearby Durkee donated cement for the sidewalk project. The sidewalk contractor, Rudy's Cement in Payette, Idaho, did some of the work for free.
A locally-generated work crew, including Mayor Jim Rogers, also helped with the construction, which included two new ramps that provide accessibility for people with handicaps into Lions Park.
Idaho Power gave $1,000 for the flower baskets, which the local historical society planted, hung and maintains.
Couple those improvements with the re-opening of Howell's Cafe and Streamliner Lounge in the town's most historically significant building and the total effect is of a community on the move.
andquot;Pretty much everything we've done was donated or (came about) by grant money,andquot; Rogers said. andquot;These little towns don't have the money to do this kind of stuff. Donna is really going after the grant money.andquot; Donna would be Donna Reedy, Hungtington's city recorder. She said that the Leadership Baker program a nine-month training course she's been taking in Baker City helped her make the connections she needed to root out grant sources, she said.
It was another grant, back in 1997, that paid for the purchase of the former Methodist Church. Now the church is a museum, open Saturdays and Sundays or any other day that people would like to see it. Visitors need only call Beverly McLean at 869-2873 to arrange for their own private museum visit Monday through Friday.
andquot;We're getting more railroad memorabilia, and people are getting more and more generous with their donations,andquot; McLean said. andquot;It's such an important part of our past that we're thinking of opening a room just for that.andquot; The city used a bequeath to purchase a covered wagon that was part of the wagon train that marked the 10th anniversary Memorial Day weekend of the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. McLean and others hope to display the wagon on museum grounds.
According to McLean, visitors from Germany, Norway, Japan and 17 states visited the museum last year. Sprucing up the downtown corridor ought to boost those numbers in 2002, she said.
The work is far from being done, says Dora Pamperien, who was also involved in the hanging basket project.
She'd like to see a skatepark go into Lions Park, and an after-school program instituted andquot;to keep our kids entertained.andquot; She'd also like to see the plaza have a fountain and benches for people to rest.
andquot;This has been a long, slow process,andquot; she said. andquot;We all want what's best for Huntington. We're trying to get our downtown to look like something. We're proud of our town, and we're proud to show it to our visitors.andquot;