Reading quarters

February 26, 2004 11:00 pm

Don't forget for a second the fiercely partisan position of this column:

Pro-Oregon, but first and foremost, pro-Baker County.

That's why we joined the chorus of voices calling for the covered wagon to be considered as the subject for Oregon's state quarter, scheduled for release in 2005.

The state committee designing the quarter had initially rejected the wagon as just too old-fashioned.

We complained, loud and proud of our state's heritage.

Consider: unlike the other proposed designs considered early on, the wagon was the only one to represent the human and not natural history of Oregon.

Oregon, as a state, is the result of the great Westward migration, not salmon spawning or bubbling liquid hot magma, as the other designs suggest.

But we're unapologetically biased on this front. The Oregon Trail is all but enshrined in Baker County, from remnants of wagon ruts to the Old Oregon Trail Ride to the magnificent Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

So we cheered the inclusion of the Oregon Trail as one of the four finalists for Oregon's quarter.

School children across the country learn of the Oregon Trail; now they could earn a piece of it by picking up around grandma's yard.

Then, last week, we saw the designs.

The Oregon Trail design is handsome: well-worn ruts reaching toward the horizon, appearing behind a wagon almost like the wake from a boat.

In the distance, a native encampment rightly notes that pioneers weren't the first people to call this place home.

However, there appears to be room to move the wagon forward in the design without obscuring the village or ruts.

We wonder if, symbolically, this is a sort of nod from the heavily anti-covered wagon quarter selection committee that our symbol's time is over.

After all, the covered wagon license plate is no longer produced. But Crater Lake's custom plate, issued in honor of the park's centennial, is a hot seller.

And Cycle Oregon, which visited Oregon Trail country last year, heads for Crater Lake this year.

A quarter issued in 2005 would only help build publicity momentum for Crater Lake as an emerging symbol of Oregon.

We're confident the Oregon Trail will never die so long as Baker County has a say in it. But short of seceding from the Union and issuing our own currency, there's no way all four designs can win.

A quarter design is a minor point compared to school funding or tax reform. But the wagon still speaks most directly to our state and nation's heritage. Don't tell the nation that Oregon is only about mountains or fish. It's about the original dreamers, the pioneers who crossed the prairie more than a century ago and continue to flock here today.

That trail is Oregon.