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Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, center right, walks with Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett across the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge moments after it was dedicated last month. The bridge connects the city's riverfront with Minto-Brown Island Park, the largest in the city, which features miles of hiking and biking trails.

Five years ago, when I first started working at the Gazette-Times, I interviewed a fairly prominent local businessman. During a discussion on local politics and attitudes he offered the following off-the-record thought:

“In Corvallis we spend an inordinate amount of time telling ourselves how special we are.”

Provocative, yes. Truth? Ah, that’s in the eye of the beholder. I have been thinking about this statement a lot in the past few days because of a couple of exchanges I witnessed at public meetings.

The eclipse

During the Aug. 7 City Council meeting a local astronomer briefed councilors on plans to observe Monday’s eclipse. The guy was fired up. And I don’t blame him. This is his Super Bowl, Oscar show and presidential election all in one two-minute flash of disappearing sunlight. As I said, he was fired up.

He was very proud of efforts made by mid-valley astronomers to educate the public about the eclipse and provide guidance on safety. Again, I don't blame him.

And he offered the prediction that because Corvallis is such an “intellectual center” people, presumably the intellectual ones, are going to “drive right past Salem” and come here to watch.

On the one hand this is kind of frightening. If 1 million people are coming into the path of totality from elsewhere and we are the magnet … our goose is cooked. It will be total gridlock. Block 15 will run out of beer, people will wind up sleeping in their cars on the Van Buren Bridge and I will not make it to work, incurring the wrath of my boss and leaving Gazette-Times readers longing for my eclipse stories that never were.

On the other hand this is kind of frightening. If only the intellectuals come here, well, it might not be gridlock, but what does this mean for Salem, our fine capital city? Will the poor town be forced to host less-attractive eclipse visitors? Doesn’t seem fair, does it?


Last Tuesday I reported on a Benton County Planning Commission meeting at which plans by Oregon State University to expand and upgrade its trails and other recreational amenities in the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest were being reviewed.

Twenty people spoke in favor of the plan, including a man who lives in the Corvallis area but works in human resources in Salem (there’s that word again). He said he likes living here because amenities such as the Mac-Dunn trails improve the quality of life. And he noted that in the recruiting he does in his day job he finds that individuals seem to prefer Corvallis to Salem.

“That’s not really a hard choice,” said one of the commissioners, to loud laughter.

Hmm. Is Salem that bad? I worked there for 15 years. Let me think about this one. Well, it has stable employment because of large numbers of state employees, it has a vibrant, kind of old-fashioned downtown and the city fathers have done a good job of reclaiming the riverfront. Sound like any place you know? Then I went to the population charts, which showed that Salem has 167,000 people and Corvallis 57,000. Would all of those people in Salem really prefer to be in Corvallis? Or just the ones looking for an intellectual center?

Yes, I am poking the bear a bit, but I am hoping to do so in a positive way. Because as we weave our way through the minefield that is American society in 2017 I think there is some value in thinking about these issues a bit.

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Contact reporter James Day at or 541-758-9542. Follow at or