Blue Lake Regional Park: Life on the water
Mary Lou Johnson, pictured above as a teenager, grew up in the Blue Lake Regional Park, which originally belonged to her parents. Blue Lake is entering its 50th year as a public park.
As Metro celebrates Blue Lake's 50 years as a public park, Mary Lou Johnson, daughter of the park's original owners, tells of her childhood on the 61-acre lake in Fairview.
"In the beginning," Mary Lou said, "Dad and Mother bought the boat and canoe concessions. My brother and I lived with them on the top story of the white boat concessions building that first summer. I was three years old when it all began." That was in 1925.
Growing up at Blue Lake meant swimming was second nature. "My brother and I learned to swim before we could walk, really," said Mary Lou.
Her parents, Nick and Maidie Welsh, charged a modest park entrance fee. "It cost 10 cents each to get in the gate and an additional 10 cents if you wanted to swim and use the bathhouse," she said. "You could buy a pass for $5 that covered everything all summer long. My dad gave away hundreds of passes each year. He loved seeing kids enjoy the park and all the fun it offered."
Back then, Mary Lou said, "East County was covered with berry fields as far as you could see. Everyone picked berries in the morning and then came to Blue Lake to go swimming in the afternoon. It wasn't unusual for a family of 10 kids to be dropped off at the park entrance."
More than probably anyone, Mary Lou knows the park, inside and out. She recalls, "I worked the gate selling tickets, helped in the bath house, cleaned toilets, picked up garbage and raked leaves. Each morning we had picked up all the garbage by 8 a.m. I remember the day they installed large pink pigs in the park. Visitors put their garbage into the pig's mouth and it would snort. After that we had a lot less garbage to pick up!"
Beginning in the 1940s, Mary Lou and her husband raised their own family at Blue Lake. Though they sold the park to Multnomah County in 1960, she still lives on the lake and likes the changes Metro has made since it acquired the park from the county in 1994. "Metro installing a disc golf course was a great idea," she said. "We see disc golfers on a daily basis. It's interesting to watch them because they are so serious. You can see they are just having a great time."