From Tracktown to Bach to Trout Fishing
Eugene, OR, is widely known for its free spirit, but that's not the only thing that's free in Tracktown U.S.A. In a place that describes itself as a great city for the arts and outdoors, you can find plenty of ... well ... artsy and outdoorsy things to do.
Alton Baker Park: Eugene's Urban Playground
Alton Baker Park (100 Day Island Rd., Eugene, OR) forms a confluence for some of Eugene's most beloved community locales: The Cuthbert Amphitheater, the Canoe Canal, Pre's Trail, the Duck Ponds and multiple biking and walking trails are all part of 400 acres of forest, fields, grassy parks and ponds along the Willamette River and within minutes of downtown. Here are just a few things you can do in and around Alton Baker Park:
- Fish in the 2-mile Canoe Canal that is regularly stocked with trout. The canal is an offshoot of the Willamette River.
- Ride the BMX trail near Autzen Stadium.
- Explore the RiverPlay Discovery Village Playground in Skinner Butte Park (248 Cheshire Ave., Eugene, OR). This playground encompasses an entire acre and features a massive climbing and play structure, replicas of a historic ferry, a stagecoach, a pioneer village and Eugene's famous basalt climbing columns.
- Ride or walk bikes along the river path to explore the western, developed portion of the park, as well as the eastern, riparian forested areas.
- Watch the ducks at the Duck Pond.
- Visit the Nobel Peace Laureate Peace Park at the main entrance of the park.
Two museums offer free admission with certain limits: The Lane County Historical Museum (740 W. 13th Ave., Eugene, OR) is free for kids under 15, and the University of Oregon's Museum of Natural and Cultural History (1680 E. 15th Ave., Eugene, OR) is free to all on the first Friday of every month. The Lane County Historical Museum has a small but interesting permanent collection of local county artifacts and also offers regular exhibits on broad-reaching topics. Lost Towns explores the history of the area's old logging communities and Rails Through Eugene is about the railroad's impact on African-Americans after the Civil War. Exhibits change several times a year, so check often. The museum also has a photographic digital collection available for online searching.
To learn about early humans and millions of years of natural history, visit the Museum of Natural and Cultural History with the largest publicly owned collection of paleontology, anthropology and zoology artifacts in the state. Exhibits are not Oregon-centric, although many do involve the state and the Pacific Northwest. Some examples of recent exhibits include Many Nations: Oregon Tribal Flags, a history and meaning of the state's nine independent tribal nations, and a National Geographic exhibit, Rarely Seen: Photographs of the Extraordinary, that explores some of the world's most unusual phenomena.
Play at Fun For All
For six weeks in summer on weekdays in July and August the City of Eugene sponsors its Fun For All program for youth at neighborhood parks, which includes a range of activities and free lunch at most locales. Activities are supervised and geared toward youth up to 17. Depending on the venue, activities include arts and crafts, gardening and sports, such as tennis, basketball, skateboarding and soccer. Just drop in to partake. Children under 10 must be accompanied by a responsible party 15 years old or older, so this is perfect for an older child and a younger sibling.
Music to the Ears
Summer is the time for outdoor concerts, and Eugene has its share of free offerings. Probably the biggest free summer draw is the Eugene Symphony's annual Free Summer Concert in July at the outdoor Cuthbert Amphitheater (2300 Leo Harris Pkwy., Eugene, OR) next to Alton Baker Park. Although tickets are free, they are required because the event sells out every year to a capacity crowd of 5,000.
The prestigious Oregon Bach Festival spans three weeks annually in June and July and offers several free concerts, including its Opening Celebration and some pre-concert introductory sessions throughout the festival. And Bach is not the only item on the menu: This festival offers a range of mostly classical music.
Other summer freebie concerts include the city-sponsored HiFi Street Performance Series featuring street performances by local artists and musicians, and the Summer Music in the Heritage Courtyard program at the Oakway Center (2350 Oakmont Way, Eugene, OR) from June through August featuring an array of musical genres.
And don't forget that Eugene is home to the University of Oregon with its prestigious music school. While many concerts charge a fee, recitals, commencement and some other events do not, and many are live-streamed so you can enjoy them for free.
Visit Pre's Rock
Eugene and the entire country mourned the tragic early death of Steve Prefontaine, widely considered the best long-distance runner in history, in a car wreck in 1975. Just 24, Pre, as he was known, held every distance record from 2,000 to 10,000 meters when he died. His life lives on in multiple memorial venues in Eugene, among them Pre's Rock (2425 Skyline Blvd., Eugene, OR), located on the narrow, winding road where his accident occurred. Anyone who values courage and endurance and appreciates a legend—not just runners or other athletes—will find significance in this black slate slab that is visited daily by people of all ages who leave flowers, notes, poems, candles and other items. Pre's legacy also includes Pre's Trail, a 4-mile running and walking trail on the north side of the Willamette River.
- Alton Baker Park
- Eugene Outdoors: Alton Baker Park
- Statesman Journal: Alton Baker Park
- Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife: Family Fishing Events
- Nobel Peace Laureate Project
- Lane County Historical Museum
- University of Oregon: Events Calendar
- Museum of Natural and Cultural History: About the MNCH
- City of Eugene: Fun For All
- Eugene Symphony: Free Summer Concert
- Oregon Bach Festival: Upcoming Events
- City of Eugene: Calendar of Events
- Oakway Center: Music Schedule
- University of Oregon: Music Dept Events
- U of Oregon Folklore: Pre's Rock
Lynne Pettus has worked in the communications field for more than 20 years, most recently as a technical writer and editor in the software industry. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from USC.