Quick! What do these have in common?

  • the longest continuous truss bridge in North America,
  • a set of memorial walls,
  • commercial fishermen and other hardy seafaring folk,
  • clowns,
  • a semi-centennial  celebration.

If you answered “Astoria, Oregon,” you’re not wrong.  And “The Columbia River” is a fair guess as well.  But, like the Columbia ties together the cities and towns along its banks and the countries whose ships ingress and egress its ports, the more precise commonality tying these seemingly disparate elements together is Astoria’s Maritime Memorial Park.

Maritime Memorial Park wall section clipped from photo on ColumbiaRiverImages.comThe Maritime Memorial Park resides at the south end of the 4.1-mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge, so close the park is partially in the bridge’s shadow for much of the daylight hours.  Many seafaring souls are memorialized via engraved granite plaques embedded in neat rows and columns on tiered walls.   Among the inscriptions you’ll find several gillnetters – who fished the Columbia during Astoria’s formative years, negotiating the harsh waters in boats steered not by motors, but sails said to resemble a butterfly when fully extended – and at least one Astoria Clown.

Clowns…really?  Yep.  The Astoria Clowns were a varying group of 10 to 25 Astoria businessmen during the ‘50s and ‘60s who liked to entertain crowds with their colorful costumes, painted faces, and slapstick antics, yet made it their personal, nonprofit mission to drum up support for the building of a bridge to branch the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia together without the need for a ferry or other watercraft.  Their effort at encouraging bond purchases is considered a notable contribution to the original funding of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

Finally, August 13, 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.  A rededication ceremony and anniversary celebration will be held at a most fitting venue: the Maritime Memorial Park.

Memorial wall seating

100 Steps Wheels:

The central feature of the Maritime Memorial Park is a set of walls engraved with remembrance stones.  Each stone is inscribed with the deceased’s start and end of life years, a phrase of memory or tie to the sea, and in most cases one of over 70 stock graphics or a custom drawing, making the walls decorative as well as commemorative.

Ample seating encourages time for reflection on names from both distant and recent past while in view of the Columbia River, the waters to which many listed had intimate ties.

Walk Details for Memorial wall seating
Terrain: Wide, level sidewalk.
Seating: Long concrete bench around memorial walls.
Fee: No fee
Restrooms: No
Directions: From West Marine Drive in Astoria, turn northwest onto Bay Street. Bay Street ends after one block. Turn right when it ends, and then left into the Maritime Memorial Park parking lot.

Waterfront seating

125 Steps Wheels:

The Maritime Memorial Park rests between two enormous pillars supporting the southern end of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, one land based, the other footed in the Columbia.  This park offers an up-close view of this man-made design feat and the river it crosses.

Picnic tables are situated on the lawn between the parking lot and the memorial entrance, but unless I arrived with a meal necessitating a table, I’d take my fare to a seat closer to the Columbia.

Four benches reside near the water’s edge, each facing the mighty river at different angles.  From the memorial wall, head left no more than 50 steps to reach a bench printed with a Butterfly Fleet quote or right about the same distance to find pair of benches directly under the Astoria-Megler Bridge.  For a longer walk continue under the bridge to a solo seat where the sidewalk ends.  The step count above reaches this separate bench, but you have the option to rest at an under-bridge bench on the way.

Walk Details for Waterfront seating
Terrain: Wide, level sidewalk.
Seating: Three benches within 50 steps, another about 75 steps farther.
Fee: No fee
Restrooms: No
Directions: From the memorial wall seating above, follow the path under the bridge until it ends at the indicated bench.