Lake Oswego’s Cook’s Butte (What Mysteries Await Us at the Top?)

Lake Oswego’s Cook’s Butte


Hi and welcome to another episode of Around The Neighborhood with me, Scott McMahon.  This is the show about the quest for fun, history, and mystery in our backyard.


I’m here in Lake Oswego near the Stafford Hamlet area and we’re about to go on a hike up to the top of Cook’s Butte.  In case you want to know what a butte is, it’s the back mid-section of your body. Sorry that’s your but. A butte, is an isolated hill with steep sides.  The word butte comes from the French word for mound or small hill.


Cook’s Butte is actually 2 extinct volcano vents that are part of the Boring Volcanic Lava Field.  It’s called Boring, because that’s where the dense cluster of volcanic vents are located, near our little town of Boring, Oregon.


There are over 100 vents, cinder cones, volcanic shields in the Boring Lava Field and 14 volcanic vents west of the Willamette River, in which Cook’s Butte has 2 of them.  Technically, the 2 peaks of Cook’s Butte are extinct shield volcanos. A shield volcano is a broader domed shaped vent that resembles a warrior’s shield when it’s on the ground, as opposed to a tall steep volcano like Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Hood.


The butte is named after James P. Cook, who came from Ohio to work in the iron industry and who bought 130 acres of this area from the Shipley family back in 1900 for only $3,000.  That’s about $90,000 in today’s worth. Still $90,000 for this plot of land?


The land was passed down to Cook’s son, Bill, who later sold the property to John Emery.


Then in 1974-1975, John and his wife Marjorie Emery sold the butte to the city of Lake Oswego for $190,000, but with certain stipulations.  What sort of stipulations? Well according to the deed, "the premises will not be sold or used for any purpose other than park purposes or public utilities during the lifetimes of the grantors and their three living children, or the survivor of them, without their express written consent."


Essentially, The Emery’s always wanted Cook’s Butte to be a park that preserved its natural environment.  When the Cook’s owned the property there was a farm here, and there was a time when you could see the Tualatin River and Mt. Hood, but over time the trees have grown so big that it hides most of those views.


Funny thing is, about a decade after the property was deeded to the city in the 1980’s, from what I understand is that the city tried to get a tennis court and soccer field built here.  Not sure that idea quite fit the intention of keeping the park in its natural state.


Anyway, we entered through Stevens Meadows, which I understand will eventually have a parking lot and restrooms constructed to make it easier for the public to access Cook’s Butte and Steven Meadows.


When you enter Cook’s Butte, these handy trail markers let you know where you are at all times.  Stay on the trail, as the whole point to keep the butte natural, so they don’t want humans trampling all over other areas that aren’t designated.


I’m not a bird expert, but from what I’ve been told, there are over 70 species of birds that call Cook’s Butte home.  So, if you’re a bird watcher, this might be the place to be.


We made it to the summit.  The top of butte. They say residents use this area for picnics and such, but I have a feeling that the kids from Lake Ridge High School come up here to do rallies and rituals to ensure their team wins and the other team doesn’t.  I have no proof this happens … actually on second thought, today’s youngsters would just rally via social media. No need to leave the house.


Actually, this meadow used to be a gathering place for native tribes and a place to gather strawberries.


Here’s the rock that was left to the city and the residents:


“Much of the land for this park was a gift to the local community by two people who lived next to it for 48 years.  They wished this forest and meadow to remain forever wild. A meeting place for human and non-human, a place to re-enter the world beyond our human habits.”


Recently the city proposed building a radio tower here, but through the organized efforts of the community, the surviving family members rescinded the permission to build the radio tower.


From what I understand, this was the 3rd attempt to build a tower at Cook’s Butte.  The first time was back in 1994 when the City wanted to install a 65-foot cellular tower, but that was revoked as public utilities meant anything underground and not above ground like cell towers.  Again, the goal was to preserve the natural environment.


Then in 2002, an attempt to install an emergency radio tower on Cook’s Butte was initiated.  But this tower would be about 150 feet tall, more than double the height of the 65-foot cellular tower.  That was struck down, until recently in 2019, when the city proposed another radio tower, this time extending to almost 200 feet high.  With each proposal the tower keeps getting taller and taller. Haha.


Anyway, this 3rd attempt was also struck down.  What initially started out as a neighborhood effort to save Cooks Butte has turned into a city wide effort to save all of Lake Oswego Natural Parks.  As I understand it, only Springbrook City Park near Uplands Elementary, where my daughter attended, by the way ... anyway, this park is currently the only one protected from development under the City Charter enacted and passed by voters in 1978, with Chapter Ten of the Park Development Limitations, when the city had plans to develop it into a major athletic facility.


At the time of this recording, there is a petition to have all LO natural parks fall under the City Charter to limit any development improvements or changes that are not deemed to protect the natural area and be subjected to a majority vote by its citizens.  So, the petition is not about being for or against the measure, but just to qualify it for the ballot so LO citizens can vote on a rule that ensures a majority vote is required for any future changes. I’ll leave the link below to “Love LO Parks (dot) org” if you’re interested in learning more about this grassroots effort.




Well I hope you liked this episode and since the show is sponsored by my real estate services, all my contact information is in the description of this video in case you are looking to buy or sell a home in the near future, let me know.  Until then, I’ll see you around the neighborhood.