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Oso memorial path, mailboxes planned at site of tragic landslide

The 2014 Oso landslide devastated communities from Arlington to Darrington. Without warning consumed the tight knit Steelhead Haven neighborhood along SR 530, killing 43 people. The search effort was massive and involved local and national first responders as well as local volunteers, some who stayed until the last victim was recovered four months after the slide.

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Not long after that a temporary memorial went up near the site — 43 trees for each of the lives lost that are now covered in pictures and personal items placed there by loved ones.

But within a year of the slide, Amy Lucas with Snohomish County Parks says they started talking with families of those killed and survivors about creating something more.

“And what they decided, instead of just a simple plaque on the side of the road or just trying to make the temporary tree memorial more of a permanent memorial,” Lucas  said. “They decided that they wanted to build something, preferably on the site, that not only honored the people who passed away, but also the community that was once there, the first responders response, the community response and also the resilience of the area.”

RELATED: Help the Oso community

After meeting with families, survivors and first responders over the past couple of years, Seattle-based Mig-Portico has developed the final concept. Designer Alissa Rupp says the 3-acre Memorial Park will walk visitors through every aspect of what happened — along the backdrop of the mountainside still missing the giant chunk that came crashing down on the community below.

“You’ll be able to take a path that brings you through the story itself,” Rupp said. “An idea about who the community was that was here, about the people that were lost, the people who were rescued, and about the people who participated in that amazing and incredible time right after the slide and the weeks that followed.”

New Oso memorial

There is also a boardwalk that takes you out to a quiet and more reflective area that highlights the resilience of the nature in the area, which after being decimated by the slide, is now seeing the return to wetlands, plant growth and salmon in that part of the Stilliguamish River.

“The site itself is resilient enough to resume its growth … just like the people,” Rupp said.

Inside, the path continues to a series of memorials for specific people lost in the slide, that are pieces of curved steel 6-8 feet tall.

“The size of the piece of steel depends on the number of people being acknowledged, ” Rupp said. “There were family groups that perished together, there were individuals, there were people passing through that area and there were people who were residents. The idea is that the survivors of those folks, the people who loved those people, can embellish or personalize that to some extent.”

Lucas says the memorial is also for those who gave so much of themselves during the aftermath of the slide.

“It’s also a place for the first responders and the community responders can come and find some peace and some resilience,” Lucas said. There’s still a lot of PTSD in the area with responders and so it’s going to give them a safe space for solace and for resilience. It’s really important for them to also have a space to heal.”

The memorial park is a series of loops, that includes a welcoming circle with a timeline of the events, community gathering and remembrance spaces, as well as those individual memorials and exhibits that detail everything from the geology of what happened, to the first responders and locals who searched for survivors. They eventually recovered the remains of all 43 victims. The memorial is for those lives lost and the overwhelming response from the community that donated everything from man hours to soup and even pet food.

The estimated cost to get this memorial park from design to reality is $6 million dollars, which includes design and permitting, construction and the creation of an endowment to maintain the memorial long-term. The goal is to raise as much as possible as soon as possible so they can proceed with civil engineering and EIS and hold a land blessing and have construction by next March 22 — the fifth anniversary of the slide.

Help the Oso memorial

Why should you help? Lucas says it’s important that this story of the deadliest landslide in US history — a story of great tragedy, but also incredible resilience and inspiration — can be told for future generations. She said that the landscape around the site will appear very much like the permanent landscape after about 150 years.

“So trees are going to come back, grasses are going to come back you’re not going to see the landslide debris; it’s going to covered with grasses and shrubs and trees,” she said. “And so it might not look like a huge deadly landslide, and most of us will not be around to tell the story, so to have something on the spot that kind of remembers that unique story is very important.”

Rupp says while this is a job for her, it’s about much more than that and a chance for all of us to rally around this community one more time to ensure that a neighborhood — literally wiped off the map — is not truly erased.

“The emergency was incredible,” Rupp said. “The emergency response — the first response incredible. Now that group needs some TLC one more time to get a little closure. I think this is a great opportunity for our region to remember what it would mean to have that space cut out of your life that way.”

Mail boxes

Rupp says there are special considerations when you’re creating a memorial on the actual site of a disaster.

“From that standpoint we try to not have the place get so precious that it feels as though no real life happened here,” Rupp said. “The landscape has to grow and the elements have to grow and feel like part of the site themselves. It’s not an artificial overlay on to this place because it’s a really beautiful natural place near a river where people thought they would spend their entire lives and they did that because it was so beautiful.”

That’s where Rupp says the call for artists to recreate a group of mailboxes that used to mark Steelhead Drive comes in.

The memorial committee is asking for artist proposals to re-create the roughly 19 mailboxes that served as a landmark seen from SR 530 for the neighborhood, whether it be where you tied balloons for a party or chatted with a neighbor.

Rupp says that mailbox sculpture, which will be placed near the original location of the mailbox cluster at the entrance of the memorial, will be “a reminder that we touched that space as people, and that was wiped away.”

The mailbox sculpture should be as accurate as possible, durable and at first portable so the sculpture can be displayed at fundraisers for the memorial.

Help with the mailbox sculpture: Artist proposals are due by July 3, 2018 and can be sent to Hal Gausman at Snohomish County Arts Commission at 14405 179th Ave SE, Monroe, WA 98272 or via email at [email protected]

Help with the memorial: You can get a look at the memorial design, find out more about the memorial project and of course donate at Mynorthwest.com/Helposo or TEXT the word OSO to 98973.

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