The Port of Morrow’s Sustainable Agriculture and Energy Center at Boardman – the SAGE Center — will hold its grand opening on Saturday, June 1. Admission will be free June 1-2.
When Tillamook opened its local cheese plant in 2001, the Port’s general manager, Gary Neal, hoped it would have a visitor’s center similar to the company’s flagship factory in Tillamook.
“When Tillamook decided to not offer a visitor’s center, it got everyone thinking, ‘We have many other technologies we can talk about along with making cheese so why don’t we look at opening our own visitor’s center that highlights the Port of Morrow and the region?’ ” said Kalie Davis, SAGE Center manager.
“It’s a unique opportunity to show how businesses located at the Port of Morrow affect the entire world,” she says. “It will give an appreciation and understanding of our region. A lot of people think food comes from the grocery store. They are not aware how products come from the field, are processed and then shipped all over the world.”
The Port’s idea fired the imagination of the Oregon Legislature, which provided $4 million in lottery funds to help build the 23,000-square-foot interactive visitor center. Supplemented by Port funds, the project’s total cost is about $7 million.
Architects Terence Thornhill of the Tri-Cities and Ross Farland of Portland designed the center, its exterior towers echoing the look of grain silos. (Thornhill also was selected to design the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center.)
Formations Inc. of Portland designed and built the one-of-a-kind exhibits. Their impressive portfolio includes exhibits for numerous Civil War and National Park Service sites, the Lincoln Museum in Indiana, the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., the Mount St. Helens Forest Learning Center and Columbia River Maritime Museum at Astoria.
Visitors can follow a river painted on the floor, colored a shimmering blue, as it winds through the SAGE Center.
In a simulated hot air balloon ride, the basket glides as a wraparound video screen gives visitors an aerial tour of Morrow County.
At the Tillamook Cheese display, visitors can feel cheese curds. At the Boardman Foods display, visitors can sort onions on a processing line. At the GreenWood display, wooden items made from Pacific Albus trees grown and milled near Boardman are displayed in a tree sculpture.
Nearby, a kinetic sculpture, the building’s centerpiece, shows how potatoes get processed into fries.
Visitors can also try their hand at planting virtual corn on a computer screen in a tractor cab, comparing their planting lines to GPS technology.
A wall mural, painted by Hermiston artist Laura Suchy, shows a birds-eye view of the Columbia River and nearby landforms. In the center’s gift shop, Kathy Neal and Amber Killingbeck of Boardman stock the shelves for the opening weekend.
The SAGE Center includes 10,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 3,000-square-foot mezzanine with seating for 150 people, and a 214-seat theater with a projector capable of showing 3D films. It includes a gift shop, 1,500-square-foot catering kitchen, offices and support space, and an outdoor playground structure.
In addition to serving as an interactive visitor center, the facility offers free educational field trips for schools, fundraisers, and civic and social gatherings.
Davis credits Gary Neal and port staff, as well as a community committee, for their years of planning for the center. “This has been such a fun project for everyone involved,” she says.
Raised in Athena, with a background in education and business, Davis worked for several colleges before taking the job as SAGE Center manager. Her husband, Tyler, works as a math teacher in Stanfield. “I have a strong commitment to promoting Eastern Oregon,” she says.
The Boardman Chamber has moved its offices to the SAGE Center, and its staff will manage the gift store. They worked with local artists, farmers and businesses to fill the store with art, jewelry, clothing, books and tasty products – including Tillamook cheese made at the Port of Morrow – unique to the local area and Northwest.
Volunteers will be needed to help run the facility, and residents throughout the region can help as well. “What you can do is to help spread the word about Morrow County and the SAGE Center,” Davis says.
SAGE Center At A Glance
Location: Visible from Interstate 84; at 101 Olson Road, Boardman, Ore., 97818
Directions: Take Exit 164, turn north toward the river, then turn right on Front Street. Follow it 1/2-mile to the SAGE Center.
Hours: Memorial Day to Labor Day 9 a.m.-6 p.m. ; Labor Day to Memorial Day, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Contact: (541) 481-SAGE (481-7243)
Admission: General Admission $5; Seniors $3 (62 and older); Students $3; Children under 5 free. Family maximum $20