Cottonwood Canyon State Park, established in 2013, is Oregon’s second largest state park with over 8,000 acres on the lower John Day River. Prior to the Park’s founding, the land was privately owned for decades with limited public access.
In 2016, Oregon State Parks set out to create a unique recreation experience that aligns with the scale of the landscape. The Parks department brought on Portland-based Walker Macy to do the master plan, which included 6 cabins, a shower/bath facility, and a central anchoring element—Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center.
The rugged and fragile landscape, rich in both history and texture, required a structure that complemented its surroundings. Signal Architecture + Research, was selected to design the Experience Center for their site-specific project approach that prioritizes the story of the place and the language of the landscape.
The 1,500-square-foot building references the ranch vernacular of the region with shaded outdoor space, windbreaks, wood stove hearth, and walkways connecting to camping and cabin sites. The durable structure complements the historic barns that dot the meadows along the John Day River and serve as a symbolic reminder of agrarian industry past and present.
The Experience Center provides an opportunity for outdoor learning, environmental education, regional activities, and cultural events that serve the community, the region, and visitors. The multi-use facility includes classroom space, interpretive displays, activity and meeting areas, park-specific library, and gathering space for events.