Late-night celebrators claiming to have lost their senses after awaking on Birch Trail in Forest Park Saturday, April 21, should be informed that the sight of children darting in and out of the trees carrying buckets-full of dirt, sounds of banging hammers, Spanish shouting and the delicious aroma of Italian food emanating from the foliage was neither a spiritual warning from mother-forest nor the result of stumbling upon a secret Nike assembly factory.
The commotion was made by 20 to 30 volunteers gathered to build a bridge and repair Birch Trail in honor of Ben Linder
, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer shot by U.S.-backed contras while designing a hydroelectric plant in Nicaragua 20 years ago. Organizers of the event included Linder's family, here
, The Ben Linder Work Brigade, Green Empowerment
and the Portland Central American Solidarity Committee
, who worked closely with the U.S. Parks service to build a bridge and repair Birch Trail off of Northwest 53rd Avenue and Cornell Road.
Groups of volunteers worked together to remove a corroded culvert and dig out a stream bed, sculpt rolling grade dips to channel water off the trail and repair a wooden bridge over the stream under the direction of Bill Kowalczyk, a construction manager for Portland Youth Builders
and friend of Ben Linder. Friends of Forest Park provided the tools and logistical support for the day's work, which was finished just in time for a lunch donated by Pastaworks. To wrap up the day volunteers gathered around the Portland Central American Solidarity Committee banner and shouted "Ben Linder, Presente!"
Kowalczyk describes the work on Birch Trail as “inspiring and rejuvenating,” and in an email to organizers Fred Nilson, Natural Area Program Coordinator for Forest Park, touted the final product as “a great improvement to the trail system.”
Twenty years ago the name Ben Linder evoked controversy and outrage over America's foreign policy both at home and throughout the world. The mechanical engineer and clown who once rode his unicycle from the Canadian border to Santa Barbara was shot at point-blank range (along with two Nicaraguan co-workers) after being injured by a grenade as they contemplated a new site for a hydroelectric plant to bring electricity to the village of San Jose de Bocay. Liberals were quick to dub Linder a cold-war martyr while conservatives like Vice President George Bush accused him of being “on the other side.” His funeral in Matagalpa was televised internationally and was attended by thousands including clowns from the Nicaraguan National Circus and President Daniel Ortega.
An Evening to Remember Ben Linder and Learn How His Work Continues will be held at 7 pm Friday, April 27, at First United Methodist Church (1838 SW Jefferson St., 228-3195). Keynote speaker will be Niko Kozobolidis, the civil engineer on the hydroelectric project Linder helped launch. The evening will include presentations by the Linder family, music by Salvadoran folksinger Lolo Cutumay and juggling and clowning by Ben Schoenberg and Leapin' Louie Lichtenstein.