Mount Tabor Occupation Conflicts with Mount Tabor Weddings

Activists who want to stop the City of Portland from closing its open-air reservoirs will begin a camping protest on Mount Tabor at 5 pm today.

Camp Cascadia organizers promise they'll remain on the volcano slopes until city officials agree to seek a waiver from federal rules requiring the construction of underground drinking water tanks.

If the protest lasts until Saturday afternoon, however, it will bump into two weddings scheduled to take place on Mount Tabor.

Along with being the flashpoint for arguments over the future of Portland's water supply, Mount Tabor Park is a coveted wedding location. The city charges $275 to hold a wedding ceremony on the summit, and couples wait in sub-freezing temperatures each January to secure a date.

Portland Parks & Recreation spokesman Mark Ross confirms two of those Mount Tabor weddings are scheduled for this Saturday. The parks bureau has locked the gates of Mount Tabor Park, but plans to let the wedding parties in.

Mayor Charlie Hales has thanked city staffers in advance for making sure that people who reserved the park get the peaceful atmosphere they paid for, according to city sources. 

Protest leader Jessie Sponberg says he received a frantic phone call earlier this week from a man worried the occupation would ruin his Saturday wedding. Sponberg promised to try to keep Camp Cascadia quiet.

"We'll make sure that while you're having your wedding, there will be no drumming, no chanting," Sponberg says he told the groom. "We'll do down time and respect your wedding."

One of those weddings, scheduled for 3 pm Saturday, is for this couple: Lisa and Kevin.

Their wedding website explains that they were engaged on Mount Tabor, and camped overnight at the city's downtown Portland Building to get their reservation.

"Little did we know then what it would take to be able to have our wedding there!" Lisa and Kevin write.

"It was a freezing cold January night, colder than most winter evenings in Portland, when we went to secure our wedding location. We slept outside City Hall the evening of January 1st to be second in a line of hundreds for the park site and date that we wanted. The doors opened at 8am the first business day of the year, we requested our space and date, and we got it!"

But Mount Tabor Park is now the location for a standoff between City Hall—which says the federal government has given it no choice but to keep building multimillion-dollar underground tanks to replace the open-air city drinking water reservoirs—and water activists, who say a building project now estimated at $279 million is dangerous and avoidable.

"I don't want to seem unsympathetic," says Sponberg, "but do the math: $400 million is a little more valuable than a wedding."

UPDATE, 12:30 pm: City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the parks bureau, has asked protesters to stay quiet during the weddings. 

"I ask that demonstrators respect the special day for the couples holding weddings in the park this weekend," Fritz writes in a statement. "I hope Mt. Tabor Park, with its historic reservoirs and magnificent views, will continue to be a great location for weddings and other events for many generations to come."