In his book Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, John Stilgoe invites his readers to follow an abandoned railroad right of way, examine a line of utility poles, or explore the places behind the mall instead of within it—all with the assertion that these ordinary landscapes will raise questions and issues that most educational and entertainment institutions avoid. The Balloon Tract is one such ordinary place, disregarded and even maligned by much of our community. That’s not to say, however, that there hasn’t been a variety of ideas generated for this 32-acre abandoned industrial site—ideas as diverse as constructing a Wal-Mart or restoring this onetime marshland. This community discourse, though varied and often productive, largely overlooks the value of the place as it already exists. The Balloon Tract is indeed most fundamentally a former railroad yard gone fallow, but it’s still actively used by people and wildlife, and is also a rich source for history, anthropology, geology and perhaps most suprizingly—aesthetic appeal.
According to old timers and official documents, the Balloon Tract’s real name is Balloon Track—for the shape of the track that once turned around trains. In deference to the general public’s and local media’s name for the site, however, we’ve used the designation Tract throughout this project. The information we cite—particularly the information about the site’s pollution—is mostly a matter of public record, so our project is not particularly investigative in nature. Frustratingly, there is so much more to this place than we were able to fully address within the rather broadly discursive scope of this project. The history of the Balloon Tract needs further study, as the history of the Northwest Pacific Railroad (the owners of the site for most of its industrial history) is fascinating and speaks of the once monumental timber industry of our region. The issue of homelessness and drug addiction at the Balloon Tract is just barely touched upon here, and is a worthy subject for further investigation. The information on the site’s contamination is more extensive than our project could accommodate—but our hope is that it will familiarize viewers with a few of the many issues behind industrial pollution and remediation. The Natural Wonders segment raises the fascinating issue of nature’s own bioremediation efforts—another issue that invites further study at the site. Even the Aesthetic Wonders segment is hardly complete—for quite a number of local artists have interpreted the Balloon Tract. Hayley Barker, Dave Bazard, Jim Pegoda, Mary Mallahan, Justine Shaw and I invite you to take up these unfinished components of our project, and to use this distinctive (and likely endangered) landscape to find yet more forms of intellectual and aesthetic inquiry.