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Our Town Near Portland

Pete Springer/OPB

an style=”text-decoration: underline;”>On today’s show we’ll explore two towns just outside of Portland: Camas, Washington and Woodburn. Both are growing, and both are dealing with new divisions in their communities. In Camas those divisions are felt between some new and old residents. In Woodburn there are stresses between different ethnic groups — Hispanic, Orthodox Old Believer Russians, and senior citizens — with varying priorities.

Camas, Washington

Often when people hear of Camas, Washington they imagine a sleepy little town on the outskirts of Vacouver, but it is becoming so much more. In the 1930s about 4,200 people lived in Camas. Growth was slow until the 1990s and the 2000s, when the population boomed to nearly 20,000. At the same time, the paper mill in Camas, which once employed thousands of workers, has decreased it’s payroll to about 450 unionized employees, plus management. As traditional mill work declined, high tech companies started arrived. Camas is now home to branches of Sharp, and WaferTech, a semiconductor foundry.

Many places that used to be forest, farmland, or open pasture are now housing developments and business parks. Downtown Camas has changed too. In addition to two bars, there are now boutique shops and several hair salons. 

Although many people are excited about the changes in Camas, some say they’ve divided the town in two. Different people describe that divide in different ways, but it generally falls along the lines of new residents and long-time residents, well off and working class. Still others say that awareness needs to raised around poverty in Camas.

We’ve put together a companion website for the Our Town series. Head over there to check out our interactive map of Camas which includes interviews and photographs of interesting people and places in Camas.


Woodburn may be best known to many as the home of Woodburn Company Stores — an popular outlet mall — or possibly the Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest that happens every spring, but the town is so much more. Woodburn epitomizes the stories of immigration and growth that hit the headlines regularly.

The population of Woodburn consists largely of Latinos, primarily from Mexico — people who came north to work on the farms, settled, and are now raising families, starting businesses, and supporting other friends and family members back home. There’s also a considerable community of Orthodox Russians — largely Old Believers — that live in the countryside on the outskirts of town. Their main strip, Bethlehem Avenue, consists of three churches that pop out from amidst the fields. Many of their kids go to public school, but the group remains socially isolated. And finally there are the over 1500 homes for seniors that nestle around a golf course just east of I-5. Many of these people are not originally from Woodburn. They, too, seem to remain somewhat isolated.

Click on this link to find our slideshow and map about Woodburn.

Here’s a collection of photos from our live show in Woodburn:

Is your town facing growing pains? How do they manifest themselves?

camas our town woodburn

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