Walking backwards over a slowly winding trail, 4-year-old Cedar Currie waved a foot-long Douglas fir branch in a circular motion around his head. As he climbed higher, the dark clouds that swelled overhead started to disappear, replaced by a powder blue sky and sun reminiscent of a summer afternoon.
About 15 feet ahead, his dad, Brendan Currie, and their family's black Lab, Rufus, trudged onward.
"Come on," Brendan Currie beckoned. "Once we get to the meadow we'll stop and have a snack."
At that, Cedar turned around, put his head down and purposefully began the rest of his hike.
Cedar and his father were making one of their routine trips up Spencer Butte, part of a park on the edge of town that reveals an expansive view of Eugene and other parts of the Willamette Valley. From the top of the butte the snow-topped Cascade mountains become visible, as does one of the city's more nationally known landmarks, Autzen Stadium.
"And remember, Eugene boys and girls will be climbing Spencer Butte fifty and one hundred years from today, to be inspired by looking over a city built out to the very foot of the Butte," said F.M. Wilkins, a former mayor in Eugene, on the city's Web site.
On clearer days, in the middle of the summer, hikers can see much farther.
A park at the base of the butte is located just off Willamette Street; with another entrance a few blocks down the road, at 52nd Avenue. The hike to the top of the butte covers about a mile and a half.
Some hikers, however, struggled with their breath long before reaching the summit.
"Whose idea was this?" a huffing and puffing woman wearing a yellow and blue jacket around her waist asked her friend.
"You called me this morning and suggested it," the other responded with a chuckle as she exited the cover of the trees and started walking through the boulders toward the park's highest point.
On this mid-February day about 20 people, in groups of twos and threes, sat and enjoyed the scenery from the summit, munching on granola bars and bottled water.
Another thirsty creature was a small, but hefty, tan and white bulldog. Breathing heavily, he plunged his head into the water bowl laid on the ground by his owners. After draining the dish, he plopped his head on the ground, his legs sprawled out behind him.
Toward the bottom of the hill was Yoshi Makita, 52, a semi-retired investor from Japan, who owns a condo near the butte. He said he hikes the trails around the butte along the Ridgeline Trail to stay in shape.
He said he has recently been hiking the butte in intervals, going a little farther each time to get in better shape.
"It's getting challenging to me," he said, patting the part of his sweatshirt that covered his stomach. "I used to climb to the top of the hill very quickly."
In recent years, Eugene Parks and Open Space has worked to revitalize the city's oldest, and tallest, landmark. Jesse Cary Hobbs' work for the department is focused on the butte. He says the parks department is working on refining and clearly marking the trail, making it more accessible to maintenance equipment and preserving plant and animal life.
"We're working on making a trail that will gets us all the way to the top of the tree line that is accessible to the power wheelbarrow," Hobbs said. "We have to surface the entire trail with gravel. Above that, we're putting in a walkway across a low area where there are a couple of little springs."
A local stonemason has been enlisted to create the walkway over a spring about halfway up the trail. Currently, the spring is covered by a metal bridge with thin sheets of wood across its base.
"We decided to go with a rock structure," Hobbs added. "The goal is a pass that's aesthetically pleasing and will last a long time. We're doing it right."
The main problem encountered by the parks department is that once hikers leave the woods, they don't see a clear path to the top of the butte. This has resulted in people trampling up the side of the hill from all angles, at the expense of mosses and lichens that don't grow anywhere else in the valley, Hobbs said.
"We have an interest to keep these plants safe," Hobbs added.
The city of Eugene purchased the 240 acres that makes up the butte property in 1937 for slightly more than $6,000. The Eugene Register-Guard and The Eugene Daily News worked with the local government on a publicity campaign to raise the money to purchase the land. No one was asked to donate more than $5.
To encourage donors and other skeptics, F.M. Wilkins, the head of the parks commission and former mayor of Eugene, shared a vision for what the butte could one day become.
"And remember, Eugene boys and girls will be climbing Spencer Butte fifty and one hundred years from today, to be inspired by looking over a city built out to the very foot of the Butte," Wilkins said, according to the city of Eugene's Web site.
Some 70 years later, one of those children is Cedar Currie. As he exited the trees' coverage, and entered the rocky area that leads to the summit, he held his thumb up and said that he was going to eat lunch once he got to the top.
"He's probably hiked this like 20 times," Brendan Currie said.
Turns out, Wilkins' vision was correct, and the city, in the eyes of many, has gotten a worthwhile return on its investment.
"We feel like Spencer Butte as a park is one of the largest and most advanced natural habitats," Hobbs said. "It's the most popular hiking place in the city."