Tuesday, November 11, 2008
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A few photos from Portland's ultra-obscure Riverside Park, on the east bank of the Willamette, just a few blocks south of the Ross Island Bridge. Usually when I call a place "obscure", it implies that it's somewhere out of the way and doesn't get a lot of visitors. That's not really true this time. Riverside Park gets plenty of visitors; they just don't realize they're visiting, is all. The park, you see, is bisected by the heavily-used Springwater Trail, which is primarily used by Portland's legions of bike commuters.
This segment of the Springwater Trail was only officially opened in 2005, although I went through here once in the early 90's, back when I lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood. "Opened", I think, means that they came in and paved it to make it commuter bike friendly, and it looks like they removed some invasive plants and put in some picnic tables in a few spots. When I was here before, the area had an abandoned, back-of-beyond feel, and there were a lot of homeless people camping in the area. I still saw a few people camping out under the McLoughlin half-viaduct uphill, but in general the city and Metro have done a thorough job of making the area safe, or at least making it feel "safe". Whatever that means.
In recent years, Metro's bought up the land immediately to the north and south of the park, probably with Greenspace bond money. I gather that the stretch of now-public land adjacent to the riverbank stretch of the Springwater trail is called "Springwater on the Willamette". Which makes it sound like an upscale restaurant, or possibly a nursing home.
In any case, Riverside Park itself was here long before there was an improved trail, and before Metro was ever involved. So it really was a remote spot at one time. And don't let the map fool you; although it sits next to McLoughlin Boulevard, you can't get here from there, as McLoughlin is maybe 40-50 feet straight up, at the top of the bluff, and there aren't any stairs. Even if there were stairs, there's no way to get across McLoughlin, and I don't think there's even a continuous sidewalk up there.
Back in 1980 the city council approved building a pedestrian overpass over McLoughlin at Haig St., which would have created a convenient river access for residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood. The overpass was expected to cost $604,942, plus another $110,000 for a fishing pier at Riverside Park that was also never constructed. I haven't yet seen a definitive explanation for why this never happened, but the article contains a couple of clues. First, the council's main opponent of the project was Commissioner Ivancie, soon to be elected mayor. Second, the money for the park was to come from federal funds originally slated for the cancelled Mt. Hood Freeway. The eastside MAX Blue Line was also funded from this pot of money, so it's possible that the overpass was nixed due to cost overruns on MAX construction. In any case, the unbuilt overpass is the only reference I've found so far to the park in the library's Oregonian database, which stretches back to 1861. The park's generic name doesn't really help the search process, but I get the distinct feeling it's pretty much always been as obscure as it is now.
These days Riverside Park is merely a small part of "Springwater on the Willamette", and not even the most interesting part. When the trail work happened, Riverside was sort of overtaken by events, and went from total obscurity directly into irrelevance. It's just that it often appears on city maps when the rest doesn't, for whatever reason. So there's this mysterious green square on the river you've never been to, and nobody you know has ever been to, and you can't find any photos of on the interwebs. So naturally I'd wondered about the place for years, because I'm like that. I went into this understanding this was a Quixotic "expedition" even by my usual standards, which is saying a lot. And I have to say the park was about what I'd expected it'd be like.
I haven't been able to discover the original idea behind the city owning the place. The generic-sounding name makes it sound like it ought to be a grand place, like "Waterfront Park", or "Central Park", but it just isn't. To the north and south of the park, there are concrete pilings in the river that seem to be the remains of some kind of dock, maybe. I don't know what was here, but it must've been long ago. Riverside Park is narrower and steeper than the surrounding area, so maybe the city got it by default, way back when, because the site seemed unbuildable. I don't know, really.
The last time I was here, mumble-mumble years ago, I thought I'd try to find this "Riverside Park" place I'd seen on the map, since it was in the neighborhood and all. That effort wasn't too successful. It wasn't at all obvious what part of the area was the park and what wasn't, since it all looked more or less the same. It's also true that the quest didn't have my full attention, as I was soon preoccupied with navigating the crappy old trail, which at the time was pretty much a solid mud bog for the whole 3 mile stretch from Sellwood to the Ross Island Bridge. Or at least that's how I remember it.
Today, thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I think I've finally located the place. There's a short stretch along the trail, a few blocks south of the Ross Island Bridge, where there's a sort of cable barrier separating the trail from a steep slope down to the river. That stretch, plus the chunk of bluff on the other side of the railroad tracks, is Riverside Park, more or less. The bit to the north with the picnic tables isn't, technically. The bit to the south with some mysterious public art also isn't, technically. Technically, PortlandMaps knows the place as 3 parcels, with tax IDs R313370, R313371, and R313372, so you can go look it up if you really care.
The area as a whole is kind of cool. Looking north, there's an unusual view of the Ross Island Bridge, with downtown behind it. Due west, there's also an intriguing view of the South Waterfront towers rising behind the trees of Ross Island. So overall it's worth checking out. Just be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for bike commuters, and try to stay out of their way if you can. Jeebus. Those guys are hardcore.