View Larger Map
Today's thrilling adventure takes us to Portland's little-known McCarthy Park, a tiny spot on the Willamette up on Swan Island. Yes, industrial Swan Island, which isn't an island (anymore) and has no swans. The park's just a small grassy area tucked between two Freightliner office buildings, with a few benches, a historical marker, and a small ramp for launching small boats, probably nothing bigger than a canoe or a rowing shell. The big deal here is that it's about the only (legal) public access to the river between downtown & the St. Johns Bridge, so the park offers an unusual view of the river and downtown. So I thought I'd go take a few photos, and then see what (if anything) the Interwebs have to say about the place.
The signs indicate the park's owned by the Port of Portland and not by the city, which may explain why I'd never heard of it before last week. The Port's all about no-nonsense he-man stuff -- cargo ships, airports, and huge industrial parks -- so operating a grassy riverside picnic spot isn't really their core business, and they don't make a lot of noise about it. Zero, in fact, as far as I can tell.
My guess is that the park was created as part of the Port's gigantic Swan Island Industrial Park. Perhaps when the Port decided this would be the white-collar corner of Swan Island, they figured they ought to spruce it up a little.
The Wikimapia page for one of the adjacent Freightliner buildings claims it used to be an upscale shopping center back in the 70's. Now, if anything Wikimapia is even less authoritative than Wikipedia (even I've added to it on occasion), but the "Ports O'Call" building is kind of unusual. It's kind of a rambling Craftsman-style complex, and it's not hard to imagine it divided up into swanky boutiques. Probably swanky macrame and gold medallion boutiques, it being the 70's and all. Apparently the idea of shopping on Swan Island sounded just as weird back then as it does now, since the mall eventually cratered (according to Wikimapia) and eventually Freightliner bought it.
The industrial park (and mall) replaced earlier WWII-era shipyards, which in turn displaced Portland's original airport. So what comes next, condo towers?
The city's "River Renaissance" site has a page about the park, describing it thusly:
McCarthy Park is a small, relatively unknown park on Swan Island with beautiful views of the city and the river. It is mostly used by local workers during lunch hours and after work. The park is the only place where people can access the river between the Steel Bridge and the St. Johns bridge.
It also appears on the city's North Portland Walking Map, which is where I first heard of it, and it also shows up on the state's Willamette River Recreation Guide, although neither provides any further info beyond the location.
A May 2002 Oregonian article, "When Business Shuts Down, Island Is Like Private Hideaway", sings the praises of the park, which we're told is quite nice outside of 9-to-5 business hours.
McCarthy Park also shows up in a blog post at OregonLive as a fun place to take kids, with all the rocks and driftwood along the riverbank. Gee, I dunno. I'm not sure touching rocks and driftwood along this stretch of the river is such a great idea. I mean, sure, maybe all those ooky chemicals will give your kid amazing superpowers. Or maybe not. Probably not, in fact.
It turns out the path through the park is just one segment of the larger "North Portland Greenway Trail". Right now this trail stretches for about a mile on Swan Island. The eventual goal is for the trail to follow the river from downtown all the way to St. Johns and beyond. Which is pretty ambitious, since right now much of the route is a patchwork of heavy industrial uses and Superfund sites.
A local advocacy group called npGreenway has a map of the envisioned route. They've also got a Flickr stream here.
I ran across couple of articles about the trail at the Tribune and BikePortland, and a fascinating, in-depth blog post, "Walking the Greenway Trail on Swan Island".
I honestly had no idea there was a park on Swan Island, much less a mile-long trail. I realize it's been in the paper a few times, and I might have even glanced at the news a bit. But it's also way up in North Portland, outside my neighborhood, so I suppose I just wasn't paying attention.
I think the idea behind the trail is to sort of mirror the westside's Willamette Greenway Trail, which was plotted out way back in 1987. It's still not really complete, so it may be a while yet before you can bike out to Kelly Point on the new NoPo edition.
Here's a BikePortland piece about a recent bike tour of the area further north, including the area around Bridge 5.1 I was too chicken to go investigate. I was kind of pleased to see that one commenter echoes my sentiments about adding pedestrian/bike access to the rail bridge. It wasn't me. Cross my heart.
Incidentally, it kind of amuses me how the alleged "park" properties up there have such sunny, bucolic names: "Willamette Cove" and "Harbor View". They sound like upscale gated communities or something. You certainly wouldn't hear the names and think "Superfund", but that's what they are.
I didn't follow the Greenway trail when I was there, partly because I didn't realize the extent of it, but mostly because I was worried about parking. If you look at the satellite photo above, you'll see parking lots all over the place, but they're for Freightliner employees only. I parked a few blocks away at McDonalds, but I figured I shouldn't stay away too long in case the tow truck mafia was staking the place out. As I left I went through the drive-thru and got a coffee and one of those new "Southern-style" chicken biscuits, I guess to get right with the Law or whatever. Turned out to be kind of tasty, actually. I've seen a couple of mentions of there being dedicated parking for the Greenway somewhere else, but I'm not sure quite where it is. You might be better off taking the bus -- both the 72 and the 85 finish their runs just a block or two from the park. I know that's what I'll do next time around.
The rest of my Flickr photoset is here. FWIW.