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Today's adventure takes us to Whitaker Ponds Natural Area, on the Columbia Slough just south and west of the Portland Airport. The park is essentially two large ponds connected to the slough, surrounded by a fringe of low-lying land, which in turn is surrounded by assorted industrial businesses. The "Natural Area" designation isn't misleading, exactly but it's only true up to the park boundary.
I don't know the full story of how this spot ended up as a park and the surrounding properties ended up as machine shops and such. I suspect it was just too expensive to bring in fill dirt to fill in the ponds. Many of the other ponds and side channels along the Columbia Slough ended up as golf course water hazards, so maybe this area just got overlooked. I suppose I could have gotten the full story if I'd gone into the visitor's center and asked, since unlike almost all Portland parks it does have one of those.
The Columbia Slough as a whole has been abused, neglected, and maligned since roughly the moment urban development reached its shores. People who think about it at all tend to assume it's hopelessly polluted now, an environmental lost cause. I've seen enough of it to suspect that isn't completely true, but I'm still not signing up to go swim in it.
There are more facilities than you'd expect at a city-designated Natural Area, and the facilities are even well maintained:
- There's a parking lot off of NE 47th Avenue, with a fairly easy to find sign.
- A couple of docks, presumably for canoes or kayaks.
- A well-marked trail between the slough and the west pond, with a couple of educational exhibits along the way.
- An old house converted into the headquarters of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council. Which may explain why the park has all these trails and docks and such.
- The standard set of environmental education facilities, including a gazebo with a grassy ecoroof.
- Oh, and if you follow the trail to the far end, there's a baseball diamond sandwiched in between the Columbia Slough and the east and west ponds. A baseball diamond surrounded by water on all sides is not the ideal place to hit a really powerful home run, or any sort of foul ball.
- The Master Plan for the park.
- Amanda Fritz's blog: Response to Field of Schemes, relating to said master plan.
- Various fall photos
- OregonLive: "A walk in nature the best way for kids -- or any of us -- to learn"
- Center for Columbia River History: "The Future of the Columbia Slough"
- Portland Monthly: "Behold, an Oasis"
Updated: This post is now linked to by PortlandParks on Facebook. Yay!