Thursday, October 27, 2011

awning

awning

Today's installment in the ongoing public art series takes us to the pedestrian-only intersection of SW 3rd & Mill St., home to Douglas Senft's "Awning", which graces the west edge of the 200 Market Building grounds. It's an obscure location, and even if it wasn't this is not the sort of artwork that leaps out and grabs you by the lapel, if you have a lapel. You might not even realize it's supposed to be art. I didn't for a long time, until I noticed it on one of the city's official public art maps.

awning

Back in April of this year, Willamette Week named "Awning" its Eyesore of the Week, for pretty much the reason I just expressed: You see it and can't immediately tell what it is. Maybe it's capital-A Art, or maybe it's a "garish and whimsical air vent", as they describe it. It's not obvious, and there's no sign nearby to make it any more clear.

awning

In any case, I have to disagree with the mainstream media here. I don't see how they can call this thing an eyesore when Leland One (aka Rusting Chunks #5) is just a few blocks to the south, which they would have known if they'd done even a little research. It's not just ugly, it's WMD-grade ugly. An unmemorable object like "Awning" isn't even in the same ballpark.

awning

Wheatland Ferry






View Larger Map

Today's episode in what's apparently now a bridge and ferry project takes us to the Wheatland Ferry, a few miles north/downstream of Salem, OR at the tiny town of Wheatland. It's the same basic idea as the Canby Ferry, but busier; you pay while the boat's moving instead of prior to departure, probably to shave off a few minutes at the dock. At peak times -- summer and harvest time, primarily -- traffic tends to back up waiting to use the ferry. As this is the only river crossing of any kind between downtown Salem and the OR 219 bridge at Newberg, the Wheatland Ferry will likely be replaced with a bridge long before the other remaining Willamette River ferries. Not that it's all that likely in the near term; demand or not, a bridge -- even a utilitarian ugly one -- would still be expensive, and neither the state nor Marion County has a lot of cash lying around.

Wheatland Ferry

A 2009 Terry Richard column describes the ferry briefly, although he doesn't have a lot to say about river ferries that I haven't already covered here. There really isn't a lot to cover: You explain where it is, and tell the n00bs how to use the thing, and you might toss in a few snarky non-sequiturs if you happen to be me, which you probably aren't. You'd think there'd be a lot of fascinating history tidbits to share about the thing, given how long there's been a ferry at this location, but I haven't come across any yet.

Wheatland Ferry

The ferry does have a sorta-official website, although the page design is a retina-melting throwback to the Geocities/MySpace era. If there's a web browser out there that lets you disable tiled animated-gif background images, that would probably be the one to use. Failing that, welder's goggles would work, or you could try projecting the website onto a wall so that you aren't directly exposing your eyes to it. That's the safe way to observe a solar eclipse, so it might work for this website too. I note, in passing, that the link to their web design firm is a 404. FWIW.

Wheatland Ferry

Wheatland Ferry

Wheatland Ferry

Wheatland Ferry

Wheatland Ferry

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Canby Ferry






[View Larger Map]

Longtime readers of this humble blog might be familiar with the ongoing bridge project I've been doing on and off for the last few years. So far I've covered the Portland metro area bridges on the Columbia, Willamette, and Clackamas rivers, the Willamette as far upstream as the OR 219 bridge at Newberg. There are a couple of other river crossings I haven't covered yet, however. Even today, in 2011, there are still three ferries operating on the Willamette River: The Buena Vista Ferry south/upstream of Independence; the Wheatland Ferry north/downstream of Salem; and the subject of this post, the Canby Ferry at Canby, which is operated by Clackamas County. And then there's the Wahkiakum County Ferry on the Columbia, which I did a post about way back in July 2007.

Canby Ferry

If you've never used a car ferry, the procedure is very simple. You drive to the ferry landing, where there will be a stop sign or a red light, and you wait. The ferry, inevitably, has just left, and you have to wait for it to go all the way across the river and back. Which gives you time to make low-quality mobile phone videos of the ferry slowly crossing the river, which is exactly what I did. When the ferry arrives, it lowers a ramp and oncoming traffic drives off. Then the light will turn green (if there's a light), and an old guy will motion you forward. In my limited experience, ferries always employ a couple of old guys to run the show, and apparently nobody under age 60 or so is permitted to operate them. Depending on what sort of old guy you get, he may motion you to a particular spot, or he'll just assume you already know to drive forward and leave room for more vehicles behind you. You'll pay a small fare, usually a dollar or two, to one of the old guys. At the Canby ferry they do this before the ferry departs, I suppose so they can kick people off who didn't bring a spare dollar. Once the ferry's loaded, they raise the ramp you drove aboard on, and head toward the far bank of the river. The ferry doesn't turn around; there are ramps on both ends of the ferry, and the operators simply face the other direction and the stern for the last trip becomes the bow of the current trip, similar to the situation with Portland streetcars and MAX trains. Also similar to streetcars & MAX trains is the source of power, a set of overhead wires crossing the river above the ferry. Ferries are sometimes also connected to an underwater guide cable, which cuts down on the possibility of being swept downstream in a strong current.

Canby Ferry

It seems to me that would also cut a lot of the challenge out of sailing a ferry. But I'm not going out on a limb to say it's an easy job. I can already imagine the angry responses I'd get if I did, pointing out various difficult and dangerous parts of running the thing that we ignorant landlubbers have no clue about. Still, easy or otherwise, it seems like the job would get monotonous at times. If I happened to be a ferry operator, I'd be looking for ways to liven things up a little. For instance, every October we'd become a haunted river ferry, and we operators would get scary skeleton outfits and be Charon for Halloween.

Canby Ferry

Where was I? Oh, right. The ferry departs and slides along its guide cable to the far bank. So you get to sit in your car, not driving, as the scenery glides by for a few minutes. It's kind of weird. The Canby Ferry only takes a couple of minutes to cross, but you can use that time to make another video clip, which is exactly what I did.

Once you're at the other bank, the ramp in front of you is lowered and you go on your merry way. Vehicles may be two or three abreast, and it's not clear who's supposed to go first. I don't recall that being part of the Oregon driver's test, although it's been a couple of years since I took it. A handful of years, even. In any case, this being Oregon the right-of-way thing usually gets sorted out peacefully after a few rounds of false starts and polite oh-no-after-you-please-I-insist handwaving. Then you drive away, and the ferry handles a load of traffic going the other way.

Canby Ferry

In the research I've done so far, there's a distinct lack of colorful historical anecdotes associated with the Canby Ferry or its surviving cousins. Ferry service at Canby only began in 1914, which is quite late by Oregon ferry standards; many ferry locations were in use by the early 1840s. Since then there have been occasional difficulties, such as in 1946 when the ferry broke free during a storm and was swept over Willamette Falls to its doom, and wasn't replaced until 1953. An article in the November 12th, 1952 Oregonian details the launching of the replacement vessel, which wouldn't go into service until the following year. The article mentions that the Wilsonville ferry just upstream would soon be replaced by what's now known as the Boone Bridge, and describes the new ferry at Canby as the "newest, and probably last, of river ferries to be placed in service in Oregon". This turned out not to be the case; the 1953 vessel was replaced by the boat shown in this post in 1996, and I believe the other two ferries both received new ferryboats around the same time.

Canby Ferry

Which raises a question: Why is there still a ferry here instead of a bridge, here in the second decade of the twenty-first century? I can think of at least three possible reasons:
  • Money's one, obviously. Building bridges is expensive, and apparently none of the 3 remaining ferry crossings has ever been a high enough priority to justify the expense. The Wheatland Ferry sometimes gets traffic jams of vehicles waiting to cross, but I've never heard of that being the case at Canby. Although I don't think you can reasonably estimate potential bridge usage by current ferry usage.
  • Another reason specific to the Canby Ferry is suburban sprawl, or more precisely the avoidance thereof. Portland urban planners tend to see the Willamette River as a natural southern border to the Portland metro area, and there's a fear that if suburbia jumps the river, there will no stopping it until it fills the Willamette Valley down to Salem and possibly points south. So a bridge at Canby would be one too many ways across the moat, I think.
  • And of course there's nostalgia, because ferries are a vestige of the distant past and some people want to keep them around even if they lose money and don't carry a lot of passengers. Which is more of a reason why they haven't been discontinued entirely rather than replaced with bridges.

Canby Ferry

In any event, the ferry's apparently cheap enough to run that it's not on the short list for budget cuts even in these austere times, and I haven't seen any recent proposals to replace it with a bridge. So it may be with us for some time to come.

Canby Ferry

Canby Ferry

Canby Ferry

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Columbia Childrens Arboretum




View Larger Map

Here are a few photos from little-known Columbia Children's Arboretum, in NE Portland not far from MLK and Marine Drive. It's a reasonably large park at nearly 29 acres, but the entrances are hard to find -- or at least they're hard for me to find. I finally located the east entrance (at the end of NE Meadow Lane) the third time I went looking for the place. I really didn't know what to expect since I'd read about the park but hadn't seen any photos of it. I honestly wasn't expecting much, and was quite pleasantly surprised once I started wandering around. Much of the park consists of open meadows with various trees planted here and there. The northwest corner of the park includes a small fruit tree orchard, while the southern portion contains what's left of an unfinished grove of the 50 state trees.

The city describes the history of the park thusly:

In 1900, the area along the Columbia River northeast of Portland was primarily farmland. It flooded every spring with heavy rainfall and melting mountain snows. In the dry summer and fall, water remained in shallow lakes and narrow sloughs. The land between the waterways formed great meadows surrounded by massive cottonwoods and other riparian plants.

John Charles Olmsted looked at this land with foresight. Although most considered it valueless for any other purpose than farming, he proposed acquiring a large acreage in the Columbia Slough region for future parkland. He wrote about the potential of this landscape as a contrast to the hills and river frontages in other parts of town to provide ". . . great stretches of meadow land bordered and diversified by groves of trees. No other form of park has ever proved so attractive and so useful to the masses of the people as the meadow park, particularly when there can be associated with it long reaches of still water as a landscape attraction and for boating purposes."

Olmsted proposed that Columbia Slough Park would not only provide still waters for boaters unsure of the Willamette River's strong currents, but also broad meadows for recreation such as picnicking, strolling, fast driving, horse racing (as long as gambling could be prevented), and golfing if it should retain its popularity. He suggested that the City secure hundreds to several thousand acres while this land remained inexpensive because of its regular flooding and its great distance from city development.

The land Olmsted proposed for Columbia Slough Park surrounds Switzler’s Lake. Much of this land was farmed by a family named Delminico in the early 20th century. Along with other farmers in the area, they built the original levees between 1917-1919 to reduce yearly flooding from the river. By 1920, enough families had moved into the area that an educational facility was needed for the neighborhood children. Columbia School District #33 was organized and land was purchased for a grade school and high school along NE Sixth Ave. An elementary school was built on the property located at the corner of NE Sixth and Marine Dr. The high school property one block west, which was never developed, is now the Columbia Children’s Arboretum. The Columbia School District was annexed by Faloma District #33 in 1935, then reorganized as Columbia District #33 again in 1944. Portland Public Schools finally annexed the land and school in 1964.

When Portland School District acquired Columbia School, it was designated as a middle school. The local youth who attended the school were primarily a very transient population, well below the city average in both education achievement and economic levels. In a goal to strengthen the basic curriculum through science-centered projects, Principal Bill Warner proposed a new program titled Growth through Research, Organization & Work (GROW). Students studied math, language arts, social studies, health, and science as they worked on the 28-acre site that became known as the Columbia Children’s Arboretum.

The land started out as a tangle of blackberries in 1965, but by 1970, students and families had planted 8,000 trees. Students began by planning three different scenarios for the development of the land. An orchard and organic garden was chosen for the area adjacent to NE Sixth Ave. An arboretum was designed for the land on the south side of the drainage ditch with intentions to solicit and plant trees from every U.S. state. The area furthest from Sixth Ave was planned as a natural area where indigenous plants and animals could provide a tranquil setting for study.

Before long, the creation of a garden and arboretum became a community project. Organizations of all sorts began to help the school create its dream. Edward Maddix, a Tigard architect provided construction drawings for the site. Students and staff approached the U.S. Marines for assistance with heavy land moving. Bulldozers were brought in to remove the blackberries and create a pond with an island. The Oregon Association of Nurserymen supplied trees, the Rose Society donated roses for the garden, the pond was stocked with fish by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Rotary Club provided tree labels, and the list goes on. The architect worked with students to design a study shelter that was adopted by Women in Construction. Remnants of the beginning of the shelter still remain, although its construction was limited by the fact that utilities could not be brought to the site.

In 1977, Portland Public Schools built a bus barn on the site of the organic farm area. Eventually, changing demographics in northeast Portland reduced the need for Columbia Middle School, and it closed in 1983. Classes at Whitaker School, located three miles from the arboretum, adopted the GROW program in the 1980s and planting increased. However, the distance between the school and Arboretum became a problem and the program only lasted until the early 1990s. A few classrooms around the district continued to use the Arboretum for field trips. The most constant visitors were neighbors from the new housing developments on the east side of the Arboretum. The neighborhood association created a Columbia Children’s Arboretum Preservation Committee to develop goals and activities in the Arboretum. It has sponsored work parties on a monthly basis for over 10 years. In addition, the committee funded aspects of the East Columbia Wetlands Management Plan to include plans for the Arboretum site. The very first Natural Resources Management Plan in the city, it has guided development and promoted the environmental activities for the Arboretum and adjacent areas since 1988.

In 1999, Portland Parks & Recreation acquired the Columbia Children’s Arboretum land from Portland Public Schools for use as a park. Working closely with the community, a management plan for the site was developed in March 2004.

This management plan mentions a number of improvements that have since occurred, like new bridges over the creeks. It also mentions a few other things that haven't come to pass so far, like playgrounds and sports fields. All in all there isn't a lot at the park that currently justifies the word "Children's" in the name.

The management plan also speaks rather snidely of the unfinished 50 State Trees project:

One of the cultural remnants of the site is the “Grove of 50 States”, envisioned in the mid-70s as a collection of trees from all of the states in the country. The idea was initiated as part of the site’s early education programs and resulted in the planting of several trees. In the mid 90s, many tree identification posts were installed to mark the location of future trees in this collection, as part of a Boy Scout Eagle project.

The management plan says nothing about adding the missing trees. Which is probably just as well; nobody really wants to come see a bunch of sickly state trees from warmer climes barely clinging to life. I'm also not sure what educational value there would be in a grove of state trees; as far as I know the only reason to memorize the list is to win at bar trivia nights. Still, the handful of surviving trees seem to be doing ok, and long needle pine trees make for some interesting close-up photos, at least if you aren't around that sort of tree every day.

On the other hand the plan goes on at length about protecting various habitat areas fringing the park, although the vegetation unit survey for the park lists most of these areas as being in "fair" or "poor" ecological condition. Not sure what to make of that.

Mt. Talbert expedition




View Larger Map

Today's adventure takes us out to suburban Clackamas County, to Metro's Mount Talbert Nature Park. Which is more or less right across I-205 from the Clackamas Town Center mall. Mt. Talbert is yet another of the Portland area's Boring Lava Field mini-volcanoes. It's not as well known as some of the others because it's way out in the 'burbs, and the park's only been open to the public since 2007.

The park has over 4 miles of well-maintained and clearly signed hiking trails, which compare favorably with anything in the Portland city park system. The scenery's nice too, as the park is in better ecological condition than many of the more popular spots around the region, which are often choked with invasive ivy and blackberries to the exclusion of native plants. The big thing you don't get here is a striking view; the park is heavily forested, and you just get a few scattered glimpses of suburbia looking west. The eastern slope of Mt. Talbert is all subdivisions, so they get a nice view of Mt. Hood on sunny days, but you don't. Still, if you're simply interested in a nice walk in the forest, you could do a lot worse. Just don't bring your dog. Metro's entire nature park system has a strict no-dogs policy.

One of the great things about blogging under a pseudonym is that I can admit I was supposed to be at the office when I took these photos. As far as they know I was at home with a cold, taking it easy & checking email periodically. Which is 100% accurate if, by "a cold" you mean "stressed out", and by "taking it easy" you mean "going for a walk in the woods, taking some photos, like I used to do all the time". And by "checking email" you mean "checking Blackberry, marking new email as read w/o reading it."

More about the park from around the interwebs:

Saturday, October 08, 2011

SW 5th & Caruthers

SW Caruthers & 5th


View Larger Map

A few photos from the tiny triangle of land at SW Caruthers St., 5th Avenue, & Broadway, next to Interstate 405. This place is mentioned briefly in an obscure city document that's resulted in quite a few of the more dubious and pointless-seeming posts in the ongoing parks series in recent years. Like a number of places on the list (and unlike its equally obscure neighbor at Broadway, Broadway & Grant) it seems this is not precisely an official city park; the parks bureau doesn't own it, but has, or once had, a role in landscaping or maintaining it.

TriMet stop 7591 is named "5th & Caruthers", but it's a bit south on 5th and not right at our sorta-park here. Which is the one and only even remotely related item I have to share this time around.

SW Caruthers & 5th

So instead, to make this post somewhat less useless, I thought I'd take the list from the aforementoned obscure city document, format it up for readability, and add links to the places I've done posts about. The posts can't all be blamed on this list, mind you; several places are only mildly obscure and even appear on maps of the city. Now that I've got this list put together, I'm surprised, a little embarrassed even, at how many of these I've been to.


SW Caruthers & 5th

SW Caruthers & 5th

SW Caruthers & 5th

SW Caruthers & 5th

SW Caruthers & 5th