Showing posts with label parks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parks. Show all posts

Monday, September 01, 2014

Marquam Nature Park


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Our next adventure takes us to Southwest Portland's ginormous Marquam Nature Park. The park includes a big chunk of the West Hills around OHSU, encompassing a few densely forested ravines with little creeks flowing through them, crossed by an extensive trail system. The "densely forested" part presents a problem, though, in that every photo I've ever taken there has come out as a fairly generic Northwest forest photo. These could be from anywhere, and you just have to sort of take my word about where they're from. These photos are actually several years old; I suppose they sat around in the archives waiting for me to lower my standards enough to use them. I just can't seem to get the hang of the place, photo-wise; I'm not sure why, but I know I've been there at least one other time with the intention of taking better photos (or at least more of them), but ended up not taking a single shot.

The park's quite large, but I don't think it's one of the city's natural crown jewels, and not just because my photos of it aren't so hot. Admittedly I've never actually been to the big chunk of the park south of OHSU, so maybe it's more pristine and scenic than the parts I've been to. The city's vegetation survey for the park isn't encouraging in that regard, though. In that survey, no part of the park was rated better than "fair" ecological health, with much rated as "poor" or "severely degraded", with English ivy and other invasive plants shouldering much of the blame. Additionally, the creeks flowing through the park end up in a pipe that continues deep beneath Duniway Park, and then on that way to where it joins the Willamette near the Marquam Bridge. So don't come here expecting to bag a migrating salmon during fishing season. (I'm only half joking here; other Portland-area streams do see wild salmon now and then.)

What the park does have is an interesting origin story. Despite being so close to downtown, the land remained undeveloped into the late 1960s thanks to its steep and landslide-prone terrain. In 1969, a group of developers proposed a plan that would have built a gigantic 500 unit apartment complex in the ravine. This didn't sit well with area residents, who eventually formed a "Friends of Marquam Nature Park" to lobby for a park here instead. A Marquam Ravine preservation effort began in earnest in 1975. This campaign had the advantage that a "Who's Who" of influential West Hills society people wanted the area to stay the way it was. Even then, convincing the developers to give up their lucrative dream was a big sticking point. Fundraising went down to the wire, as the campaign stood to lose federal matching funds if it didn't raise money & get the deal done in time. The deal was finalized one day before the deadline. And the rest is history.

One fun thing about the park is that it connects to the larger regional trail system, so you can start at the trailhead at the water tanks near Duniway Park, hike up through the park, then continue uphill to Council Crest, then down the other side of the hill and over to Washington Park. You have a couple of options at point: The Marquam Trail connects to the Wildwood Trail, which then meanders northward through Forest Park for another thirty miles. Note that there's no (legal) overnight camping in the city parks along the West Hills, so you'll either need to do it in segments, or wake up very early and be in much better shape than I've ever been. Or you can do something the city calls the 4-T Trail, as in "Trail, Tram, Trolley & Train". This involves taking an elevator down to the underground MAX station & catching an eastbound train into downtown Portland. You've already done the trail part, and MAX is the train part, so the third T involves taking the Portland Streetcar down to the South Waterfront area -- and usually they hate it when you call the streetcar a trolley, but not this time. Then you take the aerial tram back up to OHSU, and find your way back onto the Marquam Nature Park trail system from there. It's not what you'd call a classic wilderness hiking experience, but it has a certain novelty value.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dickinson Park

Our next adventure takes us to SW Portland's Dickinson Park, 18 acres with forests and a large open grassy area, located on a rather steep hillside. I dropped by a few months ago when it was too muddy to get to the forested part, but a page at ExplorePDX has a few photos showing what it's like. The park's open area has nice views to the west and, somewhat incongrously, it's home to a shiny new "Evos Play System", a very fancy new play structure. Willamette Week's Summer 2014 guide dubbed the park "Portland's Backyard Jungle Gym", but pointed out the park still has no restrooms.

The city's owned it since 1993, when it acquired the property from Multnomah County, as part of the county's dismantling of its struggling park system. Apparently the county had never done much of anything with the land, and the city didn't immediately have any budget for the place, so they only began design work for it in 2001. A plan soon came together but initially there was no money in the city budget to implement it. 2006 rolled around, and the city had a temporary budget surplus thanks to the national real estate bubble, so they were finally able to break ground on the park at that point.

At first I couldn't find anything at all about the county's prior stewardship of the park, until I looked at the transfer agreements and realized the county called it "Dickenson" with an 'e', not "Dickinson" with an 'i'. Even then, I found next to nothing about the place dating to that era, but the few things I've come up with seem to indicate the county seriously neglected its park system when it had one. A 1982 letter to the editor complained that the county had effectively defunded the system around that time. By 1986, the county was already anxious to transfer it to the city, which had annexed the land (along with Lesser, Maricara, Orchid St., West Portland, and Woods Parks) in 1979. The city was reluctant to take them over until the county settled up for some disputed sewer construction charges at these parks (as well as at SE Portland's Brentwood Park). The article mentions that the aforementioned parks were all undeveloped and the county had no idea what to do with them. Lesser, Maricara, and Woods parks must have transferred before 1993; West Portland, aka Loll Wildwood never transferred, and eventually ended up as a Metro natural area. The remaining "Orchid St. Park" is unfamiliar. A June 1987 article about the proposed transfer mentions the city had pledged to maintain all but the Orchid St. site as parks, and a previous article about a city-county land dispute over Woods Park mentiosn the Orchid St. park was only 0.3 acres. So I suppose they must have sold it off at some point.

Other assorted Dickinson Park tidbits I ran across:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Burnside Median

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Our next thrilling adventure takes us to SW Broadway & Burnside in downtown Portland, specifically to the trees-and-ivy median strip down the middle of Burnside. It turns out this median is another spot on a list of very obscure places I bumped into on the city's website a few years back. Some of those places turned out to be reasonably interesting, so it became a project and I've tracked down quite a few of them in the last few years. The Burnside median didn't sound very promising, though, so I ignored it for a long time. But recently I was in the area anyway, and I figured I might as well take a couple of extra seconds crossing the street, snap a couple of photos, and check it off the list for the sake of completeness. So here we are.

The median project was announced in April 1975, and a variety of reasons were given for it at the time. The city and county claimed it would somehow alleviate traffic congestion and reduce carbon monoxide pollution, since they made room for the median by eliminating the 117 on-street parking spaces along this stretch of Burnside. At the same time it was also supposed to make the area safer and more pedestrian-friendly. I don't know what Burnside was like before the median went in, so maybe all of this is true; I just know that despite the median, this stretch of Burnside still has traffic congestion, and is nobody's idea of a nice pedestrian-friendly zone, much less the thriving district of cafes and small shops that the plan envisioned.

More recent ideas in urban planning suggest that fast-moving streets without on-street parking are precisely the thing you don't want if you're trying to create a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Oh, and English ivy is now recognized as an invasive species, and the city prefers that you not use it anymore for anything ever. Although so far they haven't gotten around to ripping out existing plantings of the stuff along roads and in city parks, since that would involve spending money they don't have.

Matrix Hill Park


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It's time for a rare suburban adventure here on this humble blog. We're headed to Beaverton's Matrix Hill Park, a high point on Cooper Mountain just off Murray Blvd., directly uphill from the new mini-Walmart. The Walmart location was previously a (late, lamented) Haggen grocery store, and long before that it was a rock quarry owned by the Cobb Rock Co. The steep cliffs left over from the quarry days result in sweeping views to the south and east. Granted you're just looking at miles and miles of suburbia, but you can see quite a lot of it from here. There's a bit of a view to the north too, but you're better off going to nearby Sexton Mountain Meadows Park if you really want a better look at the suburban jungle of central Beaverton.

Since it's out in the 'burbs, Oregonian coverage is spotty at best, so I only have a few bits and pieces of info about the place. If the database search function is to be believed, Portland's paper of record has mentioned it precisely once, in May 2001, in an article about volunteer efforts in Beaverton-area parks. However an OSU Extension newsletter from 2010 says the park had just opened to the public. That seems odd, but maybe the Tualatin Hills parks district owned the land for a long time without officially opening it to the public. I'm not really sure, but the path up to the viewpoint looks pretty new, so it's certainly possible. The park district's September 2011 board agenda includes a capital projects list, showing they were spending about $40k per year on renovations here at the time. And a Winter 2010 Metro newsletter showed lots of volunteer events to pull invasive blackberry bushes here.

The park's also mentioned briefly in a 2013 US Fish & Wildlife study, "Willamette Valley Conservation Study: Nature-based Recreation and Educational Opportunities and Underserved Areas Assessment", but it's simply listed as "Existing opportunity identified in spatial data", which I think means they noticed it on a map and didn't investigate it further.

What I really want to know, and what nobody is telling me, is where the name "Matrix Hill" comes from. It's obviously not a native Indian name, nor is it likely to be a pioneer-era name. The first mention I've seen of the name was in 2001, which is a couple of years after the movie The Matrix came out. I'm really hoping it's not named after the movie. I mean, my first guess would be that some clueless polo-shirted real estate developer of the 80s or 90s wanted to build on the hill, and came up with the name independently because he thought it sounded high tech and upscale. This seems plausible because developers are always a rich source of cheesy place names.

But just suppose the park district had asked the public for suggestions, circa 2001 or so; maybe they put the suggestions up for a public vote, and allowed online voting. And suppose that a group of Matrix fanboys decided to troll the vote, and the district was somewhat less than tech savvy and never caught on to their l33t h4x0r script kiddie sk1llZ, and the rest is history. I have zero evidence to back this idea up, so it doesn't even count as a proper theory. But at minimum it would make a great urban legend, so feel free to repeat it if you want to. Be sure to add that we're lucky "Matrix Hill" eked out a win, as a rival tribe of fanboys was rigging votes in favor of "Park-Park Binks".

Ivon Park

Here are a few photos of SE Portland's miniscule Ivon Park at 47th & Ivon, just south of busy SE Division. The park is essentially a small corner lot that ended up as a playground instead of a house and yard, and the space is just big enough for some play equipment. The equipment looks fairly new, possibly added within the last couple of years. In recent years the park has also been a regular stop for Sunday Parkways bike events. I unfortunately don't have an origin story to share about this place. The city says it was created in 1989, the same year as Piccolo Park, but I've never seen it mentioned in connection with the Mt. Hood Freeway. I don't see news stories about it in any other capacity either. Maybe it's just that, until quite recently, SE 47th was just too far from downtown, and Division just too unfashionable, for the Oregonian to bother reporting on the area.

SE 32nd & Ankeny

Our next adventure is a visit to yet another spot from the obscure municipal list of obscure places I've been tracking down now and then. As with the last couple of places from this list, the spot we're visiting now is basically a bit of traffic control landscaping. At SE 32nd & Ankeny, the curb bulges out to prevent eastbound auto traffic from continuing on past 32nd; cars have to make a right turn and go north to Burnside instead, although there's a pass-through bit so bikes can continue eastbound. SE Ankeny was seen as a key bicycle route as far back as 1984, when it was included in something the city called the "Central Corridor Bicycle Route". It's not clear to me whether the plan involved actual marked bike lanes, or just some road signs indicating it was a designated bike route. A 2007 city document on bikeway construction standards explains that what we're looking at here is called a "semi-diverter", because it only blocks traffic in one direction. It also mentions that this was one of 17 semi-diverters around the city at the time, so it's not clear to me why this one's on the list and the others aren't.

It helps, in terms of scenic-ness, that there's an old historic church next to the spot. The building was once home to Portland's Central Presbyterian Church. Around 1980 it was home to something called "The Bible Church", and it was later part of Union Gospel Ministries organization (which is sort of a religious social service agency for the homeless) circa 1989. In 2014 it seems to be primarily a wedding venue and event space. Which honestly is a big improvement over being a church, if you ask me.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Piccolo Park

Photos of SE Portland's tiny Piccolo Park, just south of Division between 27th & 286h. It's a tiny place with a cameo role in one of modern Portland's creation myths, the successful fight against the proposed Mt. Hood Freeway. The freeway was supposed to branch off the Marquam Bridge near OMSI, and head east from there, first along a path between Division and Clinton Streets (i.e. right here), and then along Powell further east, continuing to I-205 and beyond to the distant new eastern suburbs the plan envisioned. Despite the name, it would not have gone anywhere near Mt. Hood. This proposal came on the heels of several other ill-conceived freeway projects (Marquam Bridge, I-5 along the eastbank waterfront and through North Portland, etc.), and this one turned out to be the last straw. There was a huge public outcry, and after years of wrangling the city and the state highway division (now ODOT) finally abandoned the idea. The federal grant money for the freeway was repurposed to build the eastside MAX Blue Line, and the rest is history, and we're still patting ourselves on the back for it close to 40 years later.

The original freeway plan was explained in a March 1972 Oregonian article "Residents of Southeast Portland to Help Plan New Freeway". The list of negative impacts is almost comical: Ugly concrete ramps to the Marquam Bridge visible from Ladd's Addition. Homes and schools bulldozed in the name of progress. Dirt. Noise. No way to cross the freeway in a lot of places. But think of all the exciting benefits: Maybe a greenspace next to the freeway or something. Maybe a bike path if they decide to build one someday. An exciting new shopping mall along the freeway out towards I-205. Oh, and maybe a pedestrian footbridge over the freeway at 28th, i.e. right here. Curiously, the article goes on to discuss mass transit options for the area, and mentions the idea of building a new transit-only bridge near the Marquam Bridge, which is precisely what's being built right now for the new MAX Orange Line. Go figure.

Anyway, by the time the freeway was canceled, the state had already started eminent domain proceedings for the freeway right-of-way. Along Powell, between about Foster Road and I-205, the little parking areas along the south side of the road are on land that was condemned and acquired for the new freeway. Closer in, Piccolo Park is one of very few leftovers of this effort. (There might be others, but this is the only one I'm aware of.) The site of Piccolo Park would have been under the westbound lanes of the freeway, I think, since it's just a few houses south of Division. There were once five houses here, before they were demolished in the name of Progress that never arrived. After the cancellation, ODOT held onto the land, which sat in limbo for about another decade.

Finally in October 1986 neighborhood activists convinced the city to take the land off the state's hands. The city had been resistant to the idea, as they had a policy at the time against adding tiny new parks. The parks bureau was persuaded to make an exception here as the neighborhood had very little greenspace of any kind, and this seemed to be the only viable chance to add a city park in the area.

At the time, and in subsequent early planning stages, everyone referred to it as "Hosford Park", and it seems to have gone by this name unofficially during the years ODOT owned and ignored it. The name changed at some point between then and 1989 when the newly funded and landscaped park officially opened to the public. A 1988 article about playground improvements at nearby Abernethy School also mentions the upcoming new park, but doesn't name it, so the name may have been in flux at that point. I haven't come across any explanation of the name change, but I imagine it would've been to avoid confusion with Hosford Middle School, a couple of blocks due north on the other side of Division. That would make sense, and I'm all in favor of avoiding naming collisions when possible. Regarding the eventual name, one theory I've seen points out that "piccolo" is simply the Italian word for "small", and it may not have anything to do with the tiny, super-annoying musical instrument. I want to emphasize this point in case anyone thinks it would be hip and ironic to show up here en masse and have a piccolo-playing Segway-riding flash mob or something. I just want to be sure people know that doing this would look unsophisticated, telling the world you had no idea it was an Italian word. Just imagine how embarrassing that would be.

Anyway, the park is just big enough for a playground, which was the whole idea when the neighborhood lobbied the city about it. There are some artsy touches here and there, some of which I only noticed in other people's photos after I was there. A small "Friends of Piccolo Park" was formed in 2012 to raise $7000 for a water fountain here. Which I suppose is an appropriately small goal, since this park only exists thanks to a revolt against massive grand plans.

SW Dosch Park Circle

While I was trying to take photos of the little sorta-park at SW Dosch & Boundary, I turned onto a side street (SW Dosch Park Lane) to get some photos from another angle. The road continued into the Dosch Estates subdivision, and I ended up turning around at a small traffic circle. I took a couple of photos of it since it was kind of cute in a twee sort of way, and I had my phone out anyway, so here they are.

In retrospect I'm not sure I was supposed to be there; on the way out I noticed a "Private Road" sign, and PortlandMaps shows the road being part of a couple of weird gerrymander-y tax lots owned by the local HOA. The map still seems to show the street as a public right-of-way, although I might be misreading it.

So... in case Officer Friendly is reading this, these photos were created in Photoshop using advanced skills I've since forgotten and can't demonstrate to you; the place(s) that may (or may not) be depicted in these photos may (or may not) actually exist, as far as I know, or don't know. Also it's possible the post about the sorta-park nearby may (or may not) have ever happened. That one might be Photoshop too, as far as I know, or don't know.

SW Dosch & Boundary

Our next obscure city park is one of the more mysterious ones I've run across. I was poking around on PortlandMaps, as one does, and noticed a little chunk of city-owned land at SW Dosch Rd. & Boundary St., a narrow parcel mostly taken up by a stream that runs through it. The map entry for it says it belongs to the City Auditor's office, which isn't unusual for city parks. Particularly for undeveloped places the city can't afford to do anything with, doesn't know what to do with, or has just forgotten about. I'm always up for a new and obscure place, so it went on my big omnibus todo list.

So the key thing about this spot is that it's a narrow overgrown lot with a short stretch of stream running through it. It seems completely undeveloped, and just upstream of it is an adjacent parcel, also wild but owned by the adjacent Dosch Estates homeowners association.

I'm not entirely sure what this place is for, or what it was meant to be, but I've found a few clues. The plans for a 1957 sewer project (around the time the area was first subdivided as "Forest Acres") show this lot prominently labeled as "PARK". So my working hypothesis is that it was supposed to be a city park, or maybe a piece of a larger city park, and the project just never came together for some reason.

Much later on, a 1993 city list of stormwater facilities refers to this spot as a "detention basin", and notes this creek is part of the Fanno Creek watershed, which the city's been trying to protect. So it's not as if the place is useless; it just doesn't have a lot to offer the casual human visitor, unless maybe it's blackberry season.

The Dosch Estates subdivision's main street is Dosch Park Lane, but there's no actual Dosch Park, unless maybe the land we're looking at here was supposed to be it. One of the houses along Dosch Park Lane is the historic Henry E. Dosch estate; the rest of the subdivision used to be the grounds of the estate, before it was subdivided in the early 1980s. (A page at ExplorePDX has a walk/run route through the subdivision, with a couple of photos of the old Dosch house and the surrounding area.) So today's Dosch Estates replaced the old Dosch estate, a twist on the usual procedure where a subdivision is named for what it replaced.

Henry E. Dosch has appeared here once before, as the wealthy benefactor who donated the pair of Fort Sumter cannons in Lownsdale Square. In that post I described his life as

"Your basic 'German bookkeeper immigrates to US just in time for the Civil War, joins up, has adventures, gets wounded, leaves the Army, heads west, has adventures, does a stint as a Pony Express rider, ends up in Portland, goes into business, eventually retires, spends later years as an amateur horticulturalist, when not managing exhibits at World's Fairs around the globe.' type story".
He sounds like the Victorian era's "Most Interesting Man in the World". If only he'd owned a hot air balloon or maybe a submarine, and used it while wearing a monocle and top hat, it would have been perfect. Even his house has its own Wikipedia article, albeit a fairly short one. It's not really that extravagant of a house, by the standards of that era, and it lacks the usual turrets and mansards and so forth. Or at least it's not that fancy above ground. Maybe there are catacombs underground, or a secret lab for "horticultural experiments" or "revenge against the world" or something. It just sort of stands to reason.

Waud Bluff Trail

Here are some photos from Portland's short, steep, and shiny new Waud Bluff Trail, which connects the north end of Swan Island to the residential area above, near the University of Portland. The trail's only about 1000 feet long, but with an average 10-13% grade, and at the bottom there's a footbridge over railroad tracks, and there are steep stairs on the other side of the tracks. (The footbridge gets a post of its own, because, um, them's the rules here.) There's a further 700 feet of flat trail between the footbridge and the dead-end street next to the Coast Guard base.

There's a nice in depth article about the trail at BikePortland; when I visited, nearly all of the other people there were biking up the hill. The article follows the trail downhill, in the opposite direction to all the cyclists I saw, who were doing the climb and looking very determined about it. I hope none of them were expecting cheering crowds or KOM points at the top.

So there's a nice view of Swan Island and downtown from along the trail, which is the main reason I visited. The city thoughtfully installed a couple of turnouts so you can stop for the view and not be in anyone's way, which is what I did. And if you're riding the hill, the turnouts are a chance to get off your bike and give up and wait for the team car to come pick you up. While all the other cyclists ride by and roll their eyes and giggle as they steamroller their way up the hill like it's nothing. At least you get to laugh last when they inevitably test positive for EPO or 'roids or something.

East Marine Drive Trail

Today's adventure takes us to the east end of the Marine Drive Trail, which runs along the south shore of the Columbia River much of the way between Gresham and industrial NE Portland, with gaps for a few marinas and houseboat communities. Other parts of the trail have appeared here before: Once for the west end of the trail, east of NE 33rd at Broughton Beach, and again for a disconnected segment further west near the Oregon Slough Railroad Bridge.

This area merits a separate post because a.) It's a nice scenic spot, well east of the other two locations, and b.) The stretch from NE 158th east to near 185th is owned by Metro instead of the Port of Portland. I don't think there's a sign or any sort of notice when you hit the boundary between the two areas, and they look basically the same, with the river on one side and Marine Drive on the other. It's possible I'm the only person who cares about this stuff, and even I only sort of care, but hey.

This stretch of shoreline was once part of the underfunded, mismanaged Multnomah County park system, until that system was divided up among Metro and the cities of Portland and Gresham back in 1994. (I located a list of those properties, or most of them, a while ago; it's posted on the Mason Hill Park post ). Back in circa-1994 the county listed it as the "Philippi Property". Which isn't a great name , but Metro's GIS system used it up until recently. That system now refers to it as "Columbia River Shoreline B", which isn't much of a name either, particularly since I looked all over the place & didn't see a Shoreline A. So I'm just going with "East Marine Drive Trail" because that's at least a reasonable description of the place

NE 28th & Weidler


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Our next adventure takes us to a triangular park-like space at NE 28th & Weidler, right next to the Hollywood Fred Meyer store. There is play equipment and swings, and a few benches, and a path meandering through it. There's no sign explaining exactly what it is, though, or who owns it. Which is a shame because there's an interesting story here.

This area isn't actually a public park, but rather is owned by Fred Meyer (or, strictly speaking, Kroger, its Cincinnati-based parent company), and it's the result of a compromise deal when the store went in back in 1990. The store (built on the site of the old Hyster forklift factory) was quite controversial at the time; neighbors claimed it would bring traffic problems and change the character of the Hollywood District, and generally felt it was just too suburban and car-oriented and simply wouldn't fit here. The little park was intended to be a buffer area between the store's parking lot and the residential neighborhood next door. More recently, the play equipment and park furniture were replaced in 2011 as part of a larger renovation of the store.

It does kind of seem like a missed marketing opportunity here. Imagine signs on the play equipment and outdoor furniture: "Kids can't get enough of this? Buy one for your backyard! On sale right next door! Free box of wine with every purchase, because assembling it is half the fun." Maybe they just don't sell the right sort of play equipment and outdoor furniture to make that feasible. Maybe it would be doable if there was a Home Depot or IKEA here instead. Or maybe the neighborhood's still too touchy about the store existing at all for this to be a good idea.

Les AuCoin Plaza


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Photos of Les AuCoin Plaza, the landscaped surface portion of the Washington Park MAX station. There's a big sign giving the name, but I've never heard anyone call it that. I've never heard anyone call it anything, honestly. Despite all the paths and terraces, there's not really a good reason to come and hang out here, unless maybe you're waiting for an elevator to the underground MAX platform. And the only time you might have to wait for an elevator would be if a zoo concert just let out, or maybe right after the zoo closed on an especially busy day. So it's a nice space, but a little-used one.

When the westide MAX Blue Line opened in 1998, an architecture writer for the Oregonian talked up the virtues of the place

Farther west on the line, Washington Park Station finds the romance in a mechanical process. The station sits at the midpoint of a 3-mile tunnel, drilled from both directions through 16-million-year-old basalt 260 feet underground. The two granite wheels that ground the tunnel met in a "kiss" at the station.

The kiss, explains Murase, caused an allegorical "emotional explosion," symbolized by a circle of basalt slabs at the station.

More stone columns landed in the Les Aucoin Plaza just up the steps from "the kiss." Landscaping in the plaza and below took its cue from the zoo and followed a dry, upland theme. Katsura trees flutter their heart-shaped leaves and ornamental grasses dance softly with lavender, juniper, yarrow, spirea, rosemary and cotoneaster.

The plaza's named for Rep. Les AuCoin, who represented Oregon's 1st congressional district (including much of the westside MAX route) from 1978-1993. He played a big role in getting federal funding for the project, and so they named part of one of the stations after him. Likewise, the last station on the line, out in Hillsboro, was named in honor of Sen. Mark Hatfield, who had recently retired in 1996 after nearly half a century in Oregon politics. AuCoin is very much alive and blogging; I met him once as a young Cub Scout, and I always thought he was a decent guy. I'm pretty sure I voted for him in 1990 (the first time I was old enough to vote), and then in 1992 when he ran against now-infamous Senator Bob Packwood. In that election, it turned out The Oregonian (our local newspaper) knew about Packwood's shenanigans well before the election, but sat on the story to avoid "ruining his career". The public only found out later when the Washington Post broke the story.

Oregon had a spate of naming things after living politicians during the 1990s and early 2000s, but that seems to have cooled in recent years, after we learned Neil Goldschmidt's dirty little secret. I always thought this was a bad idea, and I'm still amazed that we avoided naming anything important after Goldschmidt (and thus avoided having to rename it hastily, especially if it was a school or something). Either that was sheer luck, or the people in charge of naming things had heard the rumors about him. TriMet seems to have dodged a bullet by naming things for Hatfield and AuCoin (and not, say, Packwood, or Goldschmidt, or David Wu, or...). I still think it would've been better to wait for future historians to weigh in, though.

NE 17th & Thompson

A few blocks west of our last semi-adventure (the mini-roundabout at NE 24th & Thompson) is another spot on the obscure municipal list of obscure places I've slowly been exploring. This one is a sort of landscaped traffic barrier, turning NE 17th into a cul-de-sac on the south side of Thompson St, keeping cars from busy NE Broadway from blundering onto the Irvington neighborhood's genteel streets. There are a few other traffic control widgets of various types in the area, and they're remarkably effective without really seeming to be. While walking along Thompson St. it occurred to me that I'd never actually been through this part of Irvington before. I'd been along Broadway more times than I can count, but while driving around in the area I always seemed to end up going around the residential part of Irvington rather than through it, even when straight through would be the most direct route. It wasn't until I walked through looking for places on this list that I realized all this detouring was intentional on the city's part. Obviously someone at City Hall is smarter than they look.

So the deal here is that Irvington is known to be an upscale sort of neighborhood, but you may not realize just how upscale and old-money-ish parts of it are if you haven't wandered through. It even has its own historic private tennis/social club. I'm fairly sure that, not not long ago, I saw a map someone had created showing Portland city commissioners' residences over many decades; it may have been back to the early 1900s when the city adopted the current, sometimes controversial commission-style city government, with all commissioners elected at large and thus free to live anywhere in town. It was not an even distribution, or a random one, to put it mildly. Irvington was one of several clusters, as I recall. Maybe it's a more voter-friendly address than living somewhere high in the West Hills, off the normal street grid, apart from the peasants. Or maybe it's the other way around, and living in the middle of the city prompts people to get involved whereas living in the West Hills doesn't. Beats me. Unfortunately I've looked but haven't been able to find this map again. I'm not just imagining I saw it, am I? Feel free to leave a comment if you know the one I'm talking about and have a link to it.

Anyway, for some reason in addition to the trees and flowers there's a big wood carving of an eagle head here, and it looks like it's been here for a long time. I didn't see a sign or a signature, and I don't know who created it or why it's here, and the internet isn't helping with clues. If I knew those things, the eagle head would get its own separate blog post, because them's the rules.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

NE 24th & Thompson

Several years ago I ran across an obscure city document (don't bother clicking, it's been offline for months now) that listed a bunch of very obscure places the Portland city parks bureau had played a role in managing or planning. I tracked down a few that turned out to be interesting: The Vernon Ross Veterans Memorial, most of the various "East Park Blocks" around Portland's eastside, a number of little mini-parks in the Alameda and Healy Heights neighborhoods, and various other things. So tracking these places down eventually became another of this humble blog's many weird little projects. In an unusual bit of foresight I included the full list in a 2011 post (which I did because I didn't have anything else interesting to say about the place), so this mini-project has kept going despite the original document falling off the interwebs.

A lot of the remaining items on the list either no longer exist, or the description's so vague I can't figure out where to look. Others are things that I passed on because they didn't seem very interesting or worthwhile at the time.

Which brings us to our next destination, the mini-roundabout at NE 24th & Thompson, in the Irvington neighborhood. Not that long ago I specifically said I wasn't going to cover these mini-roundabout things; there are dozens, maybe hundreds of them all over town, which is too many, and they aren't really individually distinctive. A couple have appeared here because they're in the center of a painted intersection, but generally this is still a solid rule. I'm making an exception for this one because it's on the aforementioned list. Or at least the intersection's on the list, and the traffic circle is the only likely candidate for something the parks bureau might have been involved in. I have no idea why this one was on the list and no others were, since it looks just like all the others. Maybe it was the first one. I don't have any documentation or any particular reason to think so, but it's the only hypothesis I have other than sheer randomness. This is the point where I shrug and say I don't write these lists, I just go where they tell me to go, and the matter is entirely out of my hands.

This little circle does have its own page (albeit a very bare-bones one) on a site called Roundabouts Now, which bills itself as "Your Exclusive Source of Modern Roundabouts Information". Which does seem to be an accurate slogan in this case. In a way I'm glad that site exists. I dunno, I guess it feels reassuring when I find something that's gone further down a nerdy rabbit hole than I have. So far.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Moore Island


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Our next adventure takes us to the Columbia Slough's Moore Island, separated from Wright Island by a muddy channel, surrounded by mudflats, and not even accessible by an illegal scramble across a busy train bridge. Like Wright Island, the whole thing is city owned, and it's managed as a nature reserve, with salmon-friendly "Large Woody Debris structures" (i.e. old logs, anchored in place) coming to its shores in the next few years. Long story short, I have basically nothing interesting to pass along about the place, and what little I do have already showed up in the Wright Island post.

Portland's Moore Island is not to be confused with West Linn's Moore's Island at Willamette Falls, bordering the old locks. Moore's Island is entirely industrial, and there are "catacombs" carved in the rocks beneath the old paper mill, patrolled by giant nutrias. That sounds like a more interesting place than Portland's muddy slough island, although sadly I don't know the right people or have the right lockpicking skills to get a look at it in person.

Wright Island expedition


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Today's adventure takes us to what's likely one of the less-touristed spots in the Portland city park system. Wright Island, is an island in the middle of the Columbia Slough, south of PIR and the Heron Lakes municipal golf course, entirely surrounded by mudflats, and reached only by a Union Pacific railroad bridge. You might need a hovercraft to get to the island, or a kayak, hip waders, luck, and a phone to call 911 when you get stuck. Or you could try to scramble out onto the train bridge, avoiding trains and railroad cops, and rappel down to the island, hopefully leaving a rope in place so you aren't stuck there forever. Or I suppose you could go by helicopter if you have one, or know someone who does. I'm afraid I played it safe (as usual) and just took photos of the island from across the slough. So I've never actually been to Wright Island, but I've seen it and taken photos of it, which is probably sufficient for internet purposes. The city's 2009 vegetation unit survey for the island mentions that it had recently been home to an extensive homeless camp, so there's obviously got to be some way to get there, if you're sufficiently motivated.

The city owns it primarily as a nature reserve, not a visitor attraction. Recent plans indicate they want to anchor logs ("Large Woody Debris structures", the city calls them) around the island, and around Moore Island, just east of here, to enhance baby salmon habitat.

Technically only the east half of the island is officially a city park. Railroad right-of-way runs down the middle, and the western portion is primarily Bureau of Environmental Services, with a smaller bit owned by the City Auditor's office. In practice the ownership situation is probably not a very important detail, but it was the only interesting detail I saw on PortlandMaps. And I'm resorting to PortlandMaps at all because, as far as I can determine, Wright Island hasn't been mentioned in the Oregonian even once since the paper's founding back in the 1860s. So I don't know when the city acquired it, or why, or any fun historical anecdotes. It's possible the city inherited it from Vanport City after that town was lost to the 1948 Vanport Flood, but I don't have anything concrete to back that up.

Note that Portland's Wright Island is not to be confused with the much larger (and equally inaccessible) Wright Island off the coast of Antarctica. If I had to choose between the two, I'd probably pick the Antarctica one as a Bond villain lair, mostly because the Portland one is just too small for a proper evil base. Although on the other hand Portland's island offers a (somewhat) better climate, and is close to the Hayden Meadows/Jantzen Beach area for when one needs to stock up on lair supplies, and one's henchmen will have an easy commute down from the 'Couve. So there are advantages and disadvantages either way, I suppose.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

SW 62nd & Dickinson

Today's obscure city park is at SW 62nd Drive and Dickinson St., in outer SW Portland, not far from Tigard city limits. It's undeveloped so far, so it doesn't have its own info page on the city parks website, meanwhile the PortlandMaps page for the property just tells us it's 0.22 acres, and there were a couple of tall grass complaints about it back in the early 2000s, for whatever that's worth. It's a relatively recent acquisition; the city acquired it as tax-foreclosed property in 1999. Apparently when a foreclosure happens for unpaid property taxes, local governments get to call dibs on property they think they might need before it goes back on the market, and the city took a shine to this place. I imagine they figured it would make a nice playground someday.

The city's "Parks 2020 Vision" (created in 2001) mentioned the place briefly, calling it the "SW 62nd Property" and just saying it should be developed as a new park some time in the next 19 (now 6) years. If you asked, they would probably explain that this is a vision, not a legally binding contract. As a data point, there are a lot of places in the city's inventory that have sat around undeveloped for much longer than this place has. They've had Governors Park on the rolls since the 1890s and still haven't done anything with the place, for example. So I wouldn't hold my breath.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Waverleigh Boulevard Blocks


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Today's adventure takes us to the short stretch of SE Waverleigh Boulevard between 31st & 33rd Avenues, just north of Powell and east of the Cleveland High School football field. This stretch of Waverleigh Boulevard is sort of diagonal to the normal Portland street grid, and has a grassy median strip down the center. PortlandMaps (the city's public GIS system) says this median strip is actually a city park, or at least is owned by the city parks bureau. There's another stretch of Waverleigh on the other side of the football field, between 28th & 31st, but instead of a median it has a concrete divider and parking spaces down the center of the street. The whole arrangement seemed kind of unusual, since Waverleigh isn't a major street and doesn't go much of anywhere. So it was time for some research. It seems that back in 1907 this area was the shiny, new Waverleigh Heights subdivision. The first ad in the paper for it sounds both exuberant and shady, sort of reminiscent of realty ads a century later during the great condo bubble.

We take checks, certificates of deposit, clearing-house certificates, shin plasters, or old gold, in payment of lots in Waverleigh Heights.

Put your money in "dirt" and get your money's worth. No worry here. Give us your money and we will do the worrying for you.

The company behind the project, and this dubious ad, was the amusingly-named "Jno. P. Sharkey Company". A few months later they offered a free corner lot at SE 33rd & Brooklyn to the winner of a sorta-anagram contest, strangely enough. Here are the official rules, although I'm afraid the entry deadline is long past:

See how many words you can make out of the thirteen different letters in "Beautiful Waverleigh", not using the same letter more than once in any word. Therefore the letters you can use are B,T,F,U,W,A,V,R,L,E,I,G,H.

A word cannot be used more than once, even though it has different meanings.

You cannot use plurals or the names of persons or places.

Any word now in use in the English language (Webster is our authority) will be counted, but not obsolete words.

Today this would be a decent freshman computer science assignment, which I'll leave as an exercise for the reader.

The median was originally supposed to be a central parking strip the whole length of the street, as it still is further west. Apparently this was an unusual arrangement at the time, since three years later the city was still trying to puzzle out who owned the central strip, and who was responsible for making improvements to it, the city or homeowners whose property faced it. This issue had come to a head because the the developers had left the central parking strip unfinished; the article states that in many spots it was "simply a hole in the ground, which had to be filled at considerable expense." The city faced a looming $2779.37 bill for improvements, and was wringing its hands over whether to pass the cost along to homeowners instead. I haven't run across a followup article detailing what the eventual judgment was, but we know the eastern segment eventually ended up as a city park, not as parking at all, and the western segment sure looks like something the city and not homeowners would be responsible for.

Waverleigh was originally a through street until the stretch between 31st and 33rd was vacated in 1934 to make way for the Cleveland sports field. One city commissioner objected on the grounds that Waverleigh might be a major street someday, but obviously the project went ahead anyway. A strange artifact of this remains, not visible in person, but only in PortlandMaps. Even now, the big block of school district property is broken by a 20' wide strip belonging to the Parks Bureau, directly beneath the football field's north end zone. I imagine this means the Parks Bureau became the owner of it (as well as the extant bit west of it) after 1910 and before 1934, while it was still the median of a city street.

There are a number of other streets similar to this scattered around Portland's east side, though this may be the only one that originated as a central parking strip. Several years ago I tracked down all the examples I knew of at the time and dubbed them the "East Park Blocks", to go along with downtown's North & South Park Blocks. I'm tagging this as yet another one, since I definitely would have included it in the project if only I'd known it existed.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

SW Shattuck & Vermont

Our next adventure takes us out to the hills of SW Portland, to the busy corner of SW Shattuck & Vermont. A while ago I'd noticed on some map or other that the city owned a ~2.3 acre chunk of undeveloped land at the corner, and I figured it might be another obscure city park or something, so I put it on my seemingly endless todo list. It turns out this is a little wetland area owned by the Bureau of Environmental Services, the agency responsible for both stormwater and sewers. A short stretch of Vermont Creek flows through here, after leaving Gabriel Park. The wetland area is easily visible from Vermont St., but there's nowhere to park nearby on either Vermont or Shattuck. I had the idea I'd turn onto 63rd Ave., which as you can see on the map forms the remaining two sides of the diamond-shaped parcel. It looked like a small quiet street, and I figured I could park there and get a look at the marsh, maybe see a heron or something. It turns out that basically every map you might encounter is inaccurate here; much of the 63rd Ave. right of way was vacated years ago, and the street quickly ends at someone's driveway. The stern "Do Not Enter" sign there sort of indicated I wasn't the first person to be misled by looking at a current map. So I just turned around and got whatever photos I could without parking the car, and that was that.

So what do we know about this place? A BES page lists this spot as a "stream restoration activity", and another lists it among various construction projects they've done here over the years. A BES document about Fanno Creek tributaries mentions that the city's Urban Services Boundary is at Shattuck Rd., such that the creek flows out of the city right here. Maybe this is a last-chance water quality project, so that Beaverton can't sue. Or maybe it's for flood control (a city engineer's drainage plans for a subdivision just across Vermont St. indicate flooding is a problem around here.) Or maybe it's here to compensate for the Alpenrose Dairy just uphill, or it's some sort of mandatory federal wetland mitigation, or it's a water quality project to protect fish downstream in the Fanno Creek watershed. Or some combination of all of these things.

Regardless, I don't think it's really set up for public access. There aren't any "Do Not Enter" signs on the parcel itself, and I didn't see a fence. But there also isn't a "Welcome Birdwatchers! Love, your BES besties." sign or anything else that would welcome visitors. It just sort of looks like a random empty lot with a stream through it, which may explain the occasional illegal mattress dumping issues. So for the time being I wouldn't rank this place very high if I compiled a list of cool secret Portland spots to visit. Oh well.