Friday, August 22, 2008

George Himes Park expedition

George Himes Park


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Today's brief before-work adventure takes us out to George Himes Park, just south of downtown Portland in the Corbett/Terwilliger area.

George Himes Park is another of your basic West Hills nature parks, a forested ravine with a network of trails. We don't have a shortage of those here. See for example: Marquam Nature Park, Macleay Park, Marshall Park, parts of Forest Park & Washington Park, and probably others that don't come to mind immediately. The park isn't huge, just around 35 acres.

Maple & Moss, George Himes Park

The location's a little unusual, which is what attracted my attention to the place. It's bounded on the uphill side by Terwilliger and Capitol Highway, and on the downhill side it bumps up against the Corbett neighborhood at SW Iowa St. If you've ever stared at a map of the area and wondered why Capitol Highway doesn't connect to I-5 or run through to the Corbett area, the answer rapidly becomes clear once you visit the park. It's just too damn steep to run a road through here. Not a safe road, anyway. At a couple of spots, the main trail turns into stairs. Rustic stairs made with old railroad ties, I suppose because the ravine's too narrow to put in switchbacks. So the trail isn't exactly ADA-compliant or bike-friendly, but I kind of like it anyway.

The main trail through the park is a segment in Portland's numerically-challenged "40 Mile Loop", so the park serves as a thru-corridor as well as a destination in itself. The park's just one link in a longer hike on this page at ExplorePDX. There's a similar loop hike in Portland Hill Walks (highly recommended, btw). The park also shows up in a post at "I'd Rather Be Running". And (less seriously) the park has a cameo in some sort of treasure hunt from a while back.

I wasn't feeling all that ambitious this morning, and more to the point I simply didn't have time for a longer hike. So I just parked at the Iowa St. entrance, took the trail up to the picnic area at Terwilliger & Nebraska, and looped back down to where I started. Then I got in my car and headed off for my first meeting of the day, lucky me.

Mt. Hood from George Himes Park

The general steepness of the park does have an upside. There's a nice view over the Corbett area from the bottom end of the park (top photo), and up top there's a nice view of Mt. Hood from Nebraska St. near the intersection with Terwilliger.

Some unusual or interesting aspects of the place:
  • Bridges. Well, viaducts. Or bridges. Technically, we're told, a viaduct is a bridge that doesn't cross over water, for whatever that's worth. If you read this humble blog regularly, you know that I can do pedantic with the best of 'em, but even I think this is a silly distinction. Besides, there is water here. It's just that some misguided(?) engineers channeled it into an underground pipe a few decades ago. That's nothing at all, in geological time.

    So both Interstate 5 and Barbur Blvd. pass through the park on high "viaducts". As it turns out, the trail through the park is one of the few ways to cross this dual road barrier on foot, as the trail passes right under both viaducts, and gives you a good look at both.

    I-5 crosses the ravine on the "Iowa St. Viaduct", which is just your basic big generic grey concrete slab supported by grey concrete pillars, nothing too special. Or too durable, as it turns out. It seems the current I-5 viaduct is at the end of its useful life, and is scheduled to be replaced some time next year. The replacement work will close the trail through the park for up to a year. Not everyone's thrilled about this. I gather the trail is actually part of some people's daily commute, believe it or not. In any case, if you want to check out the trail through the park, it's best to go do it now before the viaduct construction starts up.

    The Barbur viaduct is much more interesting. It's older than its I-5 sibling so instead of a concrete slab it's a large and rather fascinating wood(!) lattice structure. Yes, wood. Now there's something to think about next time you drive along Barbur... And yet it's the "modern" concrete structure that needs replacing. Go figure.

    Barbur Viaduct, George Himes Park

    I've seen a few mentions of a "Newbury Street Viaduct", which carries Barbur, and runs through George Himes Park, and looks a lot like the viaduct shown here. But I'm not 100% sure it's the same one, as it looks like there's a similar viaduct just south of this one. And I've never heard of a Newbury Street around here, and I don't see one on the map, and PortlandMaps indicates it's never heard of Newbury St. anywhere in town. So the name doesn't help narrow it down much. The one further south might be the "Vermont Street Viaduct".

Barbur Viaduct, George Himes Park

Moon, Barbur Viaduct, George Himes Park

  • The Iowa St. entrance actually passes through someone's driveway. To get into the park you have to walk between two cars. Seriously. It feels weird to do that, although I understand it's common practice in Europe. Which I suppose makes it sophisticated. Fancy, even.

    Iowa St. Entrance, George Himes Park


  • As with a number of the other parks in the West Hills, the ravine's stream has been diverted underground. I suppose maybe this is good for flood control, but it just seems wrong to me to not have a stream flowing on the surface.

    You'll be either amused or annoyed that back in 2004, the state department of Fish & Wildlife dropped by to count chub and other native fish in the stream. Their official report on Portland-area streams indicates they didn't find any here. Not what I'd call surprising.


  • Like most of the city's official "Natural Areas", the park is pretty much a gallery of invasive plant species. English ivy, Himalayan blackberries, and unusually, Norwegian Maples. It seems that a few of these nonnative maples were planted along Terwilliger as a decorative part of the Olmsteads' parkway design. Before long the maple trees started producing maple seeds, and began an all-out helicopter assault on the park. So now they're bringing in neighborhood volunteers to root out the invading maple spawn. So far, offenders have been marked for removal with prison-orange tape. Note that the doomed maples are surrounded by a thick carpet of invasive English ivy. Maybe that gets removed next, if they have really ambitious volunteers. If you just went, "Ambitious volunteers? Hey, that's me!", there's more info on the ongoing restoration effort here.

    An account of an innovative trail maintenance project at ExplorePDX.

Maple Alert, George Himes Park

Maples, George Himes Park

Maple Seeds, George Himes Park

A couple of other pictures I took that I liked. The place is full of spiders, and before long it'll be full of blackberries. Invasive blackberries, but hey.

Spider, George Himes Park

Blackberries, George Himes Park

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