Friday, September 12, 2008

Mason Hill Park expedition

Mason Hill Park


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Today's adventure takes us a little further afield than usual, to tiny Mason Hill Park in the remote, hilly northwest corner of Multnomah County (a region the county refers to as the "West Hills Rural Area"). The park caught my eye while I was looking at a map the other day -- with the word "Hill" in the name, I figured there might be a nice view, possibly, and even if it didn't, it's in a corner of the greater Portland area I'm not overly familiar with, so I figured I'd go check it out and see what gives.

Mason Hill Park

A sign in the park notes that this was once the site of the local one-room schoolhouse. Nothing remains of the school, but there's a picnic structure that sort of evokes it. A 1986 Oregonian article about a school reunion mentions that the school closed in 1944, and then sat derelict until 1962 when the Columbus Day Storm (aka Typhoon Freda) finished it off. After that, the park you see here was born.

Mason Hill Park

So it's a peaceful little spot for a picnic, with a nice view of the Tualatin Valley to the south. I've actually come across a couple of references to the park as a convenient rest stop while biking around the area. That could be fun -- it's quite a scenic area, if you can handle all the hills.

A note on driving, or I suppose riding, to the park: I looked at the map and decided the quickest way would be to head out Sunset, get off at the Jackson School Rd. exit, and head north, and then get to the park via a couple of smaller roads. As it turns out, these smaller roads are, uh, unimproved. That's transportation speak for "gravel". Munson Rd., in particular, is narrow, rutted, steep and twisty in parts, and washboardy in a couple of spots. Or it is until you it the Multnomah County line. Then it's nice and paved. This isn't the first time I've seen a road paved right up to the county line, but it always cracks me up when I see it. So if (like me) you don't have a truck or giant SUV, or you do have a truck/SUV but you're afraid of messing up the paint or something, you may want to take a different route. Skyline to Johnson Road is a good route, paved the whole way and everything, and the northern stretch of Skyline is beautiful, except for the huge tacky McMansions everywhere. Yes, sadly, the McMansion plague extends out this far. And further still, I'm sure. It seems all rural and bucolic, but land is expensive here, as it turns out.

I should also note that the Thomas Guide has the park's location slightly wrong. It's on the other side of Johnson Rd. from what the map shows. Other maps may do this too. So don't go blundering onto someone's farm thinking it's the park. If it looks like a farm, it is.

Mason Hill Park

I had to do a bit of digging to figure out who owns Mason Hill Park. The sign says Multnomah County, but the county turned its park system over to Metro back in 1994. I finally checked PortlandMaps, which is sort of the final arbiter of these things, and its page for the park confirms that it belongs to Metro. Metro's website doesn't mention it; their parks section only mentions a few of the "crown jewels" like Blue Lake, the Smith & Bybee Wetlands, etc., and even then not in great detail.

I did come across a more extensive list, actually a list of the former county parks that Metro owns now. Seems that as part of the deal, the county still kicks in a little money to help maintain them. From the document:


...the following Metro natural areas and regional facilities that were transferred from Multnomah County in 1994:


Some of those I've heard of, others not. It appears that Bell Vue Point is a little spot out on the east side of Sauvie Island, across the river from Kelly Point, and I think Multnomah Channel Park would have to be somewhere around Sauvie Island too. This "Phillipi Property" I have no idea about. Google comes up with a few references to a "Philippi Property" way out in Eastern Oregon, and a "Philippi Park" on the Columbia, also way out in Eastern Oregon. So I'm guessing neither of those are the right one.

Updated: I've found the elusive "Phillipi Property". Metro's GIS system shows it as a narrow strip of land between Marine Drive and the Columbia, starting a little east of the intersection with NE 138th Ave., and continuing to a bit west of NE 185th Ave., at the point where the east end of the Columbia Slough connects (joins? branches off from?) the river. The place has a bike path, so it's visitable. I've driven by, but I haven't stopped yet, since I couldn't find anywhere to park safely. Clearly this will require a bit more researching.


In short, I've got a brand new list of obscure places to try to track down, if possible. Yay!

Updated 9/5/12: Metro usually doesn't do a lot to publicize their list of greenspaces, but they did list them in their 2011-2012 budget pdf (and apparently not in the 2012-2013 one). They list the properties acquired from Multnomah County, plus the nature parks that have opened under their watch, which I'm listing because I've been to one and have a post to link to.

Updated 8/24/14: In addition to the parks the county transferred to Metro, several county-owned parks within (or soon-to-be-within) Portland's urban services boundary were transferred to the city instead. Dickinson Park is in the far reaches of SW Portland, while the others are in outer NE and SE Portland:

  • Dickenson (the city spells it "Dickinson")
  • East Lynchwood
  • Gilbert Heights
  • Gilbert Primary
  • Holladay
  • Lincoln
  • Lynchview
  • North Powellhurst
  • Parklane
  • Raymond


A Metro document that lists all transferred properties stated that the county was transferring everything except Vance Park at that time. Vance Park now belongs to the city of Gresham, so that must have involved a separate transfer agreement.

1 comment :

Michael said...

Thank you for the really nice description of Mason Hill. My family were pioneers to the area and my grandparents and their siblings attended Mason Hill School. My grandmother would later teach at the school. There is an annual picnic, I think last year the Mason Hill picnic was on August 7th. I've attended a few, wish I had a tape player when the old timers were still alive, great stories. Thanks again, Mike Christensen