Monday, November 24, 2008

Tideman Johnson foray

tideman johnson park


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Here are a few photos from a quick trip out to Tideman Johnson Natural Area, a little park on Johnson Creek over near Reed College. I dropped a week ago, on a sunny Friday afternoon, and found the place busier than I expected. Plenty of bike commuters along the Springwater corridor, of course, but also a lot of people just out for a walk. So the place isn't exactly obscure, although I'd never been there before.

tideman johnson park

I found it an exceptionally pleasant spot, although that might have been the place, or it might have been the time, or both, perhaps. You can't really disentangle the two. Warm(ish) sunny afternoons in November are uncommon in this part of the world, and unexpected when they do occur, and there was a sort of giddy, yet determined feel about the place. It was as if people knew this was bound to be the very last hurrah, for real this time, and they weren't going to let a moment of it go to waste. I know that's how I felt, at least.

tideman johnson park

It had already been an unusual day. I'd spent the morning packing up and moving out of the office where I'd worked for the last eight years. Not changing jobs, just the company moving to new offices a few blocks away, and it'd be back to business in the new digs, with the same coworkers, come Monday. Still, although nothing really changed, I spent the day boxing up books and taking things down off walls and taking a photos of the place for "posterity". It felt like the last day of school. (I understand the usual word for this feeling is "valedictory", but I was never a valedictorian and can't say for certain exactly what that feels like. I suspect a morbid fear of public speaking is a large part of it, though, or at least it would've been for me. But I digress.)

When I finished packing and went home, I knew I needed to get outside. Immediately. I already knew I was going to be sore from all the packing and moving, and going for a hike after that wasn't the obvious logical choice, but it's what I felt like doing, and it's what I did. So I picked a spot off my to-visit list, grabbed the camera and map, and set out on another foray. If not the last foray of the season, probably the last sunny one of the season, at least. This time I obviously, very obviously, picked the right place at the right time.

tideman johnson park

Tideman Johnson is not a very big place, just 7 acres in a long skinny strip between the Springwater trail and Johnson Creek, along the bottom of a sort of gully. So if you visit and want to make it last a while, slow down, or you'll run out of park.

As it turns out, a lot of the park is fenced off because they're trying to restore this stretch of the creek to something resembling a natural state. There's a walkway through the park, and you're expected to stay on it.

(Note: The next few paragraphs are full of earnest earth-saving do-good-ness. I usually try to avoid lecturing people about Important Issues Of The Day -- no, really, I do -- but the environmental stuff is really the core story of the place this time. I'd feel irresponsible if I wrote about the park without at least mentioning it, and when I write about something I try to do a reasonably thorough job. If this isn't really your thing, feel free to just scroll down and look at the photos. You probably ought to care, but I won't be offended (and won't know) if you don't.)

tideman johnson park

Restoring the creek is going to be tough. I'd never heard about this before, but back during the Depression Johnson Creek was "improved" as part of a major WPA public works project. The creek's always been prone to flooding, and the thinking was that it wouldn't flood so often if it drained its watershed more efficiently. The idea was that if the rain all flowed to the willamette as quickly as possible, it wouldn't pool up and back into people's basements and so forth. So they straightened the creek and lined the entire creekbed with stone, from the vicinity of Powell Butte basically all the way to the Willamette. Naively, that sounds like a fantastic idea, but in practice it turns out not to work very well. The creek, reportedly, floods just as much as it ever did. They may have moved the flooding around a bit, but they didn't solve it. They may have even made it worse.

tideman johnson park

And this being the Northwest, you can't tinker with local waterways even a little without running into salmon trouble, as we've repeatedly discovered. They're very picky and fragile fish, it seems, and an engineer simply looking at a river or stream here is apparently enough to trigger a Salmon Apocalypse. So, in short, the ultimate goal is to put the creek back to something like it was before people started improving it, and hope the fish are appeased, the tasty little bastards.

(For more on the salmon situation, check out a doc from the city, "Where are salmon in the City of Portland?" Which, I should point out, was not written with fishermen in mind.)

tideman johnson park

Anyway, that's a long stretch of creek they're talking about, and a lot of rocks to pull up, and a lot of habitat to restore. It would only be fair to get a massive federal grant and take care of it all at once, after all, since the problem was originally caused by a previous massive federal grant. But in the absence of that, it looks like the work proceeds a bit at a time, in fits and starts. I find it interesting that this particular part of the creek runs through a relatively nice area, at least by Johnson Creek standards. Further east, the creek flows through the heart of an area commonly, and unkindly, known as "Felony Flats". Maybe the city cares more about upscale-ish parts of town (and it wouldn't be the first time). Maybe they're simply afraid to venture out into Tonya Harding country. I don't know. Less cynically, I'm sure it doesn't hurt if your local neighborhood association takes an interest in the local park's eco-troubles, and I suppose that's more likely to happen the more upscale-ish an area happens to be.

tideman johnson park

tideman johnson park

One complication is that you can see the old WPA stonework in a few places, and (as WPA work tends to be) it's well done, attractive, and historically significant. So what do you do when you have what turned out to be a really bad idea, implemented in a beautiful way? Especially now, at a point in history where a lot of us (myself included) are kind of nostalgic for programs like the WPA, and all things FDR?

tideman johnson park

tideman johnson park

There's one bit in the park where the creek goes over a sort of man-made waterfall, with stone railings on both sides. It looks to have been restored in recent years, so I imagine this part is a keeper, at least for now. While I was taking photos, a guy mentioned he'd just seen a fish trying to jump the waterfall. I missed that, unfortunately, or that would be the photo I'd lead with. Anyway, if the falls turn out to be a barrier to salmon, they may have to go too, historic or not.

tideman johnson park

Salmon aren't the only wildlife here. At one point I passed a group of older people out for a stroll, and a younger woman was telling them about the park's family of beavers. I didn't see any of those either, unfortunately, but there are a few photos of them in someone's extensive photoset about the park up on Pbase. Not that the presence of beavers is really all that rare or surprising. I'll grant that they're kind of unusual animals. As far as large rodents go, though, porcupines are much cuter.

tideman johnson park

There isn't all that much on the interwebs about the area, but I've come across a few things worth reading.

You really want to read "Pilgrim at Johnson Creek". The author tries paddling the length of the creek, and talks with the locals in some of the more Appalachian parts of the Johnson Creek area. I'm not sure which is braver. Either way, that, my friends, is true urban exploration. Me showing up with a camera and wandering around for an hour or so, not so much, really. I do have photos, though. Have I pointed out yet that I have photos? Because I do. Which is something.

tideman johnson park

The area also figures in a weirdly fascinating Mercury article: "The Accidental Exorcist".

And a post on Derivations titled "I kid you not", which I really don't think I can describe. Intriguing, though.

tideman johnson park

tideman johnson park

tideman johnson park

tideman johnson park

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