Saturday, August 23, 2014

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.

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