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.

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