Portland parks series: Johnson Creek Park

Portland parks series: Johnson Creek Park
Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman.

PORTLAND, Ore. - It can be difficult to find beauty on a gray and dismal day where the skies are threatening to dump rain on you and the wind that picks up here and there sends a chill through your body.

Such was the case when we set out earlier this week to visit the next park on the list for KATU's weekly series featuring the city's greenspaces. Even so, nature often has a way of being striking and picturesque even when you don't really expect it to be that way.

Every Friday we're putting the spotlight on a local park and for this week's installment we headed on over to Johnson Creek Park at Southeast 21st Avenue and Clatsop Street in the Sellwood area.

The 4.51-acre park has been around since 1920 and it's located just a few blocks off busy Southeast 17th Avenue.

It's a park that likely doesn't get a lot of notice, except from those who live in the neighborhood. Bryan Dorr - a KATU YouNews Reporter and avid cyclist who regularly rides in the area - was even surprised to hear about the park when we sent him an e-mail asking if he had ever been there.

"For as many times as I've been up and down the Springwater Trail to Portland, I don't know how it is that I missed this park," he responded.

To be fair, the park is small and can be easy to miss because it's tucked away off the main roads. And Johnson Creek Park kind of has a split personality.

"It's what we call a hybrid park," a Portland Parks and Recreation employee who we ran into at the park told us. "There's a natural area and then there is an area with the amenities."

The natural area, according to Lynn Barlow, Portland Parks & Recreation's Natural Areas Supervisor, is part of an ongoing project to protect and restore the habitat.

There is no public access to the area, but you can view it from the other side of the park. The natural area runs along Johnson Creek, which was running fast when we stopped by and had been muddied by all the rain we've been getting. With Johnson Creek being notorious for flooding, we asked Barlow whether this was a problem at the park.

"I've only seen it flood once in the past three years that I've been here," she said, adding that even when it did flood, the water never reached nearby homes but basically just washed into the park.

When you stand at Johnson Creek's banks, you can see a small industrial area if you look hard enough through the trees. Our advice, though - don't peek hard and let your imagination take over. Believe it or not you can almost feel as if you are in a remote forest somewhere with water rushing by, instead of in a residential neighborhood.

Also, you'll want to stop and smell the roses, so to speak (there are actually no roses at the park but you know what we mean). You see tree snags bend at crazy angles at the park and roots snake along the ground in interesting ways. It's worth a closer look.

On a side note, we do have a warning for anglers - if you think you might try throwing a fishing line in Johnson Creek, you better think twice. Salmon have been known to habitate the creek but fishing for them could land you in big trouble. The Bee, a local community newspaper, recently did a story about it:

Anglers fishing for salmon in Johnson Creek can catch fines - or jail!

A wooden bridge that crosses another creek in the park - Crystal Springs Creek - connects the natural area at Johnson Creek to an area that looks more like what you would expect a city park to look like. There, a paved path winds its way through a large patch of green grass, a colorful playground set waits patiently for kids to arrive after school and there are picnic tables for springtime and summertime get-togethers.

And finally, here's a little history lesson for you - Johnson Creek is named after a man who operated a water-powered sawmill on the creek back in the mid-1800s. His name was William Johnson.

For more on the history of Johnson Creek