PORTLAND, Ore. - Tucked behind a posh hotel and restaurant is a tiny little natural area that many folks probably don't even know about - one that sits along a popular trail that borders a small bay along the Willamette River.
Every Friday we're putting the spotlight on a local park and for this week's installment we headed on over to Cottonwood Bay Park at Southwest Hamilton Court off Landing Drive.
The 0.67-acre park has been around since 1995 and is located just a few blocks off busy Macadam Avenue. But it can be hard to find, unless you know it's there. Fortunately for us, a friendly valet at the hotel's restaurant pointed us in the right direction.
Cottonwood Bay Park is part of the larger Willamette Greenway Trail, which is well-used by folks who live and work in the area. You won't find picnic tables at the park or playground equipment - it's a natural area that consists of a paved trail curving around a bay. It also holds the honor of having one of the few remaining stands of cottonwood trees on the west bank of the Willamette River in Portland - something that adds to its beauty.
"Workers love to travel on it to get to work, recreationists love to walk there, it's a peaceful place and it's got great views of the river," Mark Wilson, Restoration Ecologist for the Lower Willamette River Watershed, Portland Parks & Recreation's City Nature Division, told us about Cottonwood Bay Park and the trail in general.
Wilson said back in the 90s, the area wasn't a park but was instead one of those forgotten tax lots that just kind of fade into the background without anyone noticing. But he said when a developer for the nearby Avalon Hotel & Spa approached the city about putting in some amenities, the area caught the city's attention.
Wilson said after it was all said and done, the developer and the city ended up working together on creating a natural area that the public could enjoy.
"The Avalon developer really took it seriously and went back and rethought his vegetation and landscape plans," Wilson said. "They hired a landscape architect that put in a native landscape around their hotel."
It's the kind of relationship Wilson said the city has with many of the businesses that line the Willamette Greenway Trail. He said the nearby River Forum complex, which is required only to maintain their portion of the trail as part of the easement with the city, instead decided to go the extra mile and repave their stretch.
Cottonwood Bay Park and the surrounding area is well cared for not only by the city and local businesses, but also by a group of students from the nearby Southwest Charter School, a K-8 school that has been around for about four years and which has adopted Cottonwood Bay Park.
According to Anne Gurnee, the school's Education Director, students do tasks like removing non-native plants, planting native plants and cleaning up the park. She said they also participate in educational opportunities with Portland Parks & Recreation.
"The plan as we move into the future is that we are hoping to get into things like trail building and interpretative signage work," Gurnee told us.
"Our teachers use the park in a variety of ways, besides just stewardship work," Gurnee added. "(For example) we have what we call 'sit spots' where kids can go and sit quietly to do journal writing, work on poetry or art pieces."
For those who pass through the park while biking, walking or jogging along the Willamette Greenway Trail, it's a great spot to stop for a rest or take in the scenery. While we were there we spotted some wildlife in the wooded natural area and watched the anglers fishing from boats on the river.
The Willamette Greenway Trail is also a popular place for fundraising events, especially in the summer months. For example, last August KATU headed down there for the annual Brain Tumor Walk.
"We come down here for the Walk for the Cure but I'm down here today because my wife is getting her hair done nearby," Larry Weber, Assistant Professor of Education at George Fox University, told us when we stopped to talk to him along the trail. "So I decided to take a walk."
And you really couldn't blame him - the sun was shining and the sky was blue. Weber even ran into an old friend on the path that he hadn't seen in a while - someone he knew from his days with the North Clackamas School District. The two were happy to see each other and catch up on old times. It truly can be a small world sometimes.
Rebecca Kress, a regular on the Willamette Greenway Trail, told us even folks who don't know each other are friendly along the route. We caught up to her as she was passing by and asked her to talk to us for a moment.
"There are a lot of nice people that walk this path," she said. "I think it's the beauty - it's just uplifting."
Kress, who told us she moved to Portland from Ann Arbor, Michigan, said her walks also give her a chance to enjoy the little surprises, like spotting a sea lion in the river or watching the dragon boats go by. But she said there's one thing that really keeps her coming back day after day.
"I watch the hummingbirds every day and they're always in the same spot," she said with a smile.