Portland parks series: The sweet smell of lilacs

Portland parks series: The sweet smell of lilacs
Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU News.

PORTLAND, Ore. - If you love the smell of fresh lilacs and their beauty, now is a great time to get out and take it all in.

Every Friday we're putting the spotlight on a local park and this week we headed to Duniway Park, a 14.08-acre greenspace at Southwest 6th Avenue and Sheridan Street.

There are two things that attract people to Duniway Park and one of them is its Lilac Garden, which is in full bloom right now. You have to work a little to get there because there is no parking at that end of the park. But the beauty and sweet smells are worth a short trek up a slightly sloping hillside.

Duniway Park has been around since 1918 and according to Portland Parks & Recreation, the Lilac Garden actually sits on an old landfill that was originally known as Marquam Gulch. The landfill days are long gone and now a green landscape dotted with lilac trees has taken its place.

The second big draw at Duniway Park is its track, which has a surface made from recycled rubber that includes over 20,000 pounds of athletic shoe soles donated by Nike. A scoreboard on one side of the track bears the signature Nike swoosh.

Runners of all ages use the track. Bryan Aptekar, West Service Zone Coordinator for Portland Parks & Recreation, told us you'll see neighborhood residents there and students from Portland State University and St. Mary's Academy.

When we stopped by kids from The International School were at the track. The school sent all their first- through fifth-graders to Duniway Park this week for their annual P.E. mile run. The kids (there were over 200 of them) ran in shifts and a school record was even broken - a 5th grader ran the mile in 6 minutes, 25 seconds.

Duniway is one of several parks in Portland that have a track for runners. You can find a list of others here.

The rest of Duniway Park consists of grassy areas with a few picnic tables that offer you a view of some of the taller buildings at the southern end of downtown Portland. There is also a large horseshoe pit area. All in all, the park appears to be well cared for.

"We've done a lot of landscaping in the park," Aptekar said.

That landscaping work has included getting rid of thick brush along a hillside where people had been found camping, and thinning and cutting back heavy shrubbery that was a safety concern for those walking by. Clearing the area, which runs along a sidewalk, also gave those driving by a view into Duniway Park.

"The shrubbery there was much denser a couple of years ago," Aptekar explained. "But now as the people are driving by they can see into the park."

As for the name of the park, it should sound familiar. That's because it was named after Abigail Scott Duniway, who fought hard so women could have the right to vote. She was actually the first woman to vote in Multnomah County back in 1912. She died three years later and the park was named in her honor three years after that, in 1918. Duniway is buried in River View Cemetery.

If You Go

  • Google Map
  • Parking is very limited. There is a small parking lot next to the track along Southwest Barbur Boulevard that has one-hour parking available. TriMet bus service will also get you there.
  • To get to the Lilac Garden, park at the track and walk up the hill towards Southwest Terwilliger Boulevard. Follow the park up the hill until you reach the end. There is a gas station across from the garden.
  • Just up the road from Duniway Park is a trailhead to the 4T Trail, which connects to the Oregon Zoo, Council Crest, OHSU and the Tram. To get there, drive a short distance on Southwest Terwilliger Boulevard past the gas station and look for Marquam Nature Park on your right. Before hitting the trail be sure to stop and look at the historical photos in the covered area. Among the collection are pictures showing the amusement park that used to sit at the top of Council Crest.

Note: If you view the photo gallery there are a a few historical pictures at the end that show what the Duniway Park area used to look like before it became what it is today. We've also included a picture of Abigail Scott Duniway signing the first Equal Suffrage Proclamation ever made by a woman.

Editorial Note: A previous version of this story indicated that the track at Duniway Park is the only track that Portland Parks & Recreation manages, which is the initial information we received from PP&R. PP&R has since sent us a correction stating that there are also tracks at several other of the city's parks as well. Our story has been changed to reflect this correction.