PORTLAND, Ore. - Only one park in the entire United States holds the honor of being the largest forested natural area within city limits and it's right here in Portland.
Every Friday we put the spotlight on a local greenspace and this week we're taking a look at Forest Park, which spans over 5,100 acres in the West Hills.
Although the high-rises of downtown Portland are not far away, when you're at Forest Park it's easy to forget that you're still actually in town. Miles of trails wind throughout the natural area and the tall trees hide the cityscape from view.
Most everyone in Portland has either been to Forest Park or at least heard of it - after all it is the city's biggest park.
Forest Park is city-owned and Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) manages the park's wildlife habitat, native plants, recreation, environmental research and educational opportunities.
We contacted PP&R to see what's happening at the park right now and there's quite a bit.
Just this past weekend they were involved in training for a new volunteer ranger program called Forest Park Watch. The volunteers will be interacting with park visitors - educating them about the park, answering questions and making sure folks know what the rules are. Seven people signed on for the job and PP&R is hoping more will step forward.
Also, it's no secret that mountain bikers and the city have clashed over the years about trail use at Forest Park. The problem for mountain bikers is that they can't go on all of the trails, only some of them, and they'd like more access. PP&R is hoping to solve the issue by using existing fire lanes adjacent to Skyline Boulevard to create internal loops within the park. An outside consultant is helping the city with the idea.
Those are just a few of the projects that PP&R is currently working on at Forest Park. Kendra Petersen-Morgan, a Natural Resource Ecologist for PP&R, sent us a complete update on what's happening there these days and also explained in an email how PP&R goes about managing Forest Park.
"PP&R staff, contractors and volunteers work to maintain and improve the health of Forest Park by taking a science-based approach to natural area management through long-range planning, providing ecological restoration through the removal of invasive species and revegetation of native plants and enhancing the experience of the park user through trail, entrance and facility maintenance," she wrote.
A non-profit group called the Forest Park Conservancy works closely with Portland Parks & Recreation to help care for the natural area. We talked to Michelle Bussard, Executive Director of the Forest Park Conservancy, to find out more about the work they do.
Remember This Story?
Although Forest Park is well-used and is close to downtown Portland, there are definitely remote areas where one could get lost - even on purpose.
One of the most memorable stories to ever come out of Forest Park was when a man and his 12-year-old daughter were found living there.
The two had hiked deep into the trees, set up their own camp and for four years remained undetected until an Australian cross-country runner and his wife who veered off a trail stumbled across them.
Bussard said not only does the organization maintain trails and organize volunteer work parties to keep invasive plants at bay, they also plan events to keep the public involved in what's happening there and to remind folks just how lucky they are to have such a great natural resource in their own backyard.
"It's an amazing asset we have here in Portland," she said.
Right now the Forest Park Conservancy has two pilot projects in the works. One is to remove ivy from a vast, 70-acre expanse of land near the Pittock Mansion and the other involves working with private owners to get a 12-acre private property parcel of land called the Holman Wedge cleared out. The property is located near the park and is full of poison hemlock, garlic mustard and invasive ivy (which has creeped up into the canopy, endangering trees).
Bussard is also excited the full-time ranger and volunteer rangers, who can help keep an eye out for problems like off-leash dogs (one of the main problems at Forest Park) and rogue mountain bikers who go off trail. They can also provide a deterrent for crime.
"More eyes and ears out there means more safety," Bussard said.
The main message Bussard wanted to get across, though, is that she hopes folks don't take Forest Park, or any of the city's natural areas for that matter, for granted.
Did You Know?
William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) first stepped foot in what is now Forest Park in 1803.
There are more than 112 bird and 62 mammal species at Forest Park.
Courtesy of Portland Parks & Recreation
Whether that means volunteering your time, donating your money or trying not to leave a negative footprint when you spend time outdoors, she hopes folks will keep in mind how special our little corner of the world really is.
"People need to understand that if we don't take care of our natural areas, they won't be there in the future for us," she said.
If You Go
Guided Bike Tours
- BikePortland.org: Bike tour company offers guided Forest Park ride
All Trails Challenge
Right now the Forest Park Conservancy is running an All Trails Challenge where folks try to reach a goal of hiking, biking, walking or riding 80 miles of trails at Forest Park. The challenge is an ongoing program that is running through Oct. 1 and you don't have to do all 80 miles in one day - you can space it out over time to reach the goal.
On the day the All Trails Challenge ends there will be both a half and full marathon at Forest Park. It's a first for the Forest Park Conservancy and they're hoping for a big turnout to help raise funds for their organization.
The Forest Park Conservancy runs a regular volunteer drop-in program where folks who are ready to get a little dirty can stop by and join a group working to maintain the park.
The program runs every Thursday and every third Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- Meeting locations change - sign up for a newsletter
- General volunteer work party info from PP&R (including the No Ivy League)
Coming up in October, the Forest Park Conservancy will be holding its big Day of Stewardship event where a large group of volunteers tackle some of the stubborn problem areas at the park.
Off the Cuff
A local couple (whom fans of the indie/folk band The Decemberists band will likely recognize), is getting ready to release a trilogy called The Wildwood Chronicles that was inspired by Forest Park. In the YouTube video below they talk about how Portland's biggest park played a major role in their creative endeavor.