Portland parks series: Rose City Park, the park with a secret

Portland parks series: Rose City Park, the park with a secret
A kickball game rolls on under sunny skies on a summer day at Rose City Park in Northeast Portland. All photos by Bill Roberson.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Rose City Park, nestled in one of Portland’s most coveted neighborhoods, has a bit of a secret – maybe two secrets.

Local residents who live near the Northeast Portland park, which adjoins the Rose City Golf Course, use the park's many features year-round.

Those residents would probably disagree with a 2008 Fortune magazine assessment that the neighborhood around the park is in the top 10 “overpriced” housing markets in the nation.

Working and middle class homes surround the park, which is located at Northeast 62nd and Tillamook Street. On most days, the park is dotted with local children playing, sports events, dog walkers and runners.

Home values around the park fell during the most recent recession but homes for sale are now being snapped up. Legend has it that the golf course and park were once a horse and auto racing track before the area was incorporated into the city.

On the sloping north side of the park, which was folded into Portland city boundaries in 1920, a children’s playground with swings sets, sandbox, teeter-totters, a playhouse and a slide sees action pretty much every day of the year, including from this reporter’s family, who lives nearby.

Towering fir and maple trees dot the park, giving shade in the summer and temporary respite from rain showers on other days. A lone - but popular - picnic table sits between the tennis courts and public restrooms, which are housed in a moss-covered brick building.

The two baseball fields in the sprawling southern section of the park are home to Little League face-offs, adult softball leagues and in the tradition of Portland keeping it weird – or just sort of unusual – city kickball leagues also use the green space.

Next to the sports fields are two tennis courts, which are just as likely to host Portland Bicycle Polo competitions under the lights at night as well as serving as a training ground for future tennis stars.

During the school year, Portland high school soccer teams use the soccer pitch between the baseball diamonds.

Pick-up basketball games take place on the asphalt courts of Charles Rice Elementary School, a small school tucked into the southeast corner of the park. Kids play nearby on monkey bars and roll down the gentle hill next to the school.

During summer months, the Rose City Park Neighborhood Association hosts live musical performances in the park, typically near the tennis courts.

In the winter, a broad, gently sloping hill next to the golf course provides a perfect slope for sledding and sliding on rare snow days.

Most local runners and dog walkers are familiar with the park’s main “secret,” a well-worn trail that snakes about a third of a mile along the backside of the golf course below Sacramento Avenue on the park’s northern border.

The path is popular with walkers, runners, dog owners and mountain bikers looking for some off-road fun as it undulates along the slope. In the summer, berry pickers can load up on juicy fruit from the blackberry bushes growing aggressively along both sides of the hidden pathway.

At one end of the path, a section of concrete stairs climbs from the back of the golf course to Sacramento Street. The stairs have been noted in the Portland Stairs Book and offer easy access to the park grounds for those north of the green space.

The last secret of Rose City Park is perhaps the most fleeting. It’s rumored the park is the home to the rarely-observed Rose City Park Coyote, one of several bushy-tailed critters that are rumored to make their home in Portland’s many parks.

On a sunny day in 2010, this reporter’s Labrador Retriever cornered the wiley wild canine in the yard of a home across from the park on Sacramento Street, only to have the non-plussed coyote bolt past my highly agitated Lab and disappear into the thick underbrush flanking the popular but unofficial trail just a few dozen yards away.

Park hours are 5 a.m. to midnight. There are public restrooms near the playground.