Portland Walks and Urban Hikes

"The Settling of the West," 1936, by Edward Quigley, one of several WPA murals inside Portland's Irvington School

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Forest, Bridge and Lunch Hike: Springville Road, St. Johns Bridge and St. Johns

A walk that combines deep woods, a hidden neighborhood, a stroll along one of the state’s most beautiful river bridges, and good coffee and food: could a person’s day get any better? This walk in and out of Forest Park has all that, plus (there’s always a catch!) significant elevation gain for an urban walk: a bit under 1000 feet. I've led this walk with a group of 15 or so; with a stop for coffee in St. Johns it took 4 hours; it's 0.5 miles one way across the bridge. I estimate total mileage at about 4 miles. For excellent trail maps of the park, contact the Forest Park Conservancy: http://forestparkconservancy.org/

Start in Forest Park at the trailhead for Springville Road just off Skyline Boulevard, at elevation 1100 feet. Walk through the gate, and stay left at the fork (that’s Firelane 7 on the right) to stay on Springville, probably an ancient footpath built up in 1846 and used thereafter as a market road. On it, Tualatin Valley farmers hauled produce and drove cattle to riverside docks and the Willamette River ferry landing at the foot of the hill. Now this portion of Springville Road is a hiking/biking and equestrian trail. (On another adventure, you can drive other segments of Springville Road: at Skyline, the road’s alignment jogs a bit to the south; follow the road as it drops into the northern edge of the Tualatin River Valley. The West Side Stage line ran along part of this valley-side alignment from the 1870s to 1904. Its route ran along Cornell through Cedar Mill, then up Kaiser to Bethany, along Springville Road to West Union, up Cornelius Pass to Phillips Road then west to Helvetia, Lenox and Glencoe and ending in Hillsboro.)

Descend Springville. Note the manhole cover in it, for Bell telephones; the park is crossed here and in many other places by phone, gas and electric pipes and lines. Cross the Wildwood and Leif Erikson trails. Leif is an 11 mile road built in 1914; subdivisions were platted along it and lots sold, but the road soon failed, a victim of its geology. Portland Hills Silt mantles the steep hillsides here. When it gets saturated it slides. (The forest photo at the beginning of the blog is on Leif Erikson.)

Road maintenance soon became financially unfeasible; plans to develop along the road were abandoned; homeowners walked away from their properties, and the City acquired much of the land, which in 1949 was added to Forest Park at its inception. Why “Leif”? The road was originally called Hillside Drive, but in the 1930s the Sons of Norway, a fraternal group, petitioned the City to have it renamed. So there are precedents for Rosa Parks Way, Cesar E Chavez Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard! Leif runs from the end of NW Thurman Street to Germantown Road.

Shortly beyond Leif Erikson, pass a gate. On the right, at 9510 NW Springville Road, is a private home surrounded by Forest Park. Lucky people. Pass the Whitwood Tank, a submerged water tank which holds Bull Run Water for residents downhill. Note the permeable driveway leading to it, designed to keep rain runoff from traveling down Springville Road and creating erosion channels. Beyond the tank, enter Whitwood Court, an old subdivision that’s part of the Linnton neighborhood.

Whitwood Court is part city, part wilderness, and a treat to explore, with intriguing homes, wonderful views and a feeling that you've wandered into some other world. I recommend sauntering up and down every one of its streets. But for now, turn off Springville onto Wood Street. Veer left onto Midway Avenue.

Views of the St. Johns Bridge from Whitwood Court

Stay left at the fork at Shepherd and enjoy the stunning bridge and sky views (especially nice on stormy fall and winter days). At Midway and Mills, stay left; at Midway and Bailey, stay right on Midway until the street emerges onto Springville Road.

A Whitwood Court garage

Turn right and follow Springville downhill to Bridge Avenue. Watch for the boat in the road.

Here, cross carefully to the sidewalk on the other side, and turn right (east). On the left, a moss-drenched staircase leads to a private home, built when the ferry connected St. Johns to Highway 30 and Bridge Avenue did not exist. After investigating the steps, stay on Bridge Avenue and cross the St. Johns Bridge. On a foggy October morning, its spires disappeared in the mist and the river was only a soft grey suggestion below. This bridge is one of those man-made sights that lift your spirits, and walking its length offers views you can’t find anywhere else in town. Once over the river, Cathedral Park is below.

Here’s a bit of oral history from the Center for Columbia River History http://www.ccrh.org/comm/slough/oral/holmes.php about the sites on the river banks below: “Swift Packing Plant was built in Kenton in 1905. The Webster ferried livestock from Whitwood Court to the ferry slip at the foot of Burlington Street [in St. Johns, just east of the bridge]. The long drive of the hurrying animals started up the steep hill, through St. Johns on down Oswego Street and Swift Blvd. to the stock yards in Kenton.”

After the bridge ends, cross a few streets until you come to N Lombard, St. Johns’ commercial heart. Eat at John Street Café, Proper Eats Market and Café http://www.propereats.org/, or The Ladybug Café http://theladybugcafe.com/, three St. Johns restaurants with good food and coffee.

After sauntering around St. Johns, head back over the bridge, this time on the other side. At 7214 N Philadelphia is the St. Johns City Hall, built in 1905 when this was a separate town. This link at the Oregon History Project has a great photo of it cloaked in ivy, with some good historical info. http://ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/historical_records/dspDocument.cfm?doc_ID=000D01E3-3DC1-1E8B-891B80B0527200A7

From the bridge, look down at the riverside Water Pollution Control Laboratory, built in 1997 as a model of sustainable development. http://www.portlandonline.com/bes/index.cfm?c=34103&a=221340 It’s worth a visit sometime to see its award-winning green design and landscaping.

Under the St. Johns Bridge
looking at Forest Park.Whitwood
Court is on far left.

The riverside trail alongside the lab is part of the Willamette Greenway Trail. Activists at npGREENWAY hope someday this trail will be part of a continuous route along the east bank of the Willamette, from Cathedral Park to the Steel Bridge. http://www.npgreenway.org/ Right now, pieces exist. One great section is on Swan Island...a future blog post.

Once over the bridge, cross Bridge Avenue at the light. Turn left, and walk a bit to a staircase that leads to the Ridge Trail.

On a Ridge Trail spur: the trail passes over an old kitchen floor

Here you’re at about the 150 foot elevation mark. Take the stairs up to the trail; at a junction, keep left. To see the kitchen floor turn right at the spur. Note the river cobbles in the path. Overlaying the Columbia River Basalts in places along the east side of the Tualatin Mountains, this is the Troutdale Formation, river rock ferried here from the Rocky Mountains during epic flood events two to ten million years ago. I'm always intrigued to see this rock, worn smooth and round from tumbling along ancient river bottoms, at elevations hundreds of feet above any existing river.

The Troutdale Formation

The Ridge Trail ascends through a forested temple: vine maples reach with sinuous elegance through the understory and living columns of mature Douglas fir rise from a floor of Oregon grape.

Come to the Leif Erikson Trail and turn left for a few feet, keeping watch for the Ridge Trail as it continues uphill on the right. Take it; and come to the Wildwood Trail. Turn right on it, for a break from the climbing. Walk the Wildwood a half mile or so, traversing the hillside at about the 850 foot level.

Come to the downhill intersection of the Hardesty Trail. Stay left (on the Wildwood) and in a few feet, turn left on to the Hardesty Trail as it heads steeply uphill. This trail was built in the 1940s by the Mazamas, Boy Scouts, and Trails Club members, who also planted thousands of trees along it. At the top of the trail, go right to Firelane 7 and return to the starting point.

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