Portland Walks and Urban Hikes

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Swan Island Beaches

An Urban River Walk
When I tell people I like to walk on Swan Island’s beaches they usually think I’m talking about Sauvie Island and the conversation gets a little convoluted when I start talking about factories and Forest Park views…but then we get straightened out and they’re intrigued. You will be too if you appreciate a marginal place, one steeped in local history. A beach walk on Swan Island takes you along that thin urban margin, that permeable border between water and land, industry and nature, beauty and abuse.

Best place to access the beach is just beyond the vast sea of parking next to Daimler’s headquarters (formerly signed as Freightliner). Don’t park there; it’s a private lot. A bus (the 72 or 85) will drop you off or you can bike downhill to Swan Island via Failing Street.

Along the way, last week we found: half dozen fisherman fishing for sturgeon, a sandy beach, rocks to hop on, enormous driftwood trees to tightrope on, plenty of intriguing garbage and flotsam (bring a big plastic bag to pack some out and make a treasure hunt out of the walk), big views across the river of Forest Park and downtown. There’s a nice walkway on the bank above the beach; it’s clean and paved, and is part of the npGREENWAY, an envisioned pathway between the St. Johns Bridge and the Steel Bridge.

Best time to go is when water levels are low, but it was still walkable last week. We came home with two tennis balls, shells, pretty driftwood (my 8 year old was along) and two Douglas fir disks, cut about 3 inches thick, perfect for some future project. We dropped a huge bag of surprisingly light trash in the garbage (Styrofoam, mostly) and had a splendid time.

If you want to learn more about Swan Island's history and take a longer walk linking up to the very cool Kenton downtown, see my book Portland City Walks.

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