Portland Walks and Urban Hikes

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

Friday, December 3, 2010

Graham Oaks: Take a walk in our newest park

A women’s prison or a National Guard vehicle maintenance facility: these were two options considered for what is now the 250-acre Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville. The land was once managed by native peoples with fire to create an open, rolling oak savanna. It's a habitat rare today in the Willamette Valley. With settlement, the land,  like most of the valley, was farmed. A wetland was tiled and drained to create more aerable land.

After acquisition by Metro, the land saw extensive restoration work such as:

• Water courses were restored, returning some of the acreage to its native wetland habitat.

• Six years worth of ivy removal has allowed an old growth Douglas fir forest soar again, unencumbered by this nasty hanger-on.

• One hundred million wild flower and grass seeds have been sown.

• One hundred fifty thousand oaks, pines, firs and native shrubs have been planted.

Seeing this work in progress, of a land healing from monoculture and degradation, can be a little puzzling--there aren't a lot of spectacular oaks yet...but what is intriguing is the story of the place--what it was, how it was shaped, how it was damaged, and how it is being repaired. The next chapters are to be written, but visiting Graham Oaks now, and again in a few years, will be one of those walking experiences, I believe, in which optimism, hope for an improved future, will be what walkers take away.

Below the photos are links to a self-guided walking tour of Graham Oaks.

The Elder Oak and a newcomer to the neighborhoood

Rose hips in October; wild rose's thickety growth
makes great cover for small animals

Snowberry, native; in the honeysuckle family.
Birds like the fruit but it's
considered poisonous to humans.

Villebois: where cars are meant not to be seen or heard.
These houses hide the garages behind; they front on a large common green space, a shared front yard, with no street

5,000 pound basalt acorn reminds
visitors what it's all about at Graham Oaks

In the old growth forest; native basalt rockwork
like this harks back to the Cascadian style stonework
seen at Timberline, the Columbia River Highway
and sites where the WPA built roads, tunnels and bridges.
The land is dominated by one enormous lone oak, estimated at about 200 years, preserved by native peoples and left intact by farmers. Our grandchildren will have a harder time finding it, amid the thousands of trees that are beginning now to grow up around it.

Some land at Graham Oaks is being managed to return to oak savanna; other areas, more densely planted, will enlarge the existing oak woodland at one end of the park. Two areas I love on the site are the wetlands in the east; even in the dryest part of July, cool water created an oasis of deep green; another oasis of a different sort is in the southwest corner, where the cathedral of Douglas fir is a welcome sanctuary after the open savanna.

North of Graham Oaks and visible in the aerial shot, was Dammasch State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital from 1961 to 1996. Its grounds, seen in a 1960 aerial photo, are now the intriguing Villebois planned residential community, the largest in Oregon. Visit its website to see images of how dramatically the site has changed.

I wrote and narrated the audio tour for Metro, the Portland-area regional government that manages Graham Oaks. Download the 10 MP3 audio files of the audio tour to your computer or smart phone, and/or the printed script, along with a wonderful map by Metro at Metro's website, where you can also find info on other great natural areas acquired by voter-approved bond measures.

If you like the tour, let Metro know! This audio tour is a bit of an experiment; if there’s positive feedback, perhaps more will follow.

Aerial view of Graham Oaks: lone oak in center left; filbert orchard bottom right is now the park entrance.
 At the top, north of the lone oak, is the  Dammasch site, pre-Villebois.


Brad Fallon said...

I love the aerial view of Graham Oaks, nice photo. Have a happy new year!

Anonymous said...

The public is invited to see and learn how the improvements benefit water quality...native wetland plants