Friday, August 5, 2011
One of the largest city parks in the world -- and certainly America's premier urban forest -- Forest Park stretches 7.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide along the eastern slope of Portland's West Hills, encompassing 5157 acres and offering up eighty miles of trails. Because the northernmost section has not been fragmented by multiple roads or developed uses, it has remained nearly pristine, providing critical breeding habitat for many native wildlife species.
From its inception in 1903 and creation in 1948, Forest Park has been a refuge for both people and wildlife and an integral part of the environment of Portland. In 1903, the Municipal Park Commission of Portland contracted with the Olmsted Brothers landscape architectural firm to make a park planning study. John C. Olmsted -- nephew and adopted son of Frederick Law Olmsted, popularly known as the father of American landscape architecture and designer of, among many places, New York's Central Park and the site of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 -- came to Portland to research the area. Among the suggestions made in the Olmsted Brothers' report was that the area that is now Forest Park be acquired for a park of wild woodland character. In their report the brothers stated (with great foresight) that along the hills northwest of Portland "there are a succession of ravines and spurs covered with remarkably beautiful primeval woods....It is true that some people look upon such woods merely as a troublesome encumbrance standing in the way of more profitable use of the land, but future generations will not feel so and will bless the men who were wise enough to get such woods preserved."
Sadly, that suggestion was not carried out -- at least not immediately. In the early 1900s, developers envisioned massive subdivisons in what is now the park, platting thousands of lots alongside a network of imaginary roads. One of the developers built what is now known as Leif Erickson Drive in 1915. In its first year a landslide closed the road, and the owners of the vacant lots were assessed the repair costs. Thankfully for us park lovers, the vast majority refused to pay, and hundreds of lots were forfeited.
Even with much of the land now belonging to the city, it wasn't until 1944 when movement toward a park really got going, thanks in great part to the efforts of the man with the interesting nick name: Garnett "Ding" Cannon, a Portland businessman and ardent advocate for an urban wilderness park. On September 25, 1948, a total of forty-two hundred acres of forest land was formally dedicated as Forest Park.
And that's just the history! In her book, Houle also covers the park's geology, watersheds, vegetation, wildlife, and trail system, incorporating checklists and wonderful color photographs of plants, mammals and birds found in the park and with fully half of the book devoted to the trails of Forest Park, with detailed descriptions, maps, and GPS coordinates for twenty-nine hikes diverse in length, steepness, and challenge.
Houle, a native Portlander, is an author and wildlife biologist who has hiked and studied Forest Park for thirty years. She has written two other books, Wings for My Flight: The Peregrine Falcons of Chimney Rock and The Prairie Keepers: Secrets of the Zumwalt, and has received several writing awards, including the Oregon Book Award in 1991 for Wings for My Flight.
Over the years since Houle first wrote her book about Forest Park, and through subsequent editions, at least one truth has held fast: the importance of a place like Forest Park in her life. "Forest Park's spectacular beauty and naturalness continue to impart peace and renewal. For me and for many, its wildness refreshes and inspires spirits grown weary from the fast-paced existence of modern life." Forest Park has always faced challenges over the years, and that continues today, as we must decide what we want Forest Park to be: a recreation capital or a forest wilderness?
We hope you will be able to join us Tuesday night to talk about our shared treasure, Forest Park: "Appreciate it, protect it, and pass it on."
Posted by Bookbroads at 10:00 AM