Native American settlement of the area now known as Forest Park is believed to date back 10,000 years. The first Euro-American explorers arrived in the Willamette Valley with the Lewis & Clark expedition in 1806. By the mid-1800’s, most Native American people living in the area had been removed by state and federal authorities in favor of Euro-American settlers.
In 1903, John Charles Olmstead and his brother Frederick Law Olmstead, sons of the designer of New York’s Central Park and many other iconic green spaces in the United States, proposed that the densely wooded hills above northwest Portland be designated by the City as “a forest park.” In the early 20th century, the park narrowly avoided large-scale residential development, largely due to its geologic unsuitability. After nearly half a century of advocacy and hard work by visionary community leaders, Forest Park was eventually dedicated in 1948. That same group of civic-minded individuals formed an organization that continued to advocate and work for the preservation and protection of Forest Park; that organization is now known as The Forest Park Conservancy.
I already had it in my mind to check out the Forest Park Conservancy in Portland regardless of the terror seen in the film with Amanada Seyfriend called ‘Gone’. ‘Look how bad could it be? I’m sure there aren’t any kidnappers lurking in the bushes. Forest Park seems like such a friendly park,’ I thought as I packed up my bag for the day’s trek.
I was right; there was nothing to worry about.
I’m new to hiking. I love it and it’s so good for me especially when work wears me down. I have been hitting the treadmill most nights after work and who knew all that prep would serve me well trekking the Wildwood Trail at Forest Park.
The Wildwood Trail, designated by the Secretary of the Interior as a National Recreation Trail, meanders for 30.2 breathtaking miles, from the southern end of the trail at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington Park to the Northwest terminus of the trail at Newberry Road. Starting at the Vietnam Memorial/Oregon Zoo, the trail is marked every quarter-mile by blue, diamond-shaped blazes stenciled onto trees about six feet from the ground. The mile markers are located approximately two feet above the blue diamond, and show the distance from the Zoo/Vietnam Memorial trailhead. The Wildwood enters Forest Park proper when it crosses West Burnside St. at about Mile 3. That last bit I didn’t read well enough.
As I started my trek from the top of Pittock Mansion, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Sleepy trees, clinging onto a soupy mist with indeed an air of creepiness lying ahead. But in typical brave Leo fashion, I took it all in stride. If anything I couldn’t believe I was there. I felt similar feelings trekking around Muir Woods in San Francisco over 6 years ago.
It had just rained and was still spitting so I was careful as I tend to walk fast. It felt like the trails would collapse into one another as I went lower and lower but it never did. There were times I felt close to the trails edge but I didn’t feel nervous at all.
I would often look up and with a grin stared at the tall tree giants and they waved back at me. I hugged many a tree. They had seen a lot and I wondered what they thought of me as I kept walking with my head turned up towards the heavens.
I can’t express how much beauty I saw. It was so beautiful and indeed ‘so Portland’ as a local had said to me upon viewing my pictures from Forest Park.
I was alone trekking in Forest Park but I didn’t feel an ounce of loneliness. I guess because I had some lovely trees looking down on me egging ne on. I wasn’t alone.
I was told if I took the Wildwood Trail it would lead me to the Japanese Garden. In my romance of looking up at the tall trees, feeling teary and overwhelmed of a year past, wishing my parents could see this, thinking about things loved and lost – I didn’t see any markers for the Japanese Garden. Instead after trekking for close to an hour I came to a scary highway and thought the trail had ended. In fact that road was Burnside Road. I had to cross it to trek for another hour and a bit to get to the Japanese Garden. I wish I knew that! Oof. Regardless, I don’t think I would have made it. My energy was waning and my legs were feeling like Jell-O.
Instead I trekked back up to where I started to Pittock Mansion which took me another hour. Luckily I had a banana in my purse which was much-needed fuel to get me back up the elevation to the top. It was hard work. I wanted to cry. I really had to concentrate and remind myself I was on vacation and this was all part of the fun.
As the elevation climbed, I really had to work hard at breathing and my heart was beating fast. My inexperience showed. But I did it! Exhausted and I still had a way to go home to the Pearl District by bus.
It was an experience, next time I will prepare a tad more for the hike. I had an amazing time and it was worth revelling, taking photos and breathing in the lovely air at Forest Park. I will never forget it.
Forest Park Conservancy
210 NW 17th Ave. Suite 201
Portland, OR 97209
Office hours vary, please call before visiting: