Randy May Family in Hillsboro Oregon

May 20, 2004

Putting his mark on the park

Filed under: Hiking,Scenic Trips — rmay4 @ 1:21 am
Tags: , ,

Forest Park — more than 5,000 acres of conifers and old-growth forest, stretching from West Burnside Street to the outskirts of Scappoose — is one of Portland‘s least-spoiled treasures.

Eagles, deer, coyotes, even an occasional bear or elk, have been spotted along its nearly 75 miles of trails. Yet many Portlanders, peering up at the green canopy of trees that blanket the city’s northwest hills, scratch their heads and ask, “Looks inviting, but how the heck do you get there?”

Bob Morak has a solution.

Every Tuesday and Saturday, rain or shine, the self-taught naturalist and native Oregonian leads groups of urbanites along trails, fire lanes and dirt pathways, exploring the mysteries and beauties of the nation’s largest wilderness forested park within city limits.

“I like to help newcomers get acquainted with the park and those who have been out to get to parts that they’ve never seen before,” said Morak, who’s been exploring Forest Park since 1980. “I try never to take exactly the same hike — that way it’s always fresh for all of us.”

The hikers, mostly adults, meet at Wallace Park, at Northwest 25th Avenue and Raleigh Street, at 9 a.m. on Saturdays or 9:30 a.m. on Tuesdays for a moderate seven-mile stroll.

“If you’ve been a couch potato for the past couple of years, it could be a little challenging,” he said. “The trails are easy, but sometimes we have elevation climbs of about 1,200 feet.”

The park has a long history. After the Municipal Park Commission was formed by the city in 1899, the Olmsted Brothers, a landscape architecture firm from Massachusetts, recommended purchasing a portion of the wooded West Hills for a wildlife park.

After years of delays and setbacks, the city officially dedicated 4,200 acres as Forest Park on Sept. 23, 1948. More acres, from donations and greenspace purchases, were added over the next half-century.

Today, according to park officials, more than 100 bird and 60 mammal species share the preserve with hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders.

In 1995, the city approved a master plan that continues to guide trail construction, maintenance and public use of the park. Park officials haven’t been able to track the numbers of people who use the huge trail system, although the Friends of Forest Park reports distributing several thousand hiking maps each year.

For Fred Nilsen, natural resources supervisor for Forest Park, that means relying on a small staff, a $120,000 budget and the good will of the public to preserve the beauty and character of the urban retreat.

“Most of our problems — dumping trash and vandalism — occur along the edges of the park or near the trailheads,” Nilsen said. “But when people get out of their cars and walk through the canopy of trees, they seem in awe and want to help take care of the land.”

The park’s character continues to change.

On Sept. 25, Portland Parks & Recreation will dedicate the newest section of the Ridge Trail, enabling hikers to cross the St. Johns Bridge to the west side of the Willamette River, walk up a small set of stairs near a former pump station and connect with the 40 Mile Loop trail through the park.

For avid hikers such as Michele Lee, that’s good news.

“I especially enjoy being able to get out into the woods when they are this close to my house,” Lee said. “I joined Bob’s Saturday hikes because, for me, one of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors is with others who care about it like I do.”

IF YOU GO

What: Guided hikes through Forest Park with Bob Morak

Where: Meet in parking lot of Wallace Park, Northwest 25th Avenue and Raleigh Street.

When: Tuesday mornings at 9:30 and Saturday mornings at 9, rain or shine

What’s in store: Each seven-mile hike is moderately challenging. All ages are welcome, although no dogs are allowed. More than 160 animal and bird species can be found in Forest Park, as well as native plants, including a section of old-growth forest.

Recommendations: Wear hiking boots. Dress for the weather. Bring water and a snack.

Cost: $3

For information: Portland Parks & Recreation at 503-823-5127 or visit http://www.portlandparks.org

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