Forest Park is a public municipal park in the Tualatin Mountains west of downtown Portland, Oregon, United States. Stretching for more than 8 miles (13 km) on hillsides overlooking the Willamette River, it is one of the country's largest urban forest reserves. The park, a major component of a regional system of parks and trails, covers more than 5,100 acres (2,064 ha) of mostly second-growth forest with a few patches of old growth. About 70 miles (110 km) of recreational trails, including the Wildwood Trail segment of the city's 40 Mile Loop system, crisscross the park.
As early as the 1860s, civic leaders sought to create a natural preserve in the woods near Portland. Their efforts led to the creation of a municipal park commission that in 1903 hired the Olmsted Brothers landscape architectural firm to develop a plan for Portland's parks. Acquiring land through donations, transfers from Multnomah County, and delinquent tax foreclosures, the city eventually acted on a proposal by the City Club of Portland and combined parcels totaling about 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) to create the reserve. Formally dedicated in 1948, it ranks 19th in size among parks within U.S. cities, according to The Trust for Public Land.
More than 112 bird species and 62 mammal species frequent the park and its wide variety of trees and shade-loving plants. About 40 inches (1,000 mm) of rain falls on the forest each year. Many small tributaries of the Willamette River flow northeast through the woods to pipes or culverts under U.S. Route 30 at the edge of the park. One of them, Balch Creek, has a resident trout population, and another, Miller Creek, supports sea-run species, including salmon. Threats to the park include overuse, urban traffic, encroaching development, invasive flora, and lack of maintenance money. Occasional serious crimes and more frequent minor crimes occur in the park.
Before settlers arrived, the land that became known as Forest Park was covered by a Douglas-fir forest. By 1851, its acreage had been divided into donation land claims filed by settlers with plans to clear the forest and build upon the property. After logging, the steep slopes and unstable silt loosened by heavy rains caused landslides that defeated construction plans, and claims were defaulted or donated to the city.
Forest Park is a major component, sometimes called the "crown jewel", of a regional network of parks, trails, and natural areas. At the southeastern end of the park, Wildwood Trail, the centerpiece of the Forest Park trail system, passes through Macleay Park. This part of the larger park, which includes the Forest Park field headquarters, is heavily used by pedestrians entering Balch Creek Canyon from nearby city streets. Further southeast, Wildwood Trail, while still in Forest Park, passes Pittock Mansion and its panoramic views of Portland and five volcanic peaks: Mounts Rainier, Adams, St. Helens, Hood, and Jefferson. Shortly thereafter, the trail connects to adjoining Washington Park and attractions such as the Oregon Zoo. From this point and from more remote Forest Park trailheads near the St. Johns Bridge, other components of the 40 Mile Loop system of trails encircle the city.
As of 2009, this network of parks and trails is still expanding. Metro, the regional government, plans to link the 40 Mile Loop to trails along the Willamette River to Wilsonville, south of Lake Oswego. The regional government has also proposed connecting Wildwood Trail to the partly completed Westside Trail running north–south through Washington County to the Tualatin River. Another planned trail would extend the Springwater Corridor along a proposed Cazadero Trail to Barton on the Clackamas River. Longer-term goals include trail links to the Sandy River Gorge Trail east of Gresham and the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada and follows the Cascade Range through Oregon.
More than 70 miles (110 km) of trails and firelanes cut through the park. The longest trail in the park is the Wildwood Trail, of which about 27 miles (43 km) is in Forest Park and about 3 miles (4.8 km) in Washington Park. It is also the longest section of the 40 Mile Loop, a trail network of roughly 150 miles (240 km) reaching many parts of the Portland metropolitan area. The trail runs southeast to northwest from trail marker 0 in Washington Park to Northwest Newberry Road, just beyond trail marker 30 on the ridge above the southeastern end of Sauvie Island. The straight-line distance from beginning to end is about 9 miles (14 km), but because the trail includes many switchbacks and hairpin turns, it is 30.2 miles (48.6 km) long.
Wildwood Trail begins in Washington Park near the Oregon Zoo, a light rail stop, the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the World Forestry Center and the Hoyt Arboretum. Blue diamonds placed about 6 feet (1.8 m) above the ground appear on trees along the trail every 0.25 miles (0.40 km). The diamonds and the mileage markers above them are visible to hikers traveling in either direction on the path. In its first 5 miles (8.0 km), the trail passes near the Portland Japanese Garden, Pittock Mansion, the Audubon Society of Portland wildlife sanctuary, and the Stone House in Balch Creek Canyon. From this point west, Wildwood Trail runs through forest generally uninterrupted by buildings but crisscrossed by shorter trails, small streams, roads, and firelanes.
Other paths, streets, easements
Many shorter Forest Park trails, roads, and firelanes intersect the Wildwood Trail. Most of the trails are open only to hikers and runners, but several roads and firelanes are open to bicycles or horses or both. Leif Erickson Drive, a road closed to motorized traffic, runs at lower elevation than and roughly parallel to the Wildwood Trail for about 11 miles (18 km) from the end of Northwest Thurman Street to Northwest Germantown Road. Originally called Hillside Drive, it was renamed in 1933 at the request of the Sons of Norway, a fraternal organization. Easements for an oil line, a gas line, and electric transmission lines for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) cross the park. Paved roads surround the park, which is crossed or entered by other roads including Northwest Pittock Drive, Northwest Cornell Road, Northwest 53rd Drive, Northwest Saltzman Road, Northwest Springville Road, Northwest Germantown Road, Northwest Newton Road, and BPA Road.
Wildlife in Forest Park is strongly affected by contiguous tracts of nearby habitat that make the park accessible to birds and animals from the Tualatin River valley, the Oregon Coast Range, the Willamette River, Sauvie Island, the Columbia River, and the Vancouver, Washington, lowlands. Sixty-two mammal species, including the northern flying squirrel, black-tailed deer, creeping vole, bobcat, coyote, Mazama pocket gopher, little brown bat, Roosevelt elk, and Pacific Jumping Mouse frequent Forest Park. Blue Grouse, Great Horned Owl, Hairy Woodpecker, Bewick's Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler, Osprey, Northern Pygmy-owl, and Hermit Thrush are among the more than 112 species of birds that have been observed in the park. In Balch Creek Canyon adjacent to Forest Park, the Audubon Society of Portland maintains a wildlife sanctuary with more than 4 miles (6.4 km) of trails, a wildlife care center, and avian exhibits. Amphibian species frequenting the Audubon Society pond include rough-skinned newts, Pacific tree frogs, and salamanders.
About 40 inches (1,000 mm) of rain falls on Forest Park each year. Many small creeks, only a few of which are named, flow northeast through the park from the ridge at the top of the West Hills to the base of the hills near U.S. Route 30. The five named streams from east to west are Balch Creek, Rocking Chair Creek, Saltzman Creek, Doane Creek, and Miller Creek. Rocking Chair Creek is a tributary of Saltzman Creek. After leaving the park, the streams pass through culverts and other conduits before reaching the Willamette River. These conduits block fish migration to and from the Willamette River except on Miller Creek, where the conduits are short and have been modified to assist the fish. Near the east end of the park, the free-flowing reaches of Balch Creek support a population of resident cutthroat trout. Near the west end, furthest from the city center, Miller Creek retains much of its historic nature and supports a greater diversity of aquatic organisms than other Forest Park streams. Biological field surveys of Miller Creek in 1990 noted sea-run cutthroat trout, coho salmon, and short-head cottid, as well as abundant macroinvertebrate species including stoneflies, mayflies, caddisflies, water striders, and crayfish.