The Story Behind Portland’s Huge Forest Park

Rising up along Portland’s west side is the lush and green Forest Park. Forest Park encompasses 5,170 acres within the city limits, on top of the Tualatin Mountain Range, and is home to over 110 species if birds and 62 species of mammals. City dwellers head to the park to explore 70 miles of trails, such as the National Recreation Trail-designated Wildwood Trail. The Upper and Lower Macleay Trails are also popular with Portlanders who want to get back to nature among the Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock-dominated forest. Although Forest Park is considered to be a great resource to the city now, it took decades to get Portland residents on board with the plan.

Landscape architect John L. Olmsted—who was the stepson of Central Park co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted—first proposed the plan for Forest Park in 1903. His proposal launched a battle between two ideological visions for the land. Olmsted and fellow landscape architects believed that creating natural spaces within the city would be important for future generations, while landowners and lumber companies believed the property should be used for commercial purposes.

The commercial interests initially won the fight, and the land that is now Forest Park was aggressively logged, while construction companies attempted to build housing developments. However, the unexpected expense of building roads on the mountain, coupled with the surrender of privately owned land in the area during the Great Depression, left an opening for those who wanted a park in the space. Finally, in 1945, the Portland City Club recommended that the land become a park. The Forest Park Committee of Fifty was formed, drawing members from the US Forestry Service and local civic organizations, to lobby the Portland City Planning Commission to designate the land as a park. In 1947, the commission approved the park, and it was dedicated as Forest Park in 1948. Today, the city and the Forest Park Conservancy, which grew out of the Committee of Fifty, continues to maintain and protect the parkland that Portland residents now hold dear.

 

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