American towns and urban areas have long designated open sites where residents could stroll, walk their dogs, play games, read books or enjoy conversations and picnics with friends and family in the presence of nature. This concept for parks and common areas has developed increasing means for citizens to relax and enjoy their surroundings in sites designated especially for such use, and as long as these sites have existed, new recreational activities have come into being. Often, the changes have been met with resistance by those who feared the destruction of the natural areas and scenery they so admired and worried about how development of the new parks and parkways might change the existing parks and green areas.
America’s parks got a major boost through the efforts of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who with the assistance of his partner, Calvert Vaux, designed of many of this country’s parks, best known of which is New York’s famed Central Park. Olmsted believed parks should be small and large and that there should be “a comprehensive system of parks and parkways” that linked the parks together throughout each city.
Two of Olmsted’s sons, John Charles and Frederick Jr., presented a proposal to the City of Portland, the Olmsted Plan of 1904, which offered “a vision for parks connected by parkways and boulevards” and included Mt. Tabor, Willamette Park, Terwilliger Boulevard and Leif Ericson Drive. It’s today’s 40-mile loop, which includes 160 miles of bicycle and pedestrian trails still connecting many of Portland’s parks and parkways.
Expansion of Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) sites has been an ongoing part of this city’s recreation services and is a current focus for one of the area’s newest parks, Gateway Green, which is 25 acres and lies in the valley made by the I-205 freeway.
Before this site was even considered for public use, a farm was located there, followed by the Rocky Butte Jail and, later, Hill Military Academy. When the I-84 freeway (initially I-80) was built, all these structures were torn down. Most of what remained was rubble from deconstruction and freeway construction—rubble that expanded with the building of the I-205 freeway many years later. That rubble remains as partial foundation under the surface of Gateway Green. The Friends of Gateway Green gave the site its current name about 12 years ago, according to PP&R employee Barbara Hart, and have been steadily working to turn this former dumping site into a multi-use park.
Initially the property of Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the site was purchased by Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and placed under the supervision of PP&R. Local users of Gateway Green include citizens of Parkrose and outer east Portland, as well as the small city of Maywood Park, but now include off-road cyclists from all over the metro area with the addition of the off-road cycling features. The dirt bike features include a pump track, skills area, single track and service road (looking north) and the cycle challenge course. These features were built with help from the Northwest Trail Alliance.
Opening day for off-road cycling at Gateway Green was June 24, 2017.
Off-road cycling has grown in popularity with cyclists, though it’s early track development was not planned but instead was often created freehand by young dirt-bikers with little regard for the surrounding environments. This is not the case with Gateway Green. All tracks have been designed with the recognition that this park is being designed for the use of a variety of recreants. Off-road cyclists also include a variety of citizens. Jordan Norris and his young daughters Eleanor, age 5, and Cora, age 7, were at the community input gathering held Feb. 24. All three were at the June opening, and the two girls have already been using the skills area, though he noted that the south entry to the park is too high for the girls to enter comfortably.
Another attendee, Jeremy Robbins, affiliated with the Oregon Spinal Cord Association, hopes for a future track that will guarantee that “anybody of any ability can get into and out of the space.” He looks forward to development that includes opportunities for off-road hand cyclists, and, of course, covered areas and toilets.
Friends of Gateway Green are involved in the removal of invasive species and welcome volunteers to help with removal and, later, planting of native plants. Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism, or SOLVE, enters the picture on Earth Day, Sunday, April 22 from 9 a.m. to noon to help with cleanup at the park. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Spine, the 12-foot-wide main pedestrian route through the whole park, will be a wide access through all five “rooms,” which include the High Point, the Upper Meadow, the Low Meadow, the Forest and the North Lawn (once the site of the farm). Dirt bike tracks do run through all five rooms. Future development will include expanded hiking trails, family use sites, habitat restoration, removal of invasive species and planting of native species as part of environmental education opportunities in the park. Maywood Park forester Ben Harrison questioned whether the location of the Spine in the North Lawn area fragments that site, which could be more appropriate to environmental education. PP&R’s Mark Ross and landscape designer Ben Johnson acknowledge development of Gateway Green is still in process. When the summer season ends, further work on expanding the park’s uses will resume.