Portlandia Obscura: Crystal Springs Creek headwaters

Friday was a great day in Portland. It’s what I like to call a “pre-spring” day around these parts. These days tend to pop up in February: sunny and mild, high around 55F/13C. It’s hard to sit indoors all day when the weather is like this. So I took the call, picked out a trusty steed (the Crested Butte), and got out there.

But where to? By the time I got going in my typically late fashion it was a bit too late in the day for a long ride, so a ramble would suffice. I aimed southward, as I wanted to check out a few things for my upcoming Three Speed Ride.

Soon I came to SE Steele St in the vicinity of Reed College. My usual approach would be cut through the heart of campus and cross Reed Canyon at photogenic “Blue Bridge”.

Yep, photogenic.

But no, that was too typical. So I rode a few blocks east to SE 37th and dropped down the small hill to the undeveloped land around the headwaters of Crystal Springs Creek.

Crystal Springs Creek* is an anomaly in east Portland. Over here,** all of the numerous creeks running through the city got covered up, with the exception of Johnson Creek and a couple of its tributaries. Johnson Creek roughly marks the southern boundary of Portland. At 25 miles long, it’s too major of a stream to be paved over. Crystal Springs Creek is one of the tributaries in Portland that still sees daylight. (The other being the very obscure Errol Heights Creek, nary a mile long and to the east of Crystal Springs Creek.) Why didn’t Crystal Springs get paved over? I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling it’s because it ran through mostly parkland (Johnson Creek Park, Westmoreland Park, Eastmoreland Golf Course, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden) and private property (Reed).

Most folks know about the parks above, and the canyon Crystal Springs cuts across Reed’s campus is a prominent feature of the school. But most people have no clue about the wetlands just east of the canyon, where Portland’s groundwater seeps from the hillside and feeds the creek. I had only been down this way once before, many years ago in summer. I tried to get a look at the headwaters from this approach, but the area was not maintained and overgrown. Not this time. The grass was mown, and there were very clear paths leading to the creek.

The first water feature I came upon was this small feeder pond. The water flowed under a wood footbridge and towards the canyon. It almost looked fit to drink (with some filtration)…until I noticed oil on the edges of the stream. Ah, Portland aquifer. What lurks beneath you?

I then headed down the trail towards more water. The path was narrow and muddy, plus bikes were not allowed, so I walked the Crested Butte instead. Good idea, as riding across boardwalks like this take “mad mountain bike skillz”.

Another hundred feet down the path I noticed a much larger pond off to the left. This must be the main source of the creek.

Not much further down the trail, the creek crossed underneath another boardwalk. I was amazed that such a picturesque riparian environment existed down here!

I chose not to continue downstream, as I have seen the creek beyond this. I chose instead to take another narrow and muddy path up the canyon side to the heart of the Reed campus. I felt a little bit like an intruder going this way, butmany outsiders criss-cross the campus many times a day, so no big deal. It sort of brought me back to my childhood, when I would go out into the woods or wherever and follow the courses of streams I came upon, without regards to whose property I crossed. Man, those were some fun times.

*Isn’t it fascinating that a creek barely 3 miles (5 km) long gets a Wikipedia page? Only in Portland. For reference the creek that ran behind my childhood home, Beaver Brook, is about the same length yet no Wikipedia page.
**The west side, with its many hills, have preserved more creeks.


7 thoughts on “Portlandia Obscura: Crystal Springs Creek headwaters

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  1. Jim, I didn't notice it. But I didn't really get into the "canyon" part of Crystal Springs, just the upstream headwater wetland type thing, which I would assume is not prime otter habitat. Maybe the next time I'm down there, I otter look for him/her?(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

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