I’ve lived in this town for fifteen damn years. Fifteen! It’s long enough to feel that you’ve seen and done everything possible in Portland. But still, I search out things I haven’t done yet, places I have not been.
Tuesday was a day off, and a decent weather day, but the high scraping 60F/16C was no 90F/32C of the Tuesday previous. Time for a bike ride. But where to? I had a more ambitious goal to explore some of the buttes on the fringe of Gresham, but I got going too late in the day to make it work. (Plus, the clouds started to roll in. If I want to go to the tops of hills, I want to have the best views possible.)
I started to do a mental list of places I could go. But everything that came up was a place that I’d been to recently, in the past month or so. I wanted something different. I got on the bike and headed eastward. I passed through Cully and into Parkrose, a place I hadn’t been to in awhile. I found myself riding the bike lane* on outer NE Sandy Blvd with the idea of connecting to either the Columbia Slough path or the Marine Drive path somewhere out there, in the high hundreds.
I came across the turnoff to Wilkes Creek Natural Area, a spot I had explored once two years ago when I picked up Spiral Cage/Robert from the Gorge. Why not hit it again? I rode the narrow singletrack along the creek up to its upper terminus. That’s when I saw my destination in the distance: A grassy patch of land with a bollard placed at its entry and a parks department sign.
What I would be entering is known as the Wilkes Creek Headwaters Natural Area. It doesn’t show up on most maps (my Google map doesn’t show it, though the Bike There map does include it), and the parks website doesn’t list it. I gleaned some bits and pieces from the internet: Like a lot of parcels out this side of Portland, it was originally used for agricultural purposes, specifically filbert and holly.** It lay fallow for years, then the city purchased it five years ago and has been slowly rehabilitating it.
What I found was a park that was “rough around the edges”. The lower portion (downhill, and the most north) was a field with a doubletrack running through it. The middle portion had Wilkes Creek running through it with a bridge over it, and looked a bit more pastoral. The upper reach consisted of a heavily wooded ravine, the headwaters of the creek. And above that was the overgrown remnants of the filbert orchard.
I explored this area for somewhere between a half hour to an hour. It wasn’t that large, and since it was a long parcel, I could see houses on either side. But somehow I still felt pretty removed from things. A lot of the tramping around involved bushwacking, as the trails besides the double track bit were either very rough or non-existent. In fact, the upper area was pretty much a slog through high grass and brush. (I’m pretty sure the slow leak on the Bantam I noticed today was because of all of this.)
Somehow, all this brought me back to my youth. While I grew up some 3,000 miles from here, I did do my time tramping around in spots like this. In fact, for the first 12 years of my life the lot behind my house was an overgrown lot. You bet I spent a lot of time there!*** And I was always exploring around creeks (in the parlance of New England, “brooks”). I remember one summer day I decided to ramble up a brook that I had known about for awhile, just to see the source. Today I had ended up at a rough and tumble spot that featured the source of a brook, er. creek. And Wilkes Creek is significant because it is the ONLY creek in the city of Portland that STILL flows into the Columbia Slough (and then the Columbia River).****
Spots like this give me hope. For one, it’s cool to see that the city is still trying to actively preserve spaces like this, however small they may be. But more importantly for me, it reminds me that I still haven’t seen or done everything in this town. There’s more to explore. It’s just going to take a bit more effort to get there.
After Wilkes Creek, I headed down to the Columbia Slough and then the Marine Drive bike path towards home. Ultimately I logged in 30 miles on this ride. But Wilkes Creek was the highlight!
*Which I will say has a decent “rumble strip” on the fog line. Thanks, ODOT!
**Just a few blocks away, there are still actively farmed parcels in between subdivisions and industry.
***One of the big features of that empty lot was a big old elm planted closest to my house. I was really happy that they saved that elm, though cut down the other trees that had been growing there.
****All the other creeks flowing into the Slough are paved over. The remaining “daylighted” creeks flow into the Willamette or into Johnson Creek, which flows into the Willamette.