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ZipUSA: 97210
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.


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ZipUSA: 97210

   
By Kevin KrajickPhotographs by Maria Stenzel



A short walk from downtown Portland, Oregon, coyotes, joggers, and mountain bikers share a 5,000-acre (2,000-hectare) park.



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With my guide Sam Wilson, a skinny 15-year-old, I mountain-biked a winding dirt road through woods that occasionally opened to foggy vistas of riverside oil depots, docks, and rail yards far below. Distant ship horns and the bangs of coupling freight trains floated up, providing pleasing counterpoints to birdsongs. Sam and friends have an obstacle course of planks and logs they call Neverland deep in the woods. Pulling up shirt and pants, he showed scars, scrapes, and his second set of stitches in two weeks, running under his chin like the goatee he is too young to grow.

Within a metro area grown to almost two million people, the park shows scars too. One afternoon after a cool rain I hiked up Balch Creek Canyon with park manager Fred Nilsen. Wet fir and dirt smell wafted up; autumn maple leaves cascaded down. Nilsen pointed out the country's tallest urban tree: a 241-foot (73-meter) Douglas fir. But he says few new conifers are sprouting, possibly from too much trampling. We reached a stone ruin, a 1930s rest room now roofless and mossy, known as the Witches' House. In a dark alcove something stirred—three homeless teens, Yoshi, Chickie, and Gremlin. "Got a cigarette?" asked Gremlin. The homeless haunt 97210; compassionate Portland provides food and showers at community centers.

Nilsen is too nice to throw the kids out. "Besides," he said, "I got weeds to pull." He meant the park's main threat: invasive exotic ornamentals, especially English ivy, a glossy creeper that strangles native plants and trees. The No Ivy League, a citywide group, is dedicated to the proposition that ivy is, as Sandy Diedrich, the director, puts it, "the cockroach of the plant world, a primeval, cunning foe straight from the heart of darkness." Every Saturday teams claw back mats of it. They've liberated more than 25,000 trees—just a start.

Some ivy comes from Willamette Heights, a residential isle of 250 houses cradled on three sides by park, reached on the fourth via the Thurman Street Bridge across Balch Creek. Along winding lanes and ravine edges, early gentry affixed houses to fit the topography: little Victorians and bungalows enclosed by profuse gardens. Willamette is now a place of long memory, where homes are known by the names of previous owners, and where if anyone moves, it's often to a house nearby. Writer Ursula K. Le Guin has lived for 43 years in the same modest house where she raised three children. In her tribute to the neighborhood, Blue Moon Over Thurman Street, she wrote: "A street that ends in a forest—there is a magic there." 

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Did You Know?
One of the most impressive features of Portland, Oregon, where zip code 97210 is located, is Forest Park: At over 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares), it's said to be the largest urban wilderness in the United States. Portland can boast, however, not only of a park that's famous for its large size but also of a park that's most remarkable for being small.  According to the city's website, Mill Ends Park, located in a median on the corner of SW Naito Parkway and Taylor Street, has an "acreage" of just 3.14 square feet (0.29 square meters). A sign on the edge of the site proclaims that Mill Ends is the world's smallest park. It was dedicated in 1946 by local newspaperman Dick Fagan, whose sense of whimsy prompted him to fill with flowering plants a hole that was left when a light post was removed. Fagan, an Irishman, liked to say that there were leprechauns living in the park, and many events have been held there since the park was founded. For pictures of the park and more about its history, go to www.parks.ci.portland.or.us/Parks/MillEnds.htm.

—Robin A. Palmer

Did You Know?


Related Links
Portland Parks and Recreation Department, Forest Park
www.parks.ci.portland.or.us/Parks/ForestPark.htm
Forest Park is administered by the Portland Parks and Recreation Department. This page gives a short summary of the park's history and characteristics.

Friends of Forest Park
www.friendsofforestpark.org
The nonprofit group Friends of Forest Park was organized to protect this remarkable urban forest. Members help maintain trails, conduct fund-raising campaigns, and educate the community about the park through outreach activities and publications.

Ivy Removal Project/No Ivy League
www.noivyleague.com
The Ivy Removal Project, also known as the No Ivy League, is a nonprofit organization formed to combat the spread of invasive introduced plant species, particularly English ivy, in Forest Park. Visit this site to learn why introduced species are a problem and find out about volunteer opportunities in Forest Park.

City of Portland, Oregon
www.ci.portland.or.us
To find out more about the city of Portland, check out this website, which offers information for visitors and residents alike.

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Bibliography
Abbott, Carl. Greater Portland: Urban Life and Landscape in the Pacific Northwest. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Houle, Marcy Cottrell. One City's Wilderness: Portland's Forest Park. Oregon Historical Society Press, 1996.

Johnson, Dave, and Rachel Dresbeck. Insiders' Guide to Portland, Oregon, 2nd ed. Globe Pequot Press, 2002.

Le Guin, Ursula K. Blue Moon Over Thurman Street. New Sage Press, 1993.

Munger, Thornton T. History of Portland's Forest-Park. The Friends of Forest Park and Portland Parks and Recreation, 1998.

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NGS Resources
Lovett, Richard, A. "Wild Roads: Internal Orgeon," National Geographic Adventure (May 2003), 34.

Kesey, Ken. "Coastal Oregon," National Geographic Traveler (October 2001), 108-9.

Devine, Bob. National Geographic Guide to America's Outdoors: Pacific Northwest. National Geographic Books, 2000.

Irving, Stephanie. "Portland," National Geographic Traveler (July/August 1998), 116-19.

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