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Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-7529

1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

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Portland Parks & Recreation Urban Forestry News and Activities 

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Event calendar


On Oregon's 159th birthday, celebrate our state tree the Douglas-fir!

One of Oregon’s most beloved native trees, and our state tree since 1939, Douglas-fir is seen in parks and yards across the city of Portland. These trees can grow to be 300 feet tall with a 10 foot diameter, and are long-lived. In fact, Portland's tallest tree is Heritage Tree #134, a 242-foot Douglas-fir growing alongside Balch Creek in Forest Park. In the urban environment, Douglas-fir provide important habitat for animals such as residential and migrating birds, along with countless insects and mammals. Douglas-firs are commonly identified by their cones, which feature 3-pointed bracts between the scales that some people think resemble the back legs and tail of a mouse. Most people are familiar with the shaggy appearance of the Douglas-fir caused by their unique branching form; coupled with height, a Douglas-fir embodies the iconic beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

A volunteer with the Tree Inventory Project works on measuring a Douglas-fir in Wilshire Park in 2017

For true tree nerds, Douglas-fir's various names over the years provide a lesson in just how complicated taxonomy can be! Douglas-fir is not a true fir (Abies genus), which is why a hyphen is always included in the common name. Instead it belongs to the genus Pseudotsuga, which means “false hemlock” (tsuga being the name for hemlock in Japanese). While it's common name honors the Scottish botanist David Douglas, who explored the Pacific Northwest in the 1820's (see a recent blog post on him here), its botanic name (Pseudotsuga menziesii) gives that honor to Archibald Menzies, another Scottish botanist who traveled here two decades prior, and who first described the tree to Europeans back home. This means the "Latin name" for our state tree actually includes 3 languages! Maybe we should just call them Oregon pines like they used to!

For more on how our state tree got its name, see this great post by our friends at the OSU Department of Horticulture, and raise a glass to it on our state's birthday this February 14th.

Posted 2/12/2018

Urban Forestry Completes Pilot Year for Yard Tree Giveaway

In its 2017 pilot year, Urban Forestry provided free yard trees to the communities of North and East Portland and Portland at large. In a true “keeping up with the Joneses” fashion, we researched several programs around the country and decided this method of getting trees to neighborhoods in need would work quite well for our tree planting program. We set the bar high by offering over 150 trees at three separate events. We offered 15 different tree species. When all was said and done, we gave away 467 trees! Of these trees, 58% were placed in low income and low canopy neighborhoods, and 63% landed in low income neighborhoods.

By providing trees to those that may otherwise not be able to afford them, yard tree giveaway programs are just one way that urban forestry programs across the country are helping to increase canopy goals and build community relationships at the same time. In Portland, our neighborhoods east of 82nd and areas of North Portland have historically been underserved and suffer low canopy rates as compared to those neighborhoods on the west side of the city.

Trees for all-even the little peeps at the Hazelwood Hydro-park!

The yard tree giveaway events were held in the Cully, Centennial and Hazelwood neighborhoods in late October through early November. However, Urban Forestry didn’t do this alone: the Cully Tree Team, the Johnson Creek Watershed Council and volunteers from across the city opted in to help us with our first year’s events. We couldn’t have done it without them! For each event, we had no idea what to expect. Would people show up for their trees? Would we run out of trees? Did we choose the right types of trees? In a nutshell, yes, yes and yes! While we had slow times during each of the event days, and some folks did change their minds about wanting a tree, we found homes for every one of the trees. We were also able to accommodate a variety of needs. Planting assistance was offered to those with physical limitations and delivery was available for those that wanted a tree but couldn’t get it home. 

While the first effort is complete (getting the trees out there) our next phase of the program is to find out if the trees survived. Starting in late August or early September, we will visit each planting address to find out if the trees survived our dry summers. We prepared new tree owners with planting demonstrations for container trees and ample take home materials on caring for their young trees.

Teaching container tree planting techniques at the Centennial event.

We learned a lot from our first year that we will apply to events going forward. Building community and increasing our urban forest capacity and all its benefits are essential to the health of Portland. If you are interested in volunteering with us for the 2018 events, let us know! And if you’re interested in obtaining a tree for your yard we will send you a reminder once our dates and places are set.

Cheers Portland! Thanks for making it a successful first year!

Questions? (503) 823-4025 or freetrees@portlandoregon.gov

www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/freetrees

Congratulations to 2017's Golden DBH Award Winners: The DiCarlos!

Urban Forestry Honors Two Extraordinary Volunteers for Their Contributions

The DiCarlos receive their award, mounted on the wood of a former Heritage Tree

A package deal, we couldn’t honor one DiCarlo without honoring both! Greg and JoAnne have been dedicated Tree Inventory volunteers since 2015. JoAnne was new to Portland in 2015 and signed up to volunteer for her neighborhood’s street tree inventory with her husband, Greg, as a way to get familiar with the neighborhood. Together, Greg and JoAnne went to all 4 neighborhood workdays and took home homework sections to complete on their own time. They ended up inventorying about half of the Buckman neighborhood on their own!

In 2016, the DiCarlos went through team leader training and led teams through data collection for the street tree inventory. New to tree id in 2015, they worked on honing their identification skills by borrowing reference guides, collecting samples for comparison, and asking great questions at work days. 

2017 saw the introduction of the Parks Inventory, with new data collection techniques, different equipment, and the new goal of identifying every tree to species instead of genus. JoAnne and Greg took the challenges in stride. Although they were apprehensive at first about the clinometer (used to measure tree height) and collecting data on iPads instead of paper sheets, they excelled, teaching the new techniques to numerous novice volunteers over the course of the summer.

The DiCarlos input collect inventory data in Berkeley Park

Greg and JoAnne came to ten workdays during the 2017 inventory season--half of all scheduled events. They took public transportation to get to inventories all over the city and even made it by bus from Buckman to Cathedral Park for a Wednesday evening workday! Inventory staff could always rely on the DiCarlos to arrive ready to work, and to show newer volunteers the ropes. 

Although the equipment used for the Parks Inventory made it difficult to assign homework, JoAnne still sought out additional opportunities to inventory Portland’s trees and partnered with inventory staff in her free time to inventory a small park property in her neighborhood. Greg and JoAnne are looking forward to spending the winter learning how to prune trees with Friends of Trees and attending as many Urban Forestry workshops as possible, and Urban Forestry is looking forward to having them back as team leaders in 2018! Congratulations DiCarlos!

Interested in learning more about volunteering for the urban forest? Join us at the Tree Summit on November 4th to hear results from this year's inventory as well as other opportunities to plant, prune, and advocate for trees in Portland.

Posted 10/23/17

East Portland’s Douglas Firs Defined the David Douglas District

Join Urban Forestry for a Tree Walk in East Portland!

---By Dave Hedberg, Urban Forestry Community Service Aide II 

Tree Walk: Tree History in Hazelwood
When: 10:00 am - 12:00 pm on Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
Location: Ventura Park SE, SE 113th Ave & SE Stark St.
Register Here! 

Tree walk: Best Tree Care Practices
When: 5:30 - 7:00 pm Wednesday, October 4th, 2017
Locatiion: Brentwood-Darlington Community Center | 7211 SE 62nd Ave.
Register Here! 

Tall Douglas firs flank Hazelwood’s water tower off NE 117th and NE Holliday.

Clustered stands of Douglas fir are defining features of east Portland neighborhoods like Hazelwood. These tall firs stand on both private property and public rights of way providing towering shade and numerous environmental benefits year-round.  Their environmental benefits aside, these trees are also central to the area’s cultural history and credit a nineteenth-century naturalist.

Many of east Portland’s neighborhoods are built amongst groves of Douglas fir. 

The tree’s common name honors David Douglas, a Scottish botanist who spent several years in the 1820s traveling the forests of the Pacific Northwest collecting plants and seeds for the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Douglas, satchel on his back, tromped through the Columbia River Gorge and deep into the interior Norwest and California cataloging and classifying more than two hundred plants and animals he encountered—many of having names that credit him.

Douglas took several trips to the Northwest in 1825 – 1827 and 1829 – 1832.

For all his Pacific Northwest contributions to Linnaean taxonomy, a strange mystery tree stumped him.  Its needles bore a resemblance to the yew, its bark like the hemlock, wood of a larch, and cones similar to a spruce. Douglas thought it “one of the most striking and truly most graceful objects of Nature.” His predecessor, Archibald Menzies, had encountered it in 1793 off Vancouver Island and Aylmer Lambert classified it as Pinus taxifolia in 1803. Douglas dedicated the first chapter of his monograph Some American Pines to a robust discussion on classifying this mysterious and ubiquitous tree of the Pacific Northwest. Now known as Pseudotsuga menziesii, this false hemlock’s Latin name honors the European collector Menzies, while the common name, Douglas fir, on the honors David Douglas for his shipment of seeds back to the Kew Gardens.

David Douglas described the cones as “ovate, pointed pendulous in clusters at the extremities of the twigs.”

Today, most Douglas firs in east Portland are not old growth and it is unlikely that Mr. Douglas traveled directly through this area, instead preferring a speedy canoe on the Columbia. Instead, these trees are second and third generation regrowth from the twentieth century. At that time, this area was a rural farming community with scattered grange halls and schools acting as community centers. Farming families often set aside portions of their farms for woodlots, letting these firs grow to be harvested for firewood, building, and as windbreaks from the infamous east winds.  In the 1950s, the area experienced a housing boom and affordable Ranch-style homes were built among the remnant woodlots with larger backyards and no sidewalks, which gave the trees ample room to grow.

 The Starkwood development listed its “oversized tree studded lots”
as a primary selling feature in this June 30, 1957, Oregonian advertisement.
 

These suburban neighborhoods were part of unincorporated Multnomah County.  In 1950, the atomized communities of Gilbert, Russellville, and Powellhurst combined as Union School District. In 1952, the school board met and decided to rename the district after the Scottish botanist David Douglas because of the abundance of these firs in the community. The trees were a cultural symbol that unified the district.

Many residents note they “live in David Douglas” because of the trees that helped name their school district. 

Generations of residents in the David Douglas School District have spent their lives under these towering fir groves. The trees are defining features of this part of east Portland and offer an important reminder that the development of affordable postwar suburban housing also considered giving room for these trees to grow. Additionally, the state of Oregon has recognized the Douglas fir as the official state tree since 1936. Today, these trees still hold a significant place in the neighborhood's identity.

Posted 9/21/2017

Ventura Park Has Long Been a Quiet Stopping Place Off Stark Street

Join Portland Parks & Recreation Urban Forestry to map, measure, and identify all of the trees in Ventura Park!

By David-Paul Hedberg, Community Service Aide II

Ventura Park Inventory Workday
Ventura Park, SE 113th Ave and SE Stark
Saturday, September 9th 2017, 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM 

Join Portland Parks & Recreation Urban Forestry to map, measure,
and identify all of the trees in Ventura Park!

 Register here

Ventura Park’s development along Stark Street wasn’t accidental. A short history of the landscape reveals that it has long been kept as an open space by individual citizens over the years.

A post-1854 Baseline Road 7-mile marker sits in the
southeast corner of Ventura Park, E. Stark and 117th Ave.

The park contains one of the state’s oldest monuments: A stone mile-marker installed sometime after 1854. During that time, the area was mostly small farms and Donation Land Claims. Local farmers wanted a road to get their crops to Portland markets. Clackamas County officials (Multnomah County was later carved out of Clackamas and Washington Counties) agreed to build Baseline Road along the Willamette Baseline, which later became Stark Street.  

But the road is even more significant. All land in Oregon is measured from this line and road. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, then your land’s legal description is either north or south of it. After 1854, road builders set a series of stone obelisk markers every mile from the east bank of the Willamette River at the Stark Street ferry all the way out to the Sandy River. The markers helped travelers estimate their trip in horse carts down the dusty and bumpy Baseline Road to and from Portland. Ventura Park contains mile marker “P-7,” meaning that if you were headed to Portland your trip had seven more dusty miles to go till you reached the ferry. Odds are that many a farmer took a break here on their trip to and from Portland!

One of three 1911 -1912 Ventura Park addition plats.

The land that contains the park was prime farmland with great road access for a century. However, changes were underway in 1911.  That year, Thomas and Anna Spillmann, and L. R. Lewis took their farmland just south and east of the park and platted a neighborhood development. Speculating that the city would grow east, they created the Ventura Park plat in unincorporated Multnomah County by dividing their land into 29 blocks of 2,500 square-foot lots. Sales were slow, with homes popping up in after the 1920s. But for the most part, lots remained vacant until after World War Two. 

Ventura Park in its early phases as a Multnomah County Park, May 1960.

Yet, the land where the park now sits remained farmland. Owned by Victor and Helene Welbes, the couple operated a small berry patch with prime visibility on Stark Street. Car travelers down Stark Street might have pulled over to buy some berries in the summer.  By the 1950s, the Welbes increasingly found their farm surrounded by a fast-growing post-war suburban neighborhood, and growth necessitated new schools and infrastructure. So, in 1959 the Welbes sold their farm to Multnomah County for a park and school.

The Oregonian, March 29, 1963.

In 1963, Multnomah County selected the land acquired from the Welbes for a “Showplace” park in the county’s new neighborhood park program. Pooling federal grants with local schools and parks funds, a new program connected county parks with schools in unincorporated areas to help serve residents outside the city. Although innovative, the program constantly lacked funds and disagreements over maintenance between the county and school district ensued. Still, Ventura Park and the adjacent Ventura Park School were named for the nearby neighborhood, signaling the belief among officials that people outside the city still deserved places to live, play, and be educated near where they lived. (1) 

Ventura Park, 1968. From a Multnomah County Government Handbook.
City of Portland Archives,
A2004-001.1743.

County officials hired landscape architect David E. Thompson to design Ventura Park’s landscape and facilities. Thompson’s budget of $113,537 dedicated $11,000 to the planting of trees and shrubs, with an impressive array of deciduous and evergreen specimens. Planting maps and records show Thompson wanted 129 trees planted in the park, but the records do not contain the final planting list. The upcoming Ventura Park Tree Inventory will not only identify every tree in the park but will also help us understand what trees Thompson may or may not have planted.

Landscape Architect David E. Thompson’s proposed Ventura Park Plan, April 1960.

When Portland annexed areas of east county in 1986, Portland Parks & Recreation assumed management of Ventura Park. The following year, the annual “Fun-O-Rama” carnival started in the park and many summer concerts have since occurred here over the years. The park itself has changed hands many times. But from farms, fields, to a park, for over 150 years this piece of land has been an important resting place along one of the region’s oldest continuously used roads.

 

Fun-O-Rama, March 1987, with a young Ginkgo biloba in the foreground. City of Portland Archives, A2007-001.942.

Take a trip down Stark Street and come join the Ventura Park Tree Inventory! Register here to join us on September 9th.


[1] “Showplace Park Chosen” Oregonian, March 29, 1963, p.18; “Architect Ok’d for Park Area” Oregonian, April 4, 1963, p. 39; “County Official Asks Park Idea Revamping” Oregonian, Dec. 11, 1964, p.50.
Posted 8/31/2017