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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-7529

1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

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Park Profile: Columbia Park

North Portland's historic oasis

Columbia Park stands in the heart of North Portland at the intersection of the Portsmouth, University Park, Kenton, and Arbor Lodge neighborhoods. At just over 35 acres, Columbia Park houses mature Douglas-firs and lindens, sports fields, and a historic cottage, serving as an important shared community space for North Portlanders.

Initially a woodlot owned by the City of Albina, Columbia Park was intended to be developed as Albina’s first park. However, it wasn’t until 1891 when Albina, East Portland, and Portland consolidated into one city that Portland’s novel park system began developing Columbia Park into the park we know today. Over the next century, this woodlot would transform into a city park which reflected the needs and desires of the local community.

As Portland’s park department developed in the early 1900s, so did Columbia Park. In 1908, Emanuel Tillman Mische, a landscape architect at the famed Olmstead Bros. firm, was appointed Park superintendent and oversaw the construction of Columbia Park. He intended for the park to remain rural and informal and trimmed interior Douglas-firs for views while letting others grow low branches, a practice that is often avoided by park planners. In 1909, the head gardener for Washington Park, G.H. Hoch, oversaw design plans for Columbia Park inspired by a famous park in Berlin, Germany.

The 1910 plan for Columbia Park included many elements seen today

This initial park design included a large central lawn for sports, a separate lawn for children, sandboxes, wading pools, and a music court where the swimming pool is now located. Under Mische’s direction these plans were realized on the ground and additional fountains, comfort stations, a playground, and fences were all built and new trees were planted.

Young lindens in 1920, many of which can still be found in the park nearly 100 years later

As the local rivers became too polluted to swim in safely, Portland Parks and Recreation began building pools in parks. Columbia Park pool was originally built as an outdoor pool in 1927 and was converted to indoor use in 1975.  In addition to providing a safer place to swim, the pool played a role in the desegregation of Portland’s public spaces. North Portland has historically been home to many of Portland’s communities of color and beginning in the 1960s the Columbia Pool served as a primary public space where all of Portland’s residents could recreate together.

Columbia Park pool, 1935

Built in 1940, the Columbia Cottage has been used as a field house for the Columbia Park caretaker, dance hall, community policing headquarters and even a National Guard command center. In 1989, when the city planned to build a parking lot for the pool, members of the neighborhood came together to save the cottage. The community succeeded in conserving the cottage and formed the Friends of Columbia Park, which now operates and cares for the Columbia Cottage.

This summer, Urban Forestry is partnering with Friends of Columbia Park to conduct a Park Tree Inventory at the park. Over the course of two inventory workdays, volunteers and tree enthusiasts will come together to map, measure, and identify every tree in Columbia Park. In addition to providing necessary data to continue maintaining the park’s trees, the inventory will add a snapshot to Columbia Park's already rich history.

What: Columbia Park Tree Inventories
Where: Columbia Park, N Lombard Street and Woolsey Avenue
When: Saturday, August 11, and August 25, 8:30am - noon

Register Here

Learn more about the Tree Inventory Project at our website  and register to inventory trees in parks across the city. 

The Ongoing Puzzle of Portland’s 3-Needled Pines

Park Tree Inventory volunteers find at least 4 different species!

It’s easy to look at the numerous large pines with needles reaching 10 inches in length across the city and call them all ponderosa pine. It is, after all, the most widely distributed pine in North America and native to the Willamette Valley. But look closely and you’ll start to see differences in the needles, bark, and cones. Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) looks very similar to Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), with just slight differences between their cones. Two similar looking trees, Coulter pine (Pinus coulteri) and gray pine (Pinus sabiniana), are both rare in Portland, hiding in plain sight until their impressively large cones fall. So how do we determine the difference between these closely related trees? We look at every clue possible, consult with the experts, and sometimes we still have to say “we don’t know”. This is the nature of tree identification – a constant puzzle that can sometimes leave one more confused than enlightened.

In Portland’s urban forest, ponderosa pines are by far the most common of the 3-needled pines. Their needles are 6-10 inches long and crowd the end of branches. In early spring, the male pollen cones are maroon. Closed pine cones are prickly to the touch due to the armor on the seed scales. Cones mature over 2 growing seasons and open in the fall of the second summer. When open, cones are still prickly to the touch, as the prickle on the seed scales points out. The size of cones varies, but they range between 3-6 inches long. In older trees, bark is a yellow-cinnamon color and plated, with dark furrows. In younger trees, bark is gray-red , with smaller plates. Sniff it on a hot day and see if you can smell freshly baked cookies -some say the scent of the bark smells sweet, like butterscotch or vanilla.

The bark of the Ponderosa (left) can be distinctive but this trait varies and is usually only found on older trees. Notice the prickly seed scales on closed and open Ponderosa cones (right). 

Jeffrey pine is very closely related to ponderosa pine and the two hybridize readily where their ranges overlap in southern Oregon. The needles of the Jeffrey pine are 6-11 inches long, and cones are 4-8 inches long. The differences between ponderosa and Jeffrey pine are small and hard to see; even with close observation, making a clear distinction between the species is a challenge. Jeffrey pine has yellow pollen cones, and when cones are open, the prickle on the seed scale curves inward towards the cone. Open cones aren’t prickly to hold the way that ponderosa pine cones are, thus the mnemonic “Gentle Jeffrey” and “Prickly ponderosa”. Just to confuse us, Jeffrey pine bark can also carry a sweet smell similar to that of ponderosa pine. Jeffrey pine is fairly uncommon in Portland, but perhaps there are more hiding in our parks than we think. Earlier this summer, volunteers with the Tree Inventory Project measured 3 Jeffrey pines in Gabriel Park.


Left: Ponderosa cone, with prickles curving out and away from seed scales. Right: Jeffrey cone, with prickles curving back towards the interior of the cone.

Gray Pine and Coulter Pine--Don't Forget Your Hardhat!

Gray pine (Pinus sabiniana) and coulter pine (Pinus coulteri) are two less common 3-needled pines in Portland, and they too can be difficult to distinguish from each other. Both have needles that are 6-10 inches long and both bear impressively large cones.

Gray pine tends to be a multi-stemmed tree with a round, open crown. The needles of the gray pine are soft, with a noticeable gray tinge to them. Another common name for this tree is ghost pine because of the light appearance of the foliage. The cones of the gray pine are very large and stout, with heavily armored seed scales. They can be up to 10 inches long and are usually covered in fragrant pitch. Mature cones protect seeds, and the seeds of the gray pine are very large for the genus. Shake a cone and see if anything falls out! 

Gray pine cones are large, with big seed scales that are tipped with long, sharp prickles. Foliage is light gray-blue in color, noticeable at a distance.

Coulter pine rarely exceeds 80 ft in height and tends to have a more conical shape to its crown. Needles are also 6-10 inches long but lack the gray-blue coloration of gray pine. Coulter pines are notorious for their large cones; by weight, these are the largest cones in the genus. Cones can range 8-16 inches long and are heavily armored with large prickles similarly to gray pine cones, but coulter pine cones are heavier and can weigh up to 10 pounds!

Coulter pine cones can be highly variable in size

Like many of their relatives, gray and Coulter pines each show a wide range of variability in their cones, even on the same tree! Coulter pine cones tend to be longer, with a lighter coloration. Gray pine cones tend to be stout and darker brown, but without a side-by-side comparison of two specimens from trees with a confirmed ID, identification by cone alone is a challenge.

The Tree Inventory Project has measured a handful of pines bearing extraordinarily large cones this summer, in Berrydale Park and in Peninsula Park. The identification of these trees is still up for debate! Want to check out two confirmed specimens? Heritage tree #181 is a Coulter pine in the right-of-way at 5352 SE 37th Ave. Heritage Tree #239 is a gray pine in the right-of-way at 4074 N Massachusetts Ave.

Curious about what other oddities and lookalikes are hiding in plain sight in our urban forest? Join the Tree Inventory Project as we map, measure, and identify the trees of Columbia Park, Lincoln Park, Laurelhurst Park, Fernhill Park, and more! Register for workdays on the Inventory website.

Park Profile: Lincoln Park

Hazelwood's hidden gem

Lincoln Park occupies 7 acres located in the Hazelwood Neighborhood in SE Portland. Today the park is filled with recreational opportunities and gathering spaces for the surrounding community. However, prior to 1945 the character of the neighborhood was very different; it was primarily made up of rural farms and a few timber plots. The name Hazelwood is thought to be related to the prolific amount of hazelnut trees that had voluntarily grown in the area. It wasn’t until 1993 when the city annexed the area that Lincoln Park was transformed into today’s vibrant park.

This year the Park Tree Inventory will come to Lincoln Park. Volunteers from around the Portland area will spend the morning taking measurements, mapping, and identifying the trees. Organized in partnership with Lincoln Park's local invasive species pulling group, the tree inventory will provide the city and the neighborhood with a clearer picture of how the trees within Lincoln Park contribute to the health and character of the area.

What: Lincoln Park Tree Inventory
Where: Lincoln Park, SE 135th and Mill St.
When: Saturday, August 4th, 8:30am - noon

Register Here

Learn more about the Tree Inventory Project at our website  and register to inventory trees in parks across the city.

Cully Cycle Track Tree Replacement Project

A project report brought to you by the Cully Tree Team.

Project Background

In June of 2010, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) began construction on The Cully Boulevard Green Street Project. This project added sidewalks, bio-swales and a dedicated off-street bike lane called a “cycle track” to improve Cully Blvd. from NE Prescott St. to NE Killingsworth St.

The street trees chosen for the PBOT project were a combination of ash and birch trees. The PBOT project was completed in mid-May 2011, with the agreement that “new street trees will be maintained until 2013.” 

By 2014, while the ash trees were doing well, many of the birches were showing signs of stress, with die-off in the crown. During the severe winter of 2016, ice and snow caused some trees to fall.

Birch trees on Cully Blvd. showing signs of decline

The Cully Blvd. Tree Replacement Project focused on replacing declining birches along the cycle track.

The Project Begins

The Cully Tree Team began to interview residents adjacent to the birches in early 2017. Many expressed frustration, feeling that they had tried to care for their relatively new trees, only to have them start to die. One homeowner replaced their three dying birches during a 2017 Friends of Trees planting. Arborist Jim Wentworth-Plato, of Emerald Tree Care, evaluated the remaining declining birches, and found all were infected with the bronze birch borer.

Birch trees show symptoms of bronze birch borer

Sap oozing from the bark of birch trees affected by bronze birch borer.

Seven households adjacent to the ailing trees were visited to explore the possibility of tree replacement, and presented with the arborist’s written evaluation. Conversations with the affected households revealed renters (four trees) and homeowners (11 trees) who were predominately low-income and/or had disabilities, along with significant financial barriers to tree replacement. Five of the seven households responded positively to the idea, but most had either financial or physical barriers to replacing their trees without help.

 A Partnership is Formed

As Urban Forestry Neighborhood Tree Stewards, Cully Tree Team was able to secure Urban Forestry Stewardship Support for the permits, the removal and stump grinding of the affected trees, and the replacement costs for replanting. Cully Tree Team assisted with permit submission, obtaining bids for tree removal, and coordinating the ordering process for tree replacement with Friends of Trees.

Tree removal and stump grinding were performed by a Local Tree Care Provider, Davey Tree, in February 2018. Friends of Trees volunteers planted 12 new trees in March 2018. The planting included species such as ginkgo, silverleaf oak, Persian ironwood, tupelo, and elm.

Newly planted trees on Cully Blvd.Volunteers plant trees on Cully Blvd.

Newly planted trees on Cully Blvd.

Ongoing Maintenance

Watering newly planted trees in their first few years in the ground is essential for their survival. Conversations with the owners of these new trees revealed some barriers to watering the trees. For example, one of the residences (the oldest house in the Cully neighborhood) has no outdoor water supply, and the distance from their water supply to the trees is greater than 100 feet. Other barriers included personal limited mobility. To facilitate watering, additional funding was obtained from East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District to have nine of the 12 trees watered for two years.

Project Summary

Since Cully Blvd. is a major thoroughfare bisecting the Cully neighborhood, replacement of these trees will benefit all those who travel that route by bike, car, or on foot, as well as the adjacent property owners. A diverse selection of trees that are less susceptible to disease should lessen the chance of major tree loss along that route. In addition, tree form was carefully considered to minimize the impact of branches impeding bicycle passage. The Cully Tree Team will monitor tree health and survival, and will continue to promote proper tree care with residents.

Project partners sign on Cully Blvd.

Replacing the trees along the Cully Blvd. cycle track was a partnership involving The Cully Tree Team, Cully Association of Neighbors, Central Northeast Neighbors, East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, Friends of Trees, and PP&R Urban Forestry.

Portland Joins Nationwide Urban Forest Inventory & Analysis (Urban FIA)

by Julie Fukuda, Botanic Specialist I - Forestry

Following the completion of Portland's Street Tree Inventory in 2016 and embarking on a Park Tree Inventory the following year, we now have a clearer understanding of the extent and condition of Portland’s urban forest within City-owned parks and public rights-of-way. This brings us to a new project which will include trees on other land use types within our city: residential, commercial, industrial, institutional land, as well as publicly-owned land. The Urban Forest Inventory & Analysis (Urban FIA) currently underway in Portland will add valuable inventory data to help us complete the picture of Portland’s tree canopy with sampling across public and private lands.

What is Urban FIA?

Portland’s Urban FIA, a partnership with the US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, is an extension of the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) which has provided a forest census for the US since 1930. Since 2014 the Urban FIA has combined the traditional rural-focused FIA with methods and protocols used to estimate the quantity, health, composition, and benefits of urban trees, adding new cities each year in pursuit of a cohesive picture of urban forest conditions in the nation. Urban FIA map and program details are available here.

In the summer of 2018, PP&R Urban Forestry staff will collect baseline data in 200 field plots which will be established for long term monitoring. During fall and winter 2018, data analysis will occur using i-Tree, a software tool for analyzing the health, composition and benefits of trees. Reports will be publicly available in traditional formats, as well as via the My City’s Trees Application, an online tool designed for public access to Urban FIA data and customized analyses and reports.

Urban FIA field staff and data collection

Trained Urban Forestry staff determine tree locations within sample plot boundaries.

How will the study be conducted?

Two hundred randomly generated 1/6-acre sample plots are distributed throughout Portland. Plots are circular and measure 96 feet in diameter. To get an accurate picture of tree distribution across the city, all zoning classes and land use types are included: examples include forested parks, parking lots, back yards, and even open water!

In the spring and summer of 2018, property owners with plots on their land will be contacted by Urban Forestry to request permission to access these sites. Physical access is critically important to obtain the most accurate information: are trees present or absent? This includes not only mature trees but seedlings and saplings too! Other data recorded includes tree species, tree numbers and size, tree crown width and condition, health condition, and information on the land surface conditions and other vegetation coverages within the sample plots. By law the plot location and owner’s name is kept confidential through a non-disclosure agreement. Urban FIA data will be publicly available in summary form only. Information collected as part of this inventory is not used for tax purposes, nor for regulation.

Urban FIA data collection follows standardized protocol developed by the US Forest Service. Urban Forestry staff were trained and certified in these protocols and must adhere to strict quality assurance requirement for data to be included in the study.

Trees shading a Portland neighborhood street

Plot areas may encompass streets, sidewalks and multiple properties.  

How is the inventory data used and how will Portland benefit?

Over 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas and Portland is home for over 60% of our state’s population. In the U.S. urban areas cover about 68 million acres and are increasing. Our city’s population is growing at the rate of approximately 2% per year. PP&R Urban Forestry’s mission is to grow and ensure Portland’s tree canopy for present and future generations. This information will help us fulfill our mission by allowing us to:

  • Monitor urban forest conditions continuously over time
  • Determine impacts on our forest due to population pressures and changing climate
  • Define service levels to meet the needs of all Portland residents
  • Quantify monetary benefits trees provide to Portlanders as essential infrastructure
  • Plan a resilience response to outbreak of pests and pathogens
  • Compare our urban canopy performance with other cities nationwide

St Louis FIA certification training April 2018

Urban Forestry staff attended an Urban FIA training to become certified by the US Forest Service in study protocol. Standardization of procedure allows for comparison with other US cities, nationwide.

Trees in our city play a crucial role in the health and well-being of all who live and work in Portland. In addition to the many environmental services that trees provide, trees also ensure a host of well-researched social, psychological, economic, and public health value to our population. Collecting detailed information on Portland’s trees and implementing a continuous monitoring system helps us manage this important resource for greatest community benefit.

Questions?  Please email or call Nik Desai, PP&R Urban Forestry Urban FIA Project Manager; 503-823-4441