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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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Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake Property
NE Glass Plant Road and Simpson Street Locate this site in PortlandMaps

General Info
Acreage: 8.76
Acquired in 1996

Includes natural area.
Natural Area

Historical Information
Harry Johnson purchased the lake in 1911. Over a half a century ago this lake was the recreational center of the area. The lake, which is fed with 20 springs, was so clear that you could see the bottom of the lake. The springs in the shallow areas were so strong that the water resembled bubbling fountains. People rented boats to play, fish, and swim on the clear waters. There was a beach house where they could change, a dance hall where they could recreate. In the late 1940s the dance hall burned down, but the community still enjoyed the lake for a number of years.

With the Vanport Flood in 1948, the lake was flooded by the slough and became murky. In the 1950s, Owens-Illinois (glass factory) purchased the land to the south and west of the lake and the area where the lake flows into the slough system from Mr. Johnson. The following year, a mysterious 'sludge' began appearing on the lake (Owens-Illinois was eventually fined for this). This began what seemed to be a lifelong issue between Harry Johnson and Owens-Illinois. In the 1960s, Mr. Johnson constructed a logjam around the outflow pipes where Owens-Illinois dumped into the lake in an attempt to try to keep the oil and surface pollutants from spreading across the surface of the lake. At that time the neighborhood kids were still swimming and fishing on this lake.

When I-205 was constructed in the late 1960s–early 1970s, a portion of the lake and a small stream that flowed into it were filled in. Over the next two decades, fishermen continued to spend time on the lake until they noticed that the fish they were catching had sores on them. In 1996 the City of Portland purchased Harry Johnson's half of the lake from his daughter, Dorothy Thoreson, and it became an environmentally protected area. In 1997, a number of people got together and planted 1,000 trees on the property. A class of students from Madison High School did a study on the history of the lake and did testing on the water quality. Volunteers continue to try to keep the blackberry vines under control.

PP&R, Bureau of Environmental Services, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and the Columbia Slough Watershed Council are involved in trying to recover the lake and the surrounding habitat. A consortium of these agencies and the neighborhood associations for Parkrose, Sumner, and Cully are committed to this effort.

(Information provided by Marcy Emerson-Peters)