Living in such a bike-centric city, I am grateful that there are so many places for cyclists such as myself to safely recreate and commute. From a myriad of bike lanes and bike “routes” such as SE Ankeny, SE Harrison/Lincoln, the riverfront Esplanade, Hewett Blvd, and Terwilliger Blvd, among many more, Portland is a wonderful place to feel welcome and encouraged as a cyclist. There are also a few gems, bike paths reserved for non-auto transport only. I have been meaning to highlight one in particular, the Springwater Corridor, for many months now, but haven’t had the time or energy reserve to do so. As Portland’s premier bike trail, I didn’t know how to start and felt as though I needed to do my research. However, I realized after riding on this path over three seasons now, that this is one of those wonderful places that you can continue to reflect on year-round, throughout the seasons, so I hope I can continue doing that throughout the time I live here, however long that may be. I wrote about the Springwater briefly in a previous post about the biking the beer-ing culture in Portland but I hope you enjoy my expanded musings here.
The Springwater Corridor, a biking, walking, running, stroller-friendly avenue, extends from SE 19th and Ochoco St. in the Sellwood area (across the street from the Goodwill Outlet!) for 21 miles all the way East to Boring, OR. There is also an extension called the “Springwater on the Willamette” trail which runs south from OMSI to Sellwood Riverfront Park. The corridor was transformed into its current usage as a paved recreational trail in 1996 after Portland Parks acquired the land once used as a rail corridor in the early 1900s. The line had been at its peak usage by 1906, carrying passengers to communities like Milwaukie, Gresham, Boring, and Estacada that developed along the rails. The Springwater Division Line was also used to connect Portland General Electric and Portland Railway Light and Power Company’s six electric plants in the area as well as to transport produce from farms into the more densely populated Portland area. Though the line was discontinued for passenger use in 1958, Portlanders are still enjoying the route today! (for more on history, please visit Portland Parks’ write-up or view the Springwater Corridor Map).
The first time I ventured onto the path was in August, after months of itching for a long ride. Kevin and I rode from the house into downtown, and South to OMSI. It was a beautiful summer day, not too hot as was the pattern last summer, and I was excited for a chance for sibling bonding and conversation amidst what was our seemingly constant flow of work, summer camps, socializing, and college admissions essay writing. The first three miles along the river were familiar and sped by, the beauty of the Willamette River sparkling to our right and the humming, whirring, lively Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge to our left. We spied a Great Blue Heron fishing on the Big Pond and a birder capturing its patient grace on film from behind the fence. We were accompanied by a multitude of fellow riders and runners, driven to the trail by the stellar weather (it had been a wet summer…). We saw bike teams old and young, couples in jeans riding cruiser bikes, a couple with their dog along for the ride in a baby bike trailer, many runners, some with strollers…it was a cross section of Portland as is typical of most public venues in nice weather.
After a quick jaunt through the Sellwood neighborhood on Umatilla, we emerged onto the original Eastbound trail, first crossing two bridges spanning over the 99E highway. This location is actually one spot where the future MAX expansion will stop, one of the places along the way to Milwaukie, OR just south of Portland. This location says that it will “celebrate Johnson Creek and reconnect neighborhoods,” boasting a “Bike and Ride” Facility. Just beyond these bridges, the trail begins its run through the Johnson Creek Watershed, starting with Tideman-Johnson Natural Area, a lush reprieve to the eastbound trail’s frequent urban path alongside Johnson Creek Blvd. This section of the trail is lush and fragrant, crossing over Johnson Creek many times as it cheerfully babbles to your right and left! The path is also lined with maples and alders overhanging and directly adding to the richness of the riparian habitat. What a welcome relief to the sweet peas, thistle, grasses, dandelion, and Queen Anne’s Lace which line most of the route. Though the plants inevitably attract welcome pollinators, their sprawling color and vibrancy does get a bit redundant after 20 miles of riding.
Just past where the trail crosses Johnson Creek Blvd, our route began to get more and more rural, less and less inhabited by fellow humans. Instead, we heard the echoing of chickens clucking, faraway rooster cries, and the bleating of sheep dotting rolling fields with their fluffy whiteness. It was a strange feeling, riding straight from city into country in only a few miles. We rode for quite some time alongside wooden fences and green fields, red or brown barn structures standing tall in the distance. We passed skateboarders and weekend strollers, as well as blackberry pickers taking advantage of the only season when the invasive Himalayan variety is beneficial.
At about 12 miles, we passed Powell Butte, rising magnificently to our left. I recalled the week that I tromped this park’s trails with 9-12 year old students from Powellhurst Elementary, playing “Camouflage” among moss-covered boulders, eating lunch beneath old maple trees, telling riddles while traversing moist forests, trees dripping with rain, and climbing to the top of the hill to get a magnificent view of Mount Hood. Finally, Kevin and I reached Gresham City Park, where we decided to end for the day by eating lunch, not continuing along the remaining 5 miles to Boring. We caught the MAX back to the city at Gresham City Hall, tired but satisfied by our full day of adventure!
I returned to the Springwater Trail in the fall, when the leaves were turning to magnificent shades of gold and red. It was a sunny but cold day, wet patches of the trail causing my bike tires to whir and splash. It was especially colorful along the river, the trees on Ross and Hardtack Islands beacons of bursting color as I wheeled past. Johnson Creek was lush as always, but in a different way. The path curved its way through overarching trees, still causing the illusion of the tree tunnel, but in this season the tunnel was colorful and caused showers of leaves to temporarily obscure my vision. I smiled as I rode past a photographer quietly observing the still water of the creek, resting his arms on the wooden river overlook.
Finally, I just returned to the trail last week when it was, well, in my book considered quite wintery. On the way downtown, my bike had slipped on ice and I kept this in mind as I carefully maneuvered through heavy frost, at least 1/2 inch thick, on the trail. There was less color on the trees as I passed, but there was a surprising amount of leaves still intact considering the amount of time that leaves had been falling here. On the Willamette River section, I passed a festive train parked on the tracks alongside the trail, decked out in holiday lights an spewing clouds of white steam. It seemed as though the Polar Express has arrived in Portland, at long last! A father and his small child stood near the front of the engine, pointing at the steam and smiling. I smiled alongside them as I passed. As I rode through Tideman-Johnson Natural Area yet again, a gust of wind picked up, slamming against me and my bike and dislodging a flurry of yellow leaves from branch to air. They swirled, dancing in front of me as I rode right through. A yellow snowfall of graceful dancers taking flight in droves… There were considerably less people this last time as well, but I felt impervious on my trusty two-wheeler- impervious to ice, to cold, and to “diminished” scenic delights.
I am continually surprised and delighted by the many natural wonders Portland holds, from the river ecosystem with its Herons, Ospreys, Otters, and other fishers; to Oaks Bottom with its cottonwoods and amphibians at the Frog Pond; to Johnson Creek, with its owls, beavers, salmon, and other riparian-dwellers; to Powell Butte with its wild desolateness attracting coyotes, foxes, and black-tailed deer; there is an innumerable number of ways to appreciate nature, on the seat and off. And the Springwater Corridor, all 21+ miles of it, passes through all four of these incredibly unique natural areas. So jump on your cushioned, aerodynamic, saddle seat and enjoy an exhilarating ride along a trail, made especially for you and beautifully satisfying in any season.