Posted by: pilgrm34 | July 23, 2011

Baltimore Woods: urban corridor

Baltimore Woods is a sloped woodland corridor running parallel to the Willamette River between Cathedral and Pier Park for a mile and a half. It is located between industrial and residential development in the St. Johns neighborhood. I’ve been working as an activist to preserve it for several years as chair of Friends of Baltimore Woods, a volunteer group.

As I approach the adjacent alley, several American Kestrels alight from a tall maple far above my head joining a larger group flitting and plunging near treetops on my left. They are circling and calling excitedly as they return to Baltimore Woods’ treetops 60ft above the alley. I’ve never seen so many at once and wonder what’s up as I walk toward them. The American Kestrel, a small sparrow hawk, usually hunts alone and is seldom seen in groups.

Baltimore Woods contains mature native maple and Oregon oak. These are the last remnants of the deciduous forest that once occupied the entire peninsula that makes up the St. Johns neighborhood. The woods’ have evaded development until recently only due to the sloped escarpment upon which it sits. The beauty of mature big leaf maple is in their sheltering umbrella shape as well as the leaves which appear backlit from below. Like most large trees, they create a micro climate underneath that’s amazingly cool even on hot days—ideal for both wildlife cover and human comfort. Oregon white oak are favored by a wide variety of wildlife for their acorns, lichens, mosses and vertical habitat. Native only to Washington, Oregon, and northern California, some are more than 60ft high. They mature at 150-200 years and can live several hundred years. Only two-percent are left in the Willamette Valley. Their predecessors were cleared for farming or logged off to provide power for steamboats on the Willamette River. Oregon oak are one of the few trees that can thrive on this sunny, dry slope.

Further down the corridor I stroll onto an abandoned parking lot recently acquired, that will eventually be transformed into an oak meadow. There, I spot coyote spoor consisting entirely of cherry pits proving that birds aren’t the only ones who like cherries. The view from the gentle slope of the parking lot is delightful. It consists of the wooded corridor, Willamette River, St. Johns Bridge and Forest Park hills. It will be an interesting segment of the future npGreenway Trail currently being planned.

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