Posted by: pilgrm34 | August 2, 2011

the cove

Willamette Cove from the Bluff above

July 31, 2011. Willamette Cove is one of the best kept secrets in north Portland, though not much of a secret to neighbors and homeless folks.

field below the Willamette Bluff
It’s part of St. John’s abandoned riverfront, one of the last river greenways left in Portland and part of the 11-mile Willamette Bluff system. The riverfront extends for a mile and a half along the Willamette’s east side and incorporates Cathedral Park where it veers slightly upland to connect to the equally hidden Baltimore Woods corridor for another mile and a half. This combined greenway parallels the river and runs the length of the Friends of Cathedral Park neighborhood an otherwise urban environment, connecting with natural areas to the north and Waud’s Bluff to the south. At its widest it’s several hundred feet.

After 1900 St. John’s riverfront was the site of feverish industrial activity. There were factories, mills and docks where plywood, flour, wool and barrels were manufactured. Since the mid-1900s it has been deserted, with only skeletal remains of cement foundations, roads and river dredgings grown over by plants, barely visible to the eye. Manufacturing sites were abandoned as the economy changed or when businesses were required to clean up pollution.

native oak populate the Bluff

It was not an intentional urban greenway, but manifested due to neglect. In spite of its industrial past and urban surroundings there are signs of nature returning, as if healing over the scars. There are groves of native cottonwoods, willows, alder, as well as fir, madrone and native oak. And there are signs of life in the trees: nests and the tapping of woodpeckers. Bald Eagle, Red Tail Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, owls, bats, a variety of woodpeckers, swifts, swallows, numerous songbirds and hummingbirds can be seen. On the riverfront sightings include: beaver, nutria, jumping fish, river otter, sea gulls, harbor seals, mallards, and Canadian geese. Among land animals, there have been coyotes, rabbits, skunk, opossum, deer, Western Painted turtle, frogs, snakes, raccoons, squirrels, rodents, and feral cats. The fact is, we don’t know everything that’s out there.

ghost road at Willamette Cove

 I happen to be involved as an activist in helping preserve portions of this forgotten urban greenway and have also written a thesis on the recovery of wilderness tradition of ancient Israel and early Christianity in which I ask: Do we need wilderness? What is its relationship to our spiritual tradition? Why does two-thirds of the Torah, the foundational book of Judaism, occur in the wilderness?


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