Exploring the Forest Park Neighborhood / by Chris Bonner

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Forest Park might not exist and the neighborhood Forest Park might be considerably larger were it not for the challenges developers encountered in the area in the early 1900's. The history of the neighborhood and the park are almost one and the same. Most of the acreage that makes up the park today was privately owned at the turn of the century. Individuals seeking vistas, and quiet sought out and settled in the area for its pristine beauty while enterprising citizens looked at the old growth timber and saw resources for building and profit. 

Accomplished landscape architects John L. Olmsted and Edward H. Bennet each made pleas to the city to preserve the entire ridgeline and its surrounding area as public parklands. Olmsted broached the idea in the citywide development plan he presented at the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition and Bennet revisited it less than a decade later. Both posited that preservation of the "romantic wooded hillside" would create a unique urban environment that would continue to draw residents to the city of Portland for years to come.

City residents and developers were not easily convinced. Efforts to terrace the area for development in the early 1900s failed and permanently destabilized some of the slopes. The construction of the road we know as Leif Erikson Drive was the project that determined the fate of the area. Developers so severely underestimated the cost to build and maintain the road that the city made a steep increase in areas tax assessments to fund the road, a decision that rendered the surrounding lots unsellable. Hundreds of acres–2500 by 1930– were turned over to the city and county because landowners who couldn't pay their property taxes faced foreclosure. 

Even with the massive shift in land ownership, it took another twenty years, and the work of many more residents and activists for the city to approve the recommendation that the area be designated as public parklands. There is still privately owned land within the park boundary.

The southern part of the park lies within the Forest Park neighborhood boundary. Residents of the neighborhood enjoy great access to the park. Most of the neighborhood is within unincorporated Multnomah County but there are some areas that fall within Portland's city limits. Dwellings range from condo complexes to single-family homes and architectural styles run the gamut from turn of the century homes to modern estates. 


There are numerous public schools in the area Forest Park Elementary and Skyline Elementary, West Sylvan Middle School and Stoller Middle School, and Lincoln High School. Private schools are also abundant in the surrounding communities and there is one preschool located in the neighborhood northernmost area called Wildwood Nature School

Residents of the area have great access to both Northwest and downtown Portland and also neighboring areas like Bethany, Cedar Mill and West Haven-Sylvan. 

Points of Interest

Forest Park is over 5,000 acres and boasts over 80 miles of soft-surface trails, fire and forest roads for the public to use for hiking and running. The park is also home to the Audubon Society's Wildlife Care Center where over 3,000 wild animals are treated and rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. The Wildlife Care Center is also home to a handful of birds you can meet and visit that arrived at the center with injuries that inhibited their ability to be successfully released back into the wild; they live there permanently, serving as ambassadors for their species. Four miles of trails around the Wildlife Care Center make up the Audubon Society's Nature Sanctuary where you can learn about native plants, explore Balch Creek and watch for birds.

Pittock Mansion, Portland's most notable historic house museum, lies just beyond the park and neighborhood boundary but is reachable through the park's trail network and well-worth a visit. Completed in 1914 for enterprising newspaper mogul Henry Pittock and his wife Georgina, the home was inhabited by generations and relations of the Pittocks until 1958. Boasting incredible views inside and out, Pittock mansion was thankfully preserved and protected at the urging of Portland citizens who rallied to support the City's purchase and restoration of the mansion in the 1960s. 


The park is the central focus of the neighborhood. Residents are active in protecting not only the active wildlife corridor but also maintaining the viability of agricultural areas, forest industry use, and preserving the natural landscape. Skyline Tavern is the one public gathering spot and it's a great one! Sitting atop Tualatin Mountain, the tavern serves a rotating selection of Oregon beer on tap alongside a simple menu made with Portland's finest ingredients. Plan a hike that takes you by the tavern for lunch or a late afternoon snack and enjoy the outdoor beer garden and a game of ping pong before trekking back to your car.

Walk trails through the park to get to vibrant neighborhoods like Linnton, St John's, or Northwest Portland where you will find delicious food, refreshing drink, and FUN.