When Anne and John Wagner moved to Portland in 2016 from Cheyenne, WY, to be closer to their two adult daughters, Portland Parks & Recreation was just breaking ground on Gateway Discovery Park in outer NE Portland. By the time their first grandchild, Callum, arrived, Gateway Discovery Park was open and beckoning them to come play.
At 3.2 acres, this “destination park” has something for everyone, including a large plaza, lawn, splash pad, skateboard pit, outdoor fitness equipment, and a picnic area. It’s particularly suitable for babies and toddlers like Callum because its inclusive play area provides a soft, open safe space for crawling and taking first steps.
Anne, her daughters, and Callum loved their first visit to Gateway Discovery Park. “We had such fun experiences there,” Anne says. “Then we started talking about how many Portland parks we’d never even visited . . . .”
And with that, Anne Wagner—a fan of professional bike racing—launched her family’s “Tour des Parcs.”
“When we lived in Cheyenne, we had very easy access to the natural, if dry, high-plains outdoors,” Anne says. “Coming to green, urban Portland has been exciting, but we don't get out of the city as much as we'd imagined we might. So having good parks nearby has been wonderful! It gives us easy access to nature.”
Putting parks within a 10- to 15-minute walk of every Portlander has long been a goal of city leaders. Over the last two decades, significant headway has been made toward that goal. When Gateway Discovery Park opened a year ago, for instance, green and play spaces became available to 800 households that previously did not have ready park access.
One down, many to go
With 146 developed parks in Portland—and so many with toddler-friendly playgrounds—Anne needed a way to narrow her family’s focus. Because the splash pad at Gateway Discovery Park proved so popular with Callum, she decided to build their Tour des Parcs around parks with water features.
Next up: Peninsula Park, a 16-acre parcel along Rosa Parks Way that the city acquired in 1909. Designed by Portland’s first parks director, Emmanuel Mische, Peninsula Park’s formal design reflects the era in which it was built. The park is home to the city’s first community center, oldest rose garden, and second oldest playground.
Some of these finer points may have been lost on Callum, who chiefly concerned himself with setting tree leaves to float in the park’s spectacular fountain, but Anne thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the roses, up to the pergola, and over to the softball field and basketball court.
Another one of Peninsula Park’s attractions is its outdoor swimming pool, one of 12 pools maintained by Portland Parks & Recreation. A number of improvements were recently made to the pool thanks to the 2014 Parks Replacement Bond—many of which allow for longer hours of operation and accommodate more users. The pool has become a place that Callum and his mom have returned to many times over the summer for tot swim lessons.
From space age to rustic
With more pads to splash through on Portland’s east side beckoning, Anne and Callum made Luuwit View Park their next destination. Like Gateway Discovery Park, when Luuwit View opened last summer, it met an important need by creating a safe, welcoming place to play, picnic, and stroll in a historically park-deficient neighborhood in outer NE Portland.
At 15 acres, Luuwit View is roomy enough for a community garden, fenced off-leash area for dogs, and a soccer field. The park takes its name from the Cowlitz Tribe’s moniker for Mount St. Helens, which on clear days can be seen from the park.
“The view is very beautiful, very northwest,” Anne says. She was able to take in that view and chat with other parents and grandparents while Callum and his aunt made mud in the park’s sand and water feature.
No two playgrounds are exactly alike in Portland, as Anne noted when she and Callum visited the next park on their tour: Kenton. “The playground here has a more rustic feel than ‘space age’ Luuwit View.”
Portland’s Parks & Recreation goes to great lengths to gather community input when building new parks or making upgrades to existing ones. Neighbors of Kenton Park asked that the playground redesign include elements that reflect the natural environment, so wooden play structures, balance beams, and stepping stones were installed. To Callum’s eyes, the soft blue rubber surface underneath was shark-filled waters that inspired imaginative play. “The kids practiced balancing on the logs and rocks to avoid being eaten,” Anne recalls.
Callum also took advantage of the paved paths at Kenton Park, riding his balance bike past the evergreens, maples, and beech trees. In addition to the shade trees, Anne loves “the vast, sunny lawns at so many parks that are perfect for Frisbee or a game of catch.”
Those shade trees and vast, sunny lawns help advance the city’s mission of supporting Portlanders’ well-being by providing places for impromptu play and to be in nature, as do the more than 300 basketball courts, tennis courts, softball diamonds, and soccer fields maintained by Portland Parks & Recreation throughout the city.
From splash pads to soccer fields to oodle swings
Callum got to try out of one of those soccer fields himself as part of a neighborhood tots soccer league that meets at Arbor Lodge Park. “Two-year-old soccer fits the herding cats metaphor perfectly,” Anne laughs. “The coach is a saint!”
Making outdoor play possible for everyone is part of Portland Parks & Recreation’s mission. In addition to its many sports fields, Arbor Lodge Park is home to Harper’s Playground, Portland’s first inclusive playground. Conceived by and developed in partnership with Portland’s Goldberg family, the park is named for their daughter, Harper, who was thwarted by woodchips when she tried to approach a play structure in her walker.
Features include an elevated sand table with a water pump, a xylophone, accessible hill with slide and climbing net, oodle swing, omni-spin, and universally-accessible adaptive swings seats. Harper’s Playground at Arbor Lodge served as the inspiration for play structures at some of the other parks Anne and Callum visited, including Gateway Discovery Park and Kenton Park. The newest inclusive playground opened at Couch Park in May of this year.
“For our family,” Anne says, “having fun in the outdoors grounds us emotionally and brings us together over and over for positive family experiences. It’s been a great summer.”
Editor’s note: Anne and her family will be reporting in on their Tour des Parcs throughout the summer. Have your own story about parks you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! Please contact PPF Development & Communications Director Kristie Perry at 503-445-0994 or firstname.lastname@example.org.