“Portland's parks, public places, natural areas, and recreational opportunities give life and beauty to our city. These essential assets connect people to place, self, and others.”
—Portland Parks & Recreation Vision Statement
The good folks at Portland Parks & Recreation work hard every day to help Portlanders play - providing the safe places, facilities, and programs that promote physical, mental, and social activity. They are focused on getting people—especially kids—outside, active, and connected to the community, increasing the wellness of Portlanders and the livability of our city.
From splash pads to swimming pools to soccer pitches, Anne Wagner and her grandson, Callum, took advantage of everything Portland Parks & Recreation has to offer.
“For our family, having fun in the outdoors grounds us emotionally and brings us together over and over for positive family experiences,” Anne says.
Last month, we reported on the first half of the Wagner clan’s adventures, covering their trips to Gateway Discovery, Peninsula, Luuwit View, Kenton, Arbor Lodge, and Couch Parks. Here’s a look at how the rest of their summer unfolded.
A westside destination
The trip across town from Anne’s normal stomping grounds in outer NE Portland to Spring Garden Park near Multnomah Village proved well worth the time. “Spring Garden Park may be one of the top half-dozen children’s play parks in the city!”
What makes Spring Garden Park so special?
For Callum and his playmate, Alina, it was the basalt-like boulders of the interactive fountain. The cascading water empties into rivulets expertly engineered for two toddlers to test the float-worthiness of summer sandals. For Anne it was the location of the water feature. “It is situated on a ridgeline where the breeze can cut the heat of the summer sun,” she notes.
The swings, climbing structures, recreational paths, and imaginative “Nest”—a bamboo art and play structure designed by the Swedish-born, Portland-based artist, Hannes Wingate—made for a full day. After an energetic round of hide and seek amid the tall grasses, the afternoon concluded with Callum flopped down in a clover field observing bees and airplanes. “A really nice day,” Anne says.
A place to be together
Portland Parks & Recreation’s Native American Community Advisory Council helped name the next park Anne and Callum visited: Khunamokwst. Located in the Cully neighborhood, Khunamokwst takes its name from the Chinook word for “together.” Khunamokwst is the first PP&R park to receive a name reflective of the people who first owned the land.
Together, Callum and his friends circled through the play areas, moving from swings to water feature to climbing rocks to the slide complex and back to the swings. Nearby, family and friends had gathered together around a picnic table and piñata to celebrate a four-year-old’s birthday, while from across the way, Anne could hear “a boom box keeping a family reunion rocking” and the laughter of pre-teens making good use of the skate park.
Like many parks in Portland, Khunamokwst follows the tradition of placing plantings, walking paths, play structures, and other features around an expansive, open field. This layout accommodates a variety of uses and invites neighbors with diverse interests and needs to gather together in the same public space—one of the many important roles parks play in our community.
A well-placed park bench helps build community, too, by beckoning people to sit and linger. The stone benches at Jamison Square are one of the many features that make this Pearl District park so popular among moms with young children. “That and the fountain, of course,” Anne says.
Located between NW Johnson and NW Kearney, Jamison Square is named for William Jamison, whose magnetic personality was key to redeveloping the former warehouse district now known as the Pearl. His ability to connect with a wide variety of people drew many people to his art gallery and the neighborhood.
Jamison Square’s main attraction is a fountain evocative of a shallow tidal pool, with water continuously cascading from stone joints into low pools. So, of course, when Callum and Anne were invited by family friends to spend a few hours there, they jumped at the invitation.
Four 30-foot-tall sculptures line the park. Known as Tiki Totems, these structures, created by artist Kenny Scharf, cover the streetcar utility poles.
The Tiki Totems stand watch over two art installations—Contact II, the 1972 metal sculpture by Alexander Liberman (donated to the City of Portland in 2002 by Ed Cauduro in memory of his parents) and “Rico Pasado,” a red bear created by artist Mauricio Saldana and commissioned by the Pearl Rotary Club.
Amidst all of this, Callum and his friend splashed through the fountain and chased pigeons around the park. On a hot summer day, Jamison Square draws large crowds. The day Callum and Anne visited was no exception. “Like the Where's Waldo series by Martin Handford, finding one's child in the summer melee is a hunt," Anne says.
A park for spontaneous play
Big trees, a big slide, and “big kid” swings made Anne and Callum’s trip to Pier Park momentous. Located in the St. John’s neighborhood, this L-shaped park was named for Stanhope S. Pier, who served as a Portland city commissioner in the late 1920s and as acting mayor in 1931.
On this outing, Callum soloed on a slide for the first time, going backwards on his tummy, and raced along the snaking paths on his balance bike. “The thing that I liked best,” Anne says, “was the feeling I got both from Callum and groups of other children that the forested area encouraged free, imaginative play. Here we saw children building fantasies with tree limbs and playing spontaneously and creatively in refreshing ways.”
Movies and music in the park
On the afternoon Anne and Callum arrived at Dawson Park, face painters, fair tents, and musicians showed up, too. It was Dawson Park’s turn to host a Summer Free For All event in partnership with the Black Parent Initiative. A horde of happy Portland Parks & Recreation staff were on hand to set up a stage and a movie screen so neighbors from near and far could spend a Friday evening listening to Mz Etta’s World play soul, funk, and R&B, and later watch “Captain Marvel.”
Dawson Park is named in honor the Rev. John Dawson, an Episcopal minister and advocate of child welfare and civic improvement in the 1920s. Once a cow pasture, the park became a frequent stopping place for small circuses and medicine shows. By the late 1940s, it functioned as an unofficial town square for the surrounding African American community. The park was the epicenter of many political and social movements during the next 30 years. Robert F. Kennedy spoke here. Civil rights marches began here.
Transitioning to fall
“This has been wonderful,” Anne says. “My family feels so much more familiar with the parks of the city even though we visited just a sampling. It’s been a great summer!”
While the interactive fountains that Anne and Callum built their summer adventure around will close at the end of this month, there is still plenty to do in Portland parks. Registration is open for fall classes at community centers throughout the city. To learn more, visit Portland Parks & Recreation’s “More Green Time, Less Screen Time” registration page at portlandoregon.gov/parks/play.