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Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Wednesday Ride: Felony Flats, Forlorn Parks, and Fallen Felines

dnesday, November 9, was yet another sparkly sunny day in Portland. So why not go for a bicycle ride? I don't have to work until Monday, so it's all "free time" until then. I know the nice weather won't be around forever, so carpe diem, as the Quebecois like to say.

Now the question of "where to ride" is brought up. I've already traversed inner SE on my flyering mission on Tuesday, and I would be in North on Thursday. Due to my late start time and the early sunsets this time of year (4:47pm today), a lengthy ride to Troutdale or north of Vancouver isn't prudent. But where to go that I haven't been recently? How about Sellwood?

But rather than do the obvious and take the Springwater route from the Central Eastside, I would come 'round the backside--head due south through the seventies, hitting up Roseway, Montavilla, Foster-Powell, and other outskirty-unhip areas, then approach Sellwood from the east, and use the Springwater to downtown. Great!

Though neighborhoods like South Tabor and Foster-Powell are seen as uncool and "trashy" by many of Portland's New Elite, I like crusing through them. There's plenty of nice old houses to be found (especially right near Foster Rd.) and since it's an area I don't regularly go to, I always find a new treasure or two along the way.

Around Arleta Elementary School at SE 66th and Raymond, I needed to figure out which way to go next. Should I take a straight shot west along Steele, then south on 28th to the Bybee Bridge? Or to Woodstock Blvd to Bybee Bridge? A more exciting option presented itself: head to Woodstock, then go south and catch the Springwater Trail around SE 45th and Harney.

South of Woodstock Blvd, things get interesting. On the west side of SE 45th is Eastmoreland, a nice upper-income district that adjoins a golf course and Reed College. East of 45th is an area known before as Errol Heights, formerly unincorporated Multnomah County lands filled with small houses and "unimproved" streets that are more like rutted wagon trails than modern streets. This is the area of "deep SE" that is typically associated with meth manufacturing and cars rusting in people's yards. Errol Heights reputation was so bad at one point that they changed the neighborhood name to Brentwood-Darlington (if you're going to rename the 'hood, might as well go with as many syllables as possible!) But most people nowadays know Errol He-Brentwood-Darlington by its more colorful nickname, Felony Flats. I doubt the name change did much for the reputation.

The "heights" that Errol referrs to is a plateau overlooking the Johnson Creek valley. And in this valley is where I found a reminder of the old neighborhood name. Tucked into a hollow near the intersection of SE 45th and Harney is Errol Heights Natural Area, a very unknown city park.
Through the bottom of the hollow runs Errol Creek, fed by springs and flowing into Johnson Creek. The park is very much unused, though the initial kernel of the park was purchased in 1966, almost 40 years ago.

The last time I was here everything was in the "very overgrown" state, blackberry bushes everywhere. Evidently people have been doing a good job of cleaning things up--the bushes are gone, leaving a relatively clean hillside. Evidence of plantings in the lowland is displayed by the telltale orange plastic chickenwire surrounding sproutlings. The parks department is working with the community on a master plan which will steer the development for years to come. Right now its still very much unknown and unused, unless you consider drinking cheap malt liquor as an appropriate use. (Plenty of cans and bottles to be found, along with balls of yarn? You'll find anything in urban secluded spots, I guess.)
For a current Portland Tribune story on all this, click here.

From there, I got onto the Springwater and rode it all the way to the end, at least the end for now. I got to see the construction of the Three Bridges Project, which will connect the OMSI-Sellwood segment along the Willamette to the main stem. The bridge over the old espee tracks was built but not completed. A UP freight rumbled underneath and the sun was getting ready to set. Time to get a move on.

I found a secret trail that connected this part of the Springwater to SE Tacoma St. From there, I crossed McLoughlin and into Sellwood. I took a brief break at Johnson Creek Park, a stop of the Pedal Potluck Picnic series. It was cool to see it this time of year, since the trees were mostly bare and the tall grass dead. And because of the lack of foliage I saw something that I hadn't noticed before--another picnic table. But this one was on the other side of Johnson Creek, unreachable from this side of the park. The park was larger than I thought! But how to get to the other side? I took a quick ride down to SE Ochoco (by where the new Goodwill Bins is) and headed to Evil McLoughlin Blvd. A crappy ride along the sidewalk brought me to the proper dead-end street, and after passing a couple warehouses, I found The Lost Part of Johnson Creek Park, consisting of a grassy lot, a picnic bench (complete with an empty 40-bottle), and the concrete foundation for a bridge. Apparently a bridge did cross the creek there at one point. Would there be any future plan to bring it back, reconnecting the two parts of the park? The lost half seems so sad and forlorn. Let's petition this one!

I'll sidetrack here and say things like this is why I'm still fascinated with Portland. I've been here for 4 1/2 years, which seems like plenty of time to get to know the city. But there is always so much to explore. I'll never know everything. Every time I take a bicycle ride like this, I find out new things. And the forlorn park wasn't the only new thing I found on this ride. On the way back down McLoughlin, at the intersection of Ochoco, I found a small fenced off area. Inside the fence was a teeny-teeny pond, complete with reeds and ducks. Amazing! Why does such a thing exist? And I can bet most of the people who zoom down 99E daily in their cars never noticed it!

Now it was getting dark so I needed to move. Approaching the south entrance to the OMSI-Springwater path, I could hear a train whistle in the distance, and it was getting closer! Alright now! I'm going to get to see some action on the little-used East Portland Traction line, the only surviving remnant of Portland's extensive streetcar system still in use. (The majority of the line was abandoned to make the east-of-McLoughlin section of the Springwater Corridor.) It was coming from the industrial area right behind the Bins, most likely carrying a few boxcars.

My excitement quickly dampered one block from the railroad crossing. In the middle of Tenino St lay a cat. At first I hoped it was just casually sprawled in the road, since this was a fairly quiet street. But a closer inspection confirmed my fears. The cat was an apparent victim of a car. There was no visible sign of injury, but it wasn't moving or breathing. It probably got hit very recently. In a situation like that, what was I to do? The cat was dead, so there was no help I could provide it. Calling 911 wouldn't do it. I could start randomly knocking on the doors of houses on the street, but I didn't. I figured that the owner would find out soon enough, and I didn't think I wanted to see that. I rode down to the tracks, saw the train pass (three boxcars), and pedaled on up the bike path to downtown. Another downer end to a great bicycle ride.


  1. Felony Flats is a pretty crass term. I've met people who have lived there all their lives, and they're not felons. It's an offensive term. Sure, it's funny, two F's always sound funny, but it's not funny. So Fuck the Phrase Felony Flats. Erase it from your vocab.

  2. Ayleen, to make it clear, I didn't say that I personally used the term. I mentioned it because it unfortunately has become part of the Portland lexicon. Tell people you went to Errol Heights and you'll get blank stares. Tell them Brentwood-Darlington, same thing. Say Felony Flats and they'll be, "Oh yeah, that area down south of Woodstock, right?" I know that not everyone that lives in the area is a felon, but the area has a certain stigma. And as Portland is being "improved", neighborhood by neighborhood, there are fewer ares (within the city limits) that elitists and snobs can safely make fun of these days. So Errol Heights and East-Of-82nd get the brunt of the jokes. Can you imagine what people said about North Portland fifteen years ago? Or what westsiders said about the east side in the '70s?

  3. Oh, and here is an article from the newest Portland Tribune about the Flats (and they use that crass term several times within):
    link here
    It's interesting how they note that FF doesn't have a definite boundary, like how Albina for a number of years didn't have a specific boundary, it was just a term for whites to refer to "the black part of town."


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