Friday, March 11, 2011

Tanner Springs Park: Nature in The Pearl District

Portland's Pearl District is now known for upscale condos, trendy shops and cafes, and easy access to MAX and the Portland Streetcar.  Rewind about a century, and the area now known as "The Pearl" is home to warehouses and rail yards, atop the recently filled wetlands and the now-underground Tanner Creek (named for a tannery built by Daniel Lownsdale in 1845).  Go back another century, to the mid 1800's, and Tanner Creek flows freely from the wooded hillsides, into riverside wetlands and Couch Lake.

In 2003, as the Pearl District urban renewal moved toward the Willamette River near Union Station, planning for this park began.  The plan was to bring back a little slice of the original grassland and wetland habitat.

Today, Tanner Springs Park is a perfect postage stamp of grass and water, tying the modern urban skyline to the native landscape that used to be.  The ground slopes down from west to east toward the river, and at the lower end there's a shallow pond with walkways built across the surface.  Water is pumped back up the slope from the pond, to become re-created streams flowing down from above.  The man-made streams run through native grasses, and alongside gravel paths.  In one area, the path is made from cobblestones that were once used as ballast for ships on the Willamette, and later as pavement for Portland's streets.  At the northeast corner of the park, a leaf-shaped, glass shelter over the streetcar stop catches rain water and pipes it in to the pond.  Along the east side of the park, a sculptural fence is made from sections of recycled railroad track, with occasional windows of stained glass.  There are a few benches and grass terraces for lounging, and there's a great view of the Fremont Bridge to the north.

The day I chose to visit the park was during a recent cold snap, and I think it was about 20 degrees out.  The pond was frozen, and there was not a bird, critter, or human in sight.  I'm guessing on a warmer day the park must be a bit more active, with Portlanders - feathered and otherwise - enjoying a welcome bit of nature in the city.

One thing to note - and one reason the park may be more tranquil than other city parks - no pets are allowed, and you're encouraged to stay on the paths to protect the re-created habitat.  Although some people may not think that's the best use of an urban park, I think it's a great thing.  Especially with Jamison Square just one block away.  (Update 3/7/12: And now with The Fields being developed just two blocks to the north.  See update below.)

What about you?  Have you visited Tanner Springs?  Seen any birds or other wildlife?

Update March 7th, 2012:  Tanner Springs will soon have a sister park, one more suited to dogs and lawn play, just two blocks to the north.  All part of a master plan to build four parks in the area, each for different uses - Tanner Springs for quiet relaxation, Jamison Square with its kid-friendly fountain, a riverfront park still in the planning, and The Fields Neighborhood Park. The Fields will feature an enclosed off-leash area, and a large lawn for Frisbee and other activities.  Read about the groundbreaking and plans for The Fields over at

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