By Madelyn Miller ::
Before being purchased by City of Portland in 1925, the primary users of what’s now Powell Butte Nature Park were a handful of wayward cows from the adjacent Meadowland Dairy and the occasional picnicking family. The trails that now lead across the butte’s upper meadow and down into the surrounding forested ravines didn’t exist until the city designated the former dairy farm as park space in 1987. A century before the park’s creation, the butte’s previous occupants had cleared the upper meadow to make room for an orchard and cattle grazing, but left the trees on the butte’s periphery completely—an anomaly for a city that earned the nickname “Stumptown” after overzealous tree cutting in its early years. The owner of Meadowland Dairy opted to keep the thick forest surrounding the butte in tact, as the woods created a natural fence his cows wouldn’t be able to pass through while grazing in the meadow. This intentional neglect resulted in the unintentional preservation of some of Portland’s largest and oldest trees, including Heritage Tree 260, a 300-year-old Douglas fir that can be found along the Cedar Grove Trail in the southeast corner of the park. When the city acquired the butte to house underground water storage tanks, the fate of the meadow and previously untouched forest seemed imperiled, but through a partnership with Portland Parks and Recreation the butte has been designated a protected natural area.
While development and conservation are often thought of as adversaries, without the dairy industry on Powell Butte the old growth trees would have likely been cut down centuries ago. In the greater context of development in Portland, Heritage Tree #260 and Powell Butte Nature Park represent the sometimes precarious balance between progress and passivity, and show that sometimes the two are more linked than not.
[ featured image: Douglas-fir | Dennis Paulson]
For more information, please see:
- City of Portland (OR) Archives, Powell Butte Master Plan. A2000-014, 1986. Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior. General Land Office Records
- Powell Butte Master Plan. Conditional Use Master Plan, Conditional Use Permit, Environmental Review, and Adjustments. LUR 00-00414 MS CU EN AD. Prepared for the Portland Bureau of Water Works In cooperation with the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation. July 2003.
- Houck, Michael C. and M.J. Cody. Wild in the City: A Guide to Portland’s Natural Areas. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 2000.
- Friends of Powell Butte Nature Park