A park reborn
Amid futuristic play structures, waterejecting rocks, and a gaggle of people who attended the park's unveiling ceremony, Friends of Spring Garden Park member Lori Howell reflected back on a skeptical comment she heard at Multnomah Days in 2010. As the Friends of Spring Garden Park group was selling cotton candy at the Multnomah Village event, a man quipped: "You're not going to build a park with cotton candy." The man was technically correct but missed the point, according to Howell. The group wouldn't build the park by vending cotton candy. They would build the park by raising awareness and building support — which was the real purpose of selling cotton candy at the biggest Southwest Portland event of the year. And that's exactly what they did. After years of advocacy from Friends of Spring Garden Park and surrounding neighborhoods, the City of Portland approved the park renovation in 2016. And on Saturday, June 16, the new-andimproved park was unveiled to the public. "It's overwhelmingly exciting," Friends of Spring Garden Park Co-Chair Sara Childres said. "All the neighbors coming together through so many different years in different phases of the park is overwhelming and wonderful. It feels like the community that I want to live in." According to the City of Portland website, the park was acquired by the City in 1999 and the City created a master plan for the park in 2003. It is lo
cated in an area of Southwest Portland that the City considers "parks deficient," and walking to alternative parks can be unsafe, according to Friends of Spring Garden Park Co-Chair Carine Arendes. "This area is bordered by Capitol Highway, Multnomah Boulevard, Barbur Boulevard — these are all very busy, high speed, high volume streets. Some of them don't have any sidewalks; some of them only have sidewalks in some places," Arendes said. "If our kids are going to walk anywhere, they're not going to be crossing that; they're not going to be navigating that. They need a park they can walk to safely."
Since Howell made an initial phone call in 2008 imploring the City to invest in the park, Friends of Spring Garden Park spent many years building support. They hosted ice cream socials, plant sales, story walks and other community events. "We would work with local organizations to donate food and drinks so we could have free food and ice cream," Arendes said. "We would buy bottled water, sunscreen, baby wipes — all the things parents need to take their kid to events." They also persistently advocated to Portland officials and received grants from Southwest Neighborhoods Inc., along with another grant of $10,000 from Umpqua Bank that helped finance a small play area in the
park and fund more community events. "Now we've got some events happening at the park. Now we've got a play area that we can celebrate and cheer on," Arendes said. "That made more people interested in the work we're doing and made them believe in us. 'Oh something could happen here. This isn't going to be a grassy lot forever.'" In 2016, the City of Portland allocated $3.6 million to renovate the park, making it known that Spring Garden Park was a priority among many park-related needs. "There are about $400 million in improvements we need in Portland Parks and Recreation to provide a park within a half of mile of every resident," City of Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz said in a speech at the unveiling event. "There were lots and lots of choices of where I could have dedicated the relatively small amount of money that we have in order to be able to start selling those needs." Fritz also emphasized the community's role in designing the park and driving the project forward to completetion, which she said could not have happened without the involvement of so many people. Throughout the design process, Friends of Spring Garden Park hosted events where citizens could weigh in on various design options. The park, which was previously little more than a grassy field with steep slopes, now features ADA accessible walkways, a scenic meadow that includes flowers and native grasses, an enlarged birds nest structure a place to view constellations and look through a telescope, water features and ample natural structures like logs and rocks. Public artwork, a shelter and a picnic area were also added. "We went through a 12 month community process that really set the program for the park. And what I mean by that is the type of play equipment, the fact that there's a splash pad, the artwork, the meadows, all of the things you're seeing in the park today are really the genesis of what we've heard from the community," Portland Parks and Recreation Capitol Project Manager Travis Ruybal said. Childres, who has three young children, previously could not walk her kids through the park due to the lack of accessibility for strollers. And the design process was challenging, according to Ruybal, because of the 70-foot slope from the top to the bottom of the park. The project team implemented 15,000 cubic yards of soil to level out the park and added walkways that meander from the top
to the bottom. They decided not to implement railings because community members expressed support for maintaining the ability to sled in the winter. The City and contractors also placed sidewalks along the adjacent Dolph Court, which previously did not have sidewalks. Childres said her kids are particularly excited about the water features. "My kids are left speechless. They're thrilled about the interactive water feature," she said. "Like a lot of people in the village, we don't have air conditioning, and to get outside on a hot day and be able to find relief is amazing."
Friends of Spring Garden Park member Carole Schmidt said one of the points of emphasis from community members was for the structures to incorporate both natural and synthetic elements, which is why the park includes logs and rock as well as play structures. "The community wanted the hybrid, meaning it's all nature play inspired and as many natural materials as we could possibly have, but also these are enduring structures that don't have to be replaced every few years," Schmidt said. While participating in the park planning process, Arendes was studying city planning. Now, she's a professional land use planner. For her, witnessing and contributing to the park's transformation was especially satisfying. "I feel in shock right now," Arendes said. "I look around and I almost don't believe that this is happening. It's so amazing."