Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Portland's Park Envy

What an enormously slow newsday at the Portland Tribune on Monday. Apparently there were no hot leads left about wasted money or illicit police affairs (violent OR sexual), so Bob Pamplin's Tuesday top-of-the-fold "good morning" was a bit of distasteful medicine to those who like to crow to visitors, "Did you know Forest Park is the largest forested city park in the country?"

Talk about being a downer!
Forest Park is the 14th largest city park, No. 10 if the list is restricted to municipally owned parks (as opposed to state, county and national parks within city boundaries).

And as for the city’s Parks & Rec claim, well, that may depend on what you classify as forest. But even with the strictest interpretation, Forest Park loses out to Jefferson Memorial Forest in Louisville, Ky. (a johnny-come-lately city park, mind you, called Jefferson County Memorial Forest until Louisville merged with its surrounding county in 2003), and Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis (which has the nerve to allow a golf course amid its forest).

Forest Park as No. 1? “That urban myth goes back to 1948,” said Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park Excellence. “It was the largest park, but not anymore. But don’t feel bad, because people in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park think it’s still the largest park, and that was true until 1896.”
Oh, so now we're not only mistaken, we're hopelessly lost in a time warp of outdated boosterism? I feel like I've been stabbed with a trail sign.

But in taking a closer look at this late-breaking newsflash, it seems not even the Trib's account of 10th or 14th is right. If I'm guessing correctly, the source of their reporting on that is the Center for City Park Excellence(!), who compiled a list {pdf} of the 100 biggest city parks. They helpfully distinguish between municipally-owned parks and those run by other entities like the county or state, and by their numbers, Forest Park indeed finishes 14th (all city parks) or 10th (just the city-owned ones). But someone appears to be feeding the Excellence Center some bogus acreage info. Portland Parks lists it not at a puny 4,300 acres, but a whopping, gigantor 5,155 acres. Assuming they're right (and wouldn't they know?), that makes Forest Park either 11th...or 8th overall!

Perhaps there are people out there who just say "largest city park," but I've always restricted myself to qualifying it with "natural" or "forested," intending to imply that it's the largest unspoiled, undeveloped park in an urban area--because that's what's special about Forest Park. So I tend to agree that having some kind of forested area, and a lack of park-like development such as picnic structures, parking lots and playgrounds, are what would put other parks in Portland's class.

On this basis, the Trib puts Forest Park 3rd---but as we see from the Park Center's rankings, using corrected acreage Eagle Creek Park actually falls behind ours. And really, a golf course? Clubhouses and girls in shorts driving beer carts around, doesn't exactly scream "unspoiled wilderness."

As for the Jefferson Memorial Forest in "Louisville," that's simply cheating. Sure, if Portland wanted to annex everything for 15 miles around it, they could scare up a bigger park space--which is what Louisville did in order to claim the "title." But if you're mailing them a postcard to congratulate them, be sure to address it FAIRDALE, Kentucky--since that's the actual address of the park. Look at a map and you'll see that it's far outside the urban zone of Louisville, and in fact is beyond the interstate 265 loop surrounding the city. And while it looks like a lovely place to go (in a city I really liked when I visited), conference centers and wedding venues may tend to distract from the wonders of nature, especially during , say, Derby Week.

So let the word ring from one end of Wildwood Trail to the other: Forest Park is the country's largest municipally owned, within-an-actual-urban-area, undeveloped, forested park! And if you try to tell us different, be looking for a fight!* Meet us at any one of Portland's strip clubs--the most anywhere! In the US, at least. Per capita. If you mean all nude.

By the way, in case you were wondering, Portlanders are the #10 Googlers of the word "petty." But we're #2 when it comes to "forest"! Take THAT, Phoenix!

*We'll start by picking one with Portland Park and Rec, who required all of one day to change "biggest ever, anywhere" on their website to "one of the largest forested natural areas within city limits in the United States." Booooooo.