Portland is a city defined by its waterways, but for many years downtown Portland was cut off from the river that ran right through the middle of it. Years of highway construction and seawalls had the effect of divorcing Portland from the Willamette River, but finally in the 1970s all that changed with the construction of Waterfront Park.
This green space which now runs along the western side of the Willamette is reclaimed space that used to be an old road which had become obsolete, and it’s now a beloved area for Portlanders and visitors alike. Waterfront Park is often half-covered in tents and stages, as it’s a very popular setting for the many festivals and events which go on year-round in Portland. The full name of the park is Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park, as it is named after the governor under whose leadership the park was built. The green area to the left of the river in the picture below is Waterfront Park:
Waterfront Park stretches along the river from SW Harrison St. and NW Glisan St., and it covers just over 29 acres total. Inside that space you’ll find more than just green lawns and jogging paths, too – the park includes historic monuments, a boat dock and something of an interactive fountain. Two of the historic monuments are the Battleship Oregon Memorial which honors a ship from the late 1800s (there’s a 1976 time capsule at the memorial’s base which is to be opened in 2076) and the “Founder’s Stone” which honors the two men who founded the city of Portland. The park also contains a memorial to the Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II.
Salmon Street Springs is the “interactive fountain” mentioned earlier; what makes it interactive is that it’s at ground level, and during warm weather it’s not only acceptable but encouraged for kids of all ages to play in the fountain’s spray. On its own, the fountain is pretty enough to look at – but it’s so much more fun to watch people cooling off by running through the water on a hot day! And of course the wide paths are the perfect places for walking, running or cycling – you’ll see Portlanders taking advantage of those paths all year long. Plus, there’s WiFi in the park, too!
Many events call Waterfront Park home throughout the year, including the Portland Rose Festival, The Bite of Portland, Waterfront Blues Festival and the Oregon Brewers Festival. Some may require an admission fee, or a donation of some kind, but the park itself is free to enter. And even if some parts of the park are taken up by an event, there will still be areas which are unoccupied during that time where you can wander at will.