Forest Park Wildwood Path

The Wildwood Trail above NW Cornell Road and the Audubon Society of Portland

Then the City Club of Portland sank its teeth into the park. Last May the 95-year-old group, whose early members helped create the park, issued a 58-page, humdinger-packed report dubbed, “Forest Park: A Call to Action.” Among its more incendiary revelations was the fact that despite its size—some 47 percent of all Portland Parks & Recreation lands—Forest Park received less than 1 percent of the city’s $99.5 million park budget, roughly $500,000 in 2010. The report jabbed especially hard at the parks bureau’s failure to follow its own park management plan, a blueprint crafted in 1995. The plan called for, among other things, a park user survey, strategies to combat invasive species such as English ivy, which has infested up to 30 percent of the park, and a full-time, paid ranger. Little had been done. Some clubbers were so rankled that they proposed the park should be taken over by Metro. To cap the calamitous year, Oregon Public Broadcasting’s popular Oregon Field Guide program aired a special on Forest Park that cast a seesaw view. The upside: Forest Park is a still a gem. The downside: we’re rapidly loving it to death.

“Have you heard the expression, ‘We went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out’? I think a similar thing happened here,” says Nick Fish, the city commissioner in charge of parks. “[In 2009] we began a community conversation about whether there was room for off-road cycling in this jewel called Forest Park. And through that sometimes painful process, we heard from the community that the city needed to do a better job as stewards. And that’s my no. 1 goal—Forest Park has risen to the top of the list.”

Indeed, Fish and crew have been busy. In addition to bringing on McCoy, the city completed a recreational user study with Portland State University. In January, the parks department released a Desired Future Condition Report to help guide park restoration efforts during the next 25 years with actions like a vegetation-monitoring program slated to begin this summer with the help of Forest Park Conservancy, an advocacy group the city has officially partnered with to tend to the park. Fish has also earmarked $80,000 for a yearlong wildlife study in 2012, an endeavor that could help foster a better understanding of Forest Park’s strategic connection to the Coast Range.

“If ever Forest Park needed a smooth-talking Smokey, it’s now."

The efforts have not gone unnoticed. “I feel strongly that Portland has made a commitment [to Forest Park],” says Mike Houck, the director of Portland’s Urban Greenspaces Institute and noted champion of natural areas like the popular Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, which, he notes, the city transformed from a one-time “tsunami” of Himalayan blackberries. “But it’s going to take many years to achieve the kind of conditions we’d like to see 50 to 100 years from now in Forest Park.”

Meanwhile, McCoy hopes to reinforce his ranks by deputizing members of a volunteer park ambassador program, essentially a neighborhood watch for the park.

Still, Portland’s spectacled steward of Forest Park remains realistic about his own effect. “This is a big forest, and I’m just a little guy,” he says. “I can’t change people. But I can help shape an experience in the park. And I can set them on the right path.”

Download a printable version of a map of Forest Park and a guide to all the hikes, runs, and bikes.