OF THE MANY ADVOCATES who helped build the spectacular metropolitan trail system now known as the Intertwine, few left more footprints than Barbara Walker. But to understand the savvy that created many miles of the paths we celebrate in this issue, let’s retrace a few steady steps Walker once made on sheer ice.
Walker began her advocate’s career as a kind of NIMBY gone right in 1968. When a developer wanted to build an apartment complex along SW Terwilliger Parkway, near her Portland Heights home, she organized her neighbors against it. But instead of “No!” to development, her battle cry became “Yes!”—to a new park. Soon, she and the fellow hill folk who stuck with her (many didn’t) were scribbling grant proposals and marching Girl Scouts door to door to raise the cash that eventually bought the developer’s land and other unbuilt lots that now constitute Marquam Nature Park.
Along the way, Walker needed a critical endorsement from Glenn Jackson, then overseer of the Oregon Parks Department (and well-remembered by Old Portlanders as the most powerful man in the state). She wrote and called again and again, never inching past his secretary. So on a winter morning after an ice storm shut the city down—and with a good guess that the secretary was home but that Jackson, a notorious workaholic, was not—the one-time newspaper columnist strode down from her home and right up to his desk. She left, signature in hand. Fifteen years of advocacy and $1.6 million later, the ribbon was cut for the park.
Brassy? Not quite. Whether cofounding the 40-Mile Loop Land Trust in 1981 (the Loop is now 135 miles and growing), nudging the early decisions that led to the Eastbank Esplanade, or blazing a wheelchair-accessible path to the summit of Powell Butte (more than a year before the Americans with Disabilities Act would have demanded it), Walker has long been known for her effectiveness with any audience, no matter how powerful or large.
“She has this uncanny ability to read between the lines and articulate the common interests that will bring people around,” says Zari Santner, the former Portland Parks & Recreation director who worked with Walker on many a trail. Another longtime Walker collaborator and an even fiercer greenspaces advocate, Mike Houck, puts it another way: “I’m the stick; Barb’s been the carrot.”
Now age 76, Walker acknowledges that her trailblazing has slowed. But her vision of access for everyone to get everywhere has not dimmed. Whether you have an hour, an afternoon, a day, or a weekend, you can reach nature in Portland without ever getting in a car. (And as the editor of our trails feature, Brian Barker, proves, you can also enjoy a good meal and a drink on the way home.) For the generation to whom she will eventually pass the pen and the shovel (and, hopefully, the cunning), Walker’s simple philosophy for building trails and support is worth repeating.
“I am for connectedness,” Walker says, “not just literal, but psychological and social.”