Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Former islands are easier to leave than actual ones*

For an industrial/business park, Swan Island is almost pretty. It's definitely striking, with a bluff on its east side, downtown and the Fremont Bridge to the south, Forest Park to the west, and cranes — many, many cranes — on or near it. Swan Island is also, by my standards, out of the way. Adding to that feeling: if you drive, bus or walk to it, there's only one way on and off, N. Going St. (Boats or seaplanes have other ways to reach it, I'm guessing. Oo! Helicopters! I want to visit by helicopter...) Planes used to land here, too, at Portland's first airport, though the air field was almost immediately obsolete and later replaced by what is now PDX.

I'm telling you this because I visited Swan Island yesterday evening on a bussing/walking trip. The lede, it is buried. Also I didn't take pictures so I want to paint word-pictures of the place instead.

Work-wise, Swan Island is a big deal, home to lots of businesses and industries. I used to visit in the Eighties because my Grandpa Irv and my Uncle Greg worked at the Cummins Diesel main offices at the foot of the island; both of them closed out their careers there. (Uncle Greg drove 70 miles round trip each work day, for a couple of decades, for that job.) What used to be the Freightliner Trucks offices are on the island; Freightliner is now owned by Daimler, which has a large new office complex there still being built. (One slight connection to my former work-life: Hoffman Construction, where I worked from 2009 to 2011, is building it.) Do any people live on the island? I'm guessing not anymore, though it had barracks in the 1940s at the height of wartime ship-building.

Swan Island, I figure, would be a weird place to live. But I had a nice walk, after work hours so it was mostly deserted. Thinking and hoping there'd be access to areas near the water, I walked up N. Channel Ave. and found an entrance to McCarthy Park, a linear park along the Willamette River. The park has at least three paths down to the water, but you don't want to swim there; and one of the paths near Daimler ends in a platform that literally broke off of the stairway leading down to it. That concrete platform lists to the side into the water. I wonder if a good enough flood'd wash it away.

After hours, it was quiet, quiet enough that by the water I could hear someone talking on a boat in the middle of the Willamette, as well as the warning beeps as a NW Portland gantry moved along its tracks. A heron, which I've seen occasionally in town (I remember some at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Park in SE), flew overhead at one of my stops. There's life and green there, easy to find.

I almost walked to the southeastern end of McCarthy Park, but as I didn't know the lay of the land and had no idea how long the path actually was, I broke off at a feeder path that got me back to Port Center Way and Going St. A small snake shared the path with me for a minute; I gave the snake a respectful berth and waited for it to move along. (I like and respect snakes.)

Home after that, feeling good about my walk. The 72 bus runs to Swan Island and goes down NE/SE 82nd Ave. to 12 blocks from where I live; long bus ride, but I read plenty while riding, as I usually do.

Though I didn't take pictures, this 2008 blog entry I found shows some of the places I was at, but doesn't show them in the neat early-evening glow I saw them in.

And one more thing: Swan Island's been a peninsula since at least the very early 20th century, but the name stuck. The Going St. entrance and the rail tracks are on the fill that connected the island to the mainland and turned a Willamette side channel into a lagoon.

* Exception to this is if a former island was flooded and no longer existed anymore by virtue of being covered by water, but I doubt that's going to happen here.
Tags: peregrinations, portland

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