You could pass by it many times (as I did) before ever noticing the trail. The path, partially hidden in bushes along Bus 75, leads into the trees and takes you into a different world. A solitary sign says Errol Heights Park. This secluded refuge is in the southeast Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood near Springwater Trail.
Within seconds you are ensconced in a natural world of trees and greenery. There’s nary a house in sight. Sounds of traffic fade and are replaced by an odd harmony of feathered friends chirping together. It’s like being instantly transported miles into the country.
Errol Heights Park is home to trees, wetlands, ponds, a creek, natural spring and many species of wildlife. Local residents, inspired by the eco potential of the area, formed the Friends of Errol Heights in the mid 1990s. They cleared out invasive species, brought back native plants and trees, and helped City of Portland Environmental Services restore the wetlands. As a result, fish and wildlife habitat has improved, and beaver have taken up residence.
“I heard they yanked an old school bus out of here,” says John, a man I meet on the trail. “Birds of prey are coming back to the area. I’ve seen owls in here. I’d love to come here at night and watch through night-vision glasses.” He goes on to say not many people know about this place. “We’re protective of it and keep an eye on it.” We spot a ripple in the pond. It’s a beaver who glides across the glass surface then dunks and disappears.
“Birds of prey are coming back to the area. I’ve seen owls in here. I’d love to come here at night and watch through night-vision glasses.”
Later, I meet two others who recently discovered the park. One man with a long gray beard just moved back to the neighborhood after being gone for 30 years. “I don’t remember this at all,” he says. “Must not have been here when I lived around here. We used to sled down SE 52nd in the winter – it’s a long, steep hill – but I don’t remember ever being here. I brought my grandson here a few days ago. It’s pretty amazing.”
Many groups have pitched in to restore Errol Heights over the years including Portland Parks, Friends of Errol Heights, Friends of Trees, Johnson Creek Watershed Council, Portland Parks Foundation, SOLVE, Hands-On Portland, Kelly Elementary School, Franklin High School, and Sunnyside Elementary School. A habitat of caring humans.
Photographs by Geoffrey Hiller | Text by Tom Vandel | ©2016 All Rights Reserved