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Plans take shape for Spring Garden Park

CONNECTION PHOTO: KELSEY O'HALLORAN - Even though it doesn't have a formal play structure, Spring Garden Park is a popular place for kids and families. Portland Parks & Recreation plans to develop the park by spring 2017.

Sara Childers’ family was just starting to grow when she first got involved with Spring Garden Park.

Now, with three young boys in tow — ages 5, 3 and 5 months — the Friends of Spring Garden Park co-chair is watching plans take shape for the undeveloped 4.6-acre lot.

At a community meeting on Sept. 29, Portland Parks & Recreation representatives unveiled three possible designs to enhance the park’s natural elements and make it more accessible for visitors of all ages.

The park could be completed in spring 2017, when Childers’ youngest son is 2 years old.

COURTESY OF PORTLAND PARKS & RECREATION - Plan A for Spring Garden Park features a circular playground and picnic area, as well as an enclosed off-leash area for dogs. “To know that my kids are actually going to play in that park, and that we’re not just building it for future generations, is unbelievable,” she says.

The city has budgeted $3.4 million for the park, which will include sidewalk and street improvements on Southwest Dolph Court and Southwest Spring Garden Street, as well as a covered park structure, a play structure, a Portland Loo restroom, walking paths, picnic tables, benches, native plants and other landscaping and recreational features.

Each of the three park plans offers users a slightly different experience. Travis Ruybal, Portland Parks & Recreation capital project manager, says the final park design will likely be a hybrid of the three options based on the community’s feedback. He and his team accepted comments on the second round of designs through Oct. 9, and plan to host another public meeting to collect feedback on the final design sometime in January.

Park option A is the only plan that offers an enclosed off-leash area for dogs, while options B and C leave out the dog park and opt to keep part of the slope unobstructed for sledding — a tradition for kids in the neighborhood.

COURTESY OF PORTLAND PARKS & RECREATION - Spring Garden Park plan B includes both soft and concrete paths and a pie-shaped playground area. Although neighbors have long allowed their dogs to run free through the undeveloped park, Ruybal says park policy will require owners to keep their dogs on leashes or within a designated off-leash area.

Multnomah resident Rosi Goldsmith says Spring Garden is her “go-to place to meditate,” but she worries that adding a dog area could change the small park.

“To have a dog run there is just going to destroy that calmness,” she says, adding that she’s noticed dogs stirring up dust and fighting in other off-leash areas.

She says she prefers the “beautiful” option B, which offers space for contemplation with more gardens and walking paths than option A.

“It would keep the flavor of having meandering walking spaces on the slope,” she says.

While the paths in option B wind back and forth through the park in a curving shape, those in option C are more formal and square.

Option C offers large garden areas with native grasses and wildflowers, as well as a retaining wall with a guardrail along Southwest Dolph Court.

The completed park will be more accessible, with concrete paths and space for people in wheelchairs to stop and rest as they make their way up or down the sloping park.

Ruybal says he and his team hope to start building next fall and celebrate the park’s grand opening in spring 2017, but he says the park’s natural water features could complicate winter construction.

“There’s a reason why this is called ‘Spring Garden Park,’” he says. “It’s because there are springs up there.”

COURTESY OF PORTLAND PARKS & RECREATION - Park plan C offers a more formal, square walkway with a modular playground and picnic areas and a retaining wall along Southwest Dolph Court.

‘Keep it beautiful’

Portland Parks & Recreation acquired Spring Garden Park in 1999 and added a natural play area in November 2011, through a partnership with Friends of Spring Garden Park and Umpqua Bank’s Multnomah Village branch. Wood for the project was donated from TriMet; it had to be removed from its Lincoln Street property during construction of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail project.

Spring Garden's neighbors have enjoyed having an undeveloped park nearby.

Gary Gilbert, who lives in Multnomah, says he was one of several dozen locals who watched the Sept. 27 lunar eclipse from the park. He says he wouldn’t like to see the park become so developed that neighbors can’t continue to enjoy its natural features.

When Gilbert sat on the original citizens’ advisory committee for the park more than a decade ago, he says the group agreed that they wanted to “leave it alone.”

“The vision for this place (was) to keep it beautiful,” he says. “I want to preserve some of those original intentions.”

During the neighborhood meeting about the park, Parks & Recreation officials said that based on neighbors’ feedback, they weren’t planning to add lights in the park so that it could maintain its reputation as a prime eclipse viewing and stargazing location.

Playground options still to come

Childers, who lives in Multnomah, says she and her family visit parks daily, and her boys call Spring Garden “our park” and enjoy the natural landscape.

Though the park doesn’t yet have a traditional play structure, she says her boys like the sand pit and pretend that the logs they play on are whales.

“The nature play enhances creativity,” she says. “I feel like that’s when they get the most tired — from unstructured play.”

Ruybal says he and his team will present initial playground concepts at the January community meeting. The designs will likely focus on nature play or hybrid playground concepts.

“Clearly, you folks are not looking for a post-and-deck traditional playground,” he said to the September meeting group. He and his team plan to seek playground feedback after they finalize the park’s overall design.

Neighbor Meg Merrill, who lives on the other side of the Village from Spring Garden Park, says she hopes that the eventual play structure will reflect the nature-based recreation that many kids already enjoy there. Nature play is particularly close to Merrill’s heart; she produced the 2010 documentary “Play Again,” which explored the consequences of children who spend most of their young lives away from nature.

“I think our goal with parks can be about connecting kids with nature and not just giving them a cool place to play,” she says. “We hope (kids) start exploring nature beyond the playground.”

Contact Kelsey O’Halloran at 503-636-1281 ext. 101 or kelseyo@pamplinmedia.com.