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  • Radford Bean

Riding the Loop Around the Willamette River

May 20, 2023—I had planned on paddling the Tualatin River this morning. However, my plans changed because I had to go into Portland to River City Bikes to pick up my new bike helmet they were holding for me. Since I couldn’t paddle today, I decided to bring my bike along and ride the trail that loops around the Willamette River in downtown Portland. While much of trail ride takes place in Portland and therefore the city, a section of the trail includes the Springwater Corridor Trail. This trail section seems far removed from the city and takes place in a natural setting, which I why I chose to write about this ride.

Starting out from Sellwood Riverfront Park, Oregon, I chose to ride the loop in a clockwise direction. After a short climb up Southeast Spokane Street, I turned onto Southeast Tacoma Street and rode across the Sellwood Bridge.

I entered the trail after exiting the bridge and descending the steep path from South Macadam Avenue. The trail is popular with joggers and cyclists as it follows the bank of the Willamette River through woods until it reaches Willamette Park about a third of a mile away.

Much of the loop follows the river, but riders once they reach the Old Spaghetti Factory must ride through the Oregon Health and Science University’s (OHSU) dental school campus and surrounding business complexes until arriving at Waterfront Park where the trail begins again. Streetcar tracks along this section of the loop can make riding a little tricky, especially if the tracks are wet from rain. The bike path can also be a little confusing in this section of the loop.

Workers were erecting tents in preparation for the Rose Festival, which kicks off next weekend. This park is always crowded on sunny days, so my riding was a little slow as I weaved around dog walkers, joggers, people just strolling along the bank, and other cyclists. There were also homeless people spread out on the lawn, but they posed no problems. Saturday Market was also taking place, so I briefly had to exit the park and ride along Southwest Naito Parkway to bypass the market. Once past the market, I re-entered the park, returned to the multi-use path, and rode across the Steel Bridge to reach the eastside of the Willamette River.

The East Esplanade extends from the Steel Bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). Some of the Esplanade is built on the river, so it makes the bike ride interesting. It’s a good spot to stop, eat a snack, and view in downtown Portland from across the river. There are benches where riders can sit and enjoy the scenery. This is another spot that is often busy with people because of the views the Esplanade provides. People also come down to the Esplanade to fish.

After capturing some photos of cyclists on the water-level section of the Esplanade, I continued along the trail until reaching OMSI. There I stopped to snap a couple of pictures of the USS Blueback, a diesel submarine that people might recognize from the scene in the movie “Hunt for Red October” where a submarine performs a rapid surface.

Past OMSI, I had to briefly ride on the street before reaching the trailhead to the Springwater Corridor Trail. Early on the trail, I came across some beautiful Pacific Northwest Indigenous artwork painted on some of the concrete structures along the river. Some might classify the artwork as graffiti, but to me it was art.

My ride from this point on until I reached Sellwood Riverfront Park again took place in a more natural setting, with the Willamette River to the right and a wetland on my left. While riding along the trail, I came across a couple of abandoned Biketown bicycles. Biketown is a popular bike-sharing program, and I frequently see riders using Biketown’s bikes. One of the bikes had been set ablaze earlier, as I observed its chard tires. I’ve also seen other Biketown bikes abandoned on other sections of the Springwater Corridor Trail. It upsets me that people would steal and destroy someone else’s property in such a manner.

Bird songs rang out from the surrounding trees as I rode along the trail. Fellow cyclists and joggers were taking advantage of the trail and the nice weather.

In the woods, I spotted a homeless tent down the bank in some heavy brush. It made me wonder how someone could live there in such dense brush. Portland really does need to clear out the homeless camps along the trail because I know those camps make some trail users nervous. Before the city can do that, however, it needs to find more suitable housing for the homeless.

I eventually arrived at Oaks Amusement Park and thought about exiting the trail at the park to see if they were selling their banana-flavored cotton candy. That cotton candy is delicious, but realized I didn’t have any cash on me, so I rode on and reached Sellwood Riverfront Park about a minute later.

This section of the Springwater Corridor Trail is the western terminus of the trail. The trail extends another 21 miles before reaching the small town of Boring, Oregon. I have ridden 31 miles of the trail out to Gresham and back, but one day hope to ride the entire trail.

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