PORTLAND — The Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland is often busy with large events such as the Oregon Brewers Festival or the Waterfront Blues Festival. On a cloudy day in the middle of the winter, it’s not crowded with hundreds of people but is quite quiet.
Being one of the best-known parks in Portland, located along the Willamette River, the area is one of the first things you see when you exit off the freeway to downtown. People use the 37-acre area on a daily basis as a way to get to and from work, and it’s a popular route for bicyclists as well.
The park is interesting in that it can be divided into five distinct zones with multiple structures, statues and places to hang out. It also has some political significance and is often used as a speaking place during presidential campaigns. According to The New York Times, in 2004, 50,000 people gathered in the park to see John Kerry, and in 2008, an estimated 75,000 people gathered in the area to see Barack Obama.
The Esplanade is the paved walkway along the river that extends on both sides of the Willamette. The Bowl zone is a wide grass-lawn area that slopes down to the water just south of the Hawthorne Bridge. It functions as an informal amphitheater for concerts featuring the Oregon Symphony and the Waterfront Blues Festival.
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Salmon Street Springs is another area of the park. I found it to be the most enjoyable for a quiet afternoon, where there is a set of steps that lead to a viewing area over the river, a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee and a book or to simply sit back and watch the life of the city bustling in front of you.
The John Yeon Building is near the Salmon Springs area and anchors the area north of the Hawthorne Bridge. The Central Lawn extends from the Salmon Street Springs to the Burnside Bridge and is heavily used during festivals. There’s ample area for all kinds of solo adventures, as well as larger outdoor events.
As I walked down the path between the river and the park, the wind whipped at my hair and tiny droplets of water stung my face. The typical Oregon winter day had presented itself.
Benches that line the edge of the park were rather full, with many people enjoying a break in their day with a sandwich or a cup of coffee, and the river was high following a recent snowstorm. Even on the rainy days, the park is a popular one, just feet from the downtown area.
Near the park is a multitude of businesses, restaurants, offices and shops, making the area a great place to spend the afternoon.
One of my favorite aspects of the park during the dryer months is the Saturday Market on weekends from March through December. Wandering through the artwork, jewelry and food booths is one of the awesome parts that makes Portland so Portland.
Thousands of people wander through the area each weekend, and when it’s really warm out, many children are seen jumping around in the fountains with their parents closely watching. Although we are far from the heat of July, the park is a special one to many regardless of the weather.
This time, I found the park to be equally enjoyable when half empty as when packed with people — for different reasons, of course.