The secrets of Forest Park
Posted: May 5th, 2016, 4:37 pm
Have some mood lighting for this post (taken at the top of Firelane 1)
This past winter instead of doing any snow hikes or fancy stuff, I decided to stay in my backyard and explore the entirety of Forest Park. Every single inch I could manage. It took many weekends and a lot of miles, but I pulled it off. But this post isn't about all the trails. It's about all the little unmarked stuff I discovered on the way. Some things are pretty much straight up trails and are barely secrets. Some things are actually well hidden. Most are not actually that interesting, but I'd like to share them anyway. Basically, I had a motto. If I saw a side path in any form, I took it.
HOLMAN LANE RIDGE SECRET
I'll start with probably the easiest to find "secret" in the park, a hidden path so well trafficked it should probably just be made into a real trail at this point. At the top of Holman Lane (within view of the green gate leading to 53rd), a trail heads off to the right to the top of the ridge. On this unofficial path you will find two curiosities: An old filled-in well, and...a bench. A bench in good condition, on a concrete base. Why is there a bench off-trail? Anyway past these two relics the trail lingers on the ridge, appears to split (Don't take the right path, it ends about 20 feet later anyway) and slowly makes it's way down a ridge. This part is a little overgrown (wear pants, it goes through a lot of Oregon Grape) and eventually drops onto the Wildwood (WW) trail between the Birch and Aspen trails.
Recommended? Yeah, actually. It's clear that a lot of people already use this path and it offers a nice loop option from the top of Holman lane so you don't have to walk 53rd.
The Bench of no trail
The old well which I just presume has a ghost in it
HOLMAN LANE PHANTOM ROAD
Between the Stone house and the meadow trailhead, on the WW, you might see an obvious user path heading steeply up a gully. This path is short and pretty steep and quickly devolves in quality, but if you stick with it you'll eventually reach what is an obvious former road grade. I went left (west) trying to see if I could find a back way into the bird Sanctuary but no dice as the road ends at a ridge. Take the road the other way and you climb up a bit, walk past an old lean-to someone built, and then you'll connect to Holman Lane halfway up, at the big 90 degree turn when the lane stops getting so steep.
Recommended? Not really, no. Unless you really want to climb Holman lane a new way. Anyone know what this road might have been once?
The phantom road heading west
FIRELANE 3 FOUNDATION OF...SOMETHING
Easy to find. close to the bottom of F3 (just above Leif Erickson) a path heads up the ridge and 50 yards later ends at a square concrete foundation. Something once stood here, but I have no idea what.
Recommended? No, but it'll take you 5 minutes to see if you're in the area.
The concrete...thing and a little shelter
FIRELANE 9 CLIFF DROP
This one is briefly mentioned in the Field Guide. At the bottom of F9, next to the ruins of the old reservoir, is a very obvious path heading north, blocked by two jersey barriers and a traffic cone. You might want to see where it goes. Don't. You might think it drops down to the nearby entrance to the Linnton Trail. it doesn't. I found this out the hard way. After sliding down a hill bruising my butt on a root (Had a nasty purple welt for a WEEK)I just ended up in the creek wading 20 yards to the trail.
Recommended? Nope, even without the danger it wouldn't be worth much. Don't do it.
WATERLINE ROAD EXTENSION
The Waterline rd, on most maps, begins on LE drive and tops out at Skyline drive. BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! At the junction on LED you'll see an old path go around a very old, rusted gate, heading downhill opposite the waterline rd. This is the un-traveled part of the Waterline Rd. It drops swiftly into a valley, hops a creek, then climbs back up and meets Springville Road. If you walk down the gravel a bit, there is also a side path to the left that leads to what looks like a campground spot.
Recommended? Nah, it's not very interesting, and the Springville road area felt vaguely like I was trespassing even though I probably wasn't.
SPRINGVILLE ROAD BACKDOOR
Just South of the Springville road junction on LED a user path heads down to the houses in the area. Just some local's shortcut.
FIRELANE 15 BACKDOOR
On Firelane 15, between the Skyline parking entrance and Kielhorn Meadow trail, a user path heads up the ridge to someone's backyard. This one I find notable, because it's extremely well maintained and feels like it was built by a genuine trail builder in how it traverses the land (It switchbacks and grades itself well, as opposed to most user paths which just cut the shortest route up possible)
FIRELANE 5 RIDGE TRAIL
Near the top of Firelane 5 an old roadgrade of some sort cuts off to the right and leads to...a clearing on top the ridge. About a quarter mile further down F5 another road does the same thing. There is a user path that traverses the ridge between 2 clearings, and in the middle is a log fort someone had fun making.
Recommended? Only if you need some variety on the way up/back
FIRELANE 5 CREEK SHORTCUT
At the base of the first clearing road mentioned in the previous secret, another trail goes off to the left of F5. It follows a ridge, then switchbacks steeply down a hill and joins up with the WW trail at a creek.
Recommended? Only if it helps you shave some time off your particular route, otherwise no, this is probably causing erosion we don't need.
FORGOTTEN FIRELANE 4 POWERLINE ROAD
This is on some old maps (You can spot it on the maps in the park showing the Maple trail closing). At the top of F4, take LED north, around a curve, and look up towards the ridge. Before you make another turn, you might spot the faint outline of an old roadgrade heading up towards the powerline poles. That's all it is, really. Walk up (carefully look for a sharp switchback near the base of the powerlines), and you'll end up on top the ridge, with access to the powerlines. This is obviously how people used to get up here. If you want, you can do a short but thick bushwack up the ridge, and you'll hit the WW trail.
Recommended? No. It doesn't really go anywhere and isn't long enough to offer any solitude.
The old powerline road
Now we get to the good stuff, and the 3 main reasons I wrote this post for.
CLEATOR TRAIL POWERLINE SECRET
If you follow the Cleator trail from LED to the top where it ends at the WW, this should be obvious. Despite that, it doesn't appear to be traveled at all. An old roadgrade heads right up the ridge, firelane style. It's easy to see from the right angle. If you walk up the hill you'll end up under a powerline clearing with a viewpoint. BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! The old roadbed continues off to the right and goes gently down a beautiful isolated ridge. It then dead ends in a clearing that once had a powerline tower in it, but has been long abandoned. The clearing is slowly losing it's view. You can wander all the way back or bushwhack down 40 feet to the nearby WW.
The viewpoint on the top of the Cleator Trail powerline road
The old powerline road past the viewpoint
A sign on the abandoned powerline access road
"BUT DAVE" you may ask, "I'VE LOOKED AT MAPS OF FOREST PARK, FIRELANE 14 DOESN'T EXIST!" oh but it does! It actually does! It's not very notable but I have proof!
I'll give you a minute to put your socks back on since I presumably knocked them off
This is taken from Marcy Cottrell Houle's 1986 book "One City's Wilderness". A solid little pickup I found at Powells for 6 bucks. Firelane 14 used to be a short little cul-de-sac trail connected to the bottom of Firelane 15, at the junction with Firelane 12. These days you can still vaguely see what's left during the periods of lesser undergrowth in winter. The path starts on the opposite side of the creek from F15 and heads mostly straight along the side of the hill. The trail quickly goes from "faith bootpath" to "I hope to god this is correct" when the road loops around a corner. you can still follow it easy enough, and then it hops two streams and it becomes the idea of a trail. It simply vanishes. This is basically where it did the little turn around on the map, so you've now hiked F14. It's about a half mile in total to walk the whole thing.
Recommended? No, unless you are SUPER into old roadgrades or have mild OCD like myself, there really isn't anything to recommend here. The lane goes nowhere and you can easily see why it was basically abandoned to the woods.
The entrance to F14, faintly visible on the left
Firelane 14 in April, already almost impossible to see
"NO WAY" you might say, "YOU FOUND FIRELANE 11 TOO? THAT ONE ISN'T ON ANY MAP EITHER!" No. Not it's not. And unlike F14, I can find no evidence that 11 actually existed. But considering I found out F14 existed, I feel about 99% confident I found the remains of F11. I spent a lot of time on google maps' "terrain" view, which is fascinating because it can reveal old stuff like this if you know what to look for. (For those who don't know what I'm talking about: Go to google maps, , make sure you are in "map" view and not Earth view, click the little options icon at the top left of the search bar (It says "Menu" when you hold your mouse on it), and when the side menu comes on click "terrain")
What I spotted on google
On the BPA road, right near the beginning of F12, I noticed this peculiar flat section. This indicates flat terrain. It doesn't always signal a former road, but sometimes it does. I decided to investigate, and this one paid off. It is almost impossible to find without knowing exactly where to look, but if you can spot the entrance, a little bit into the brush it'll open up and the truth is revealed. This was an old road of some sort. I think it's F11 because of it's position between F12 and F10 on a map. It feels like a typical firelane, following the ridgecrest downhill. For a while it's very wide and easy to follow, even when it seems to vanish just remember it stays on top the ridge and you might have walked the wrong way. After a certain distance the road imperceptibly becomes more of a trail instead of a roadgrade. I don't know how far down F11 went, it may have ended well before the path does, but you can still easily follow the ridge path for most of the way. Near the bottom, the ridge crest becomes less defined and the trail vanishes completely and from here you either turn around or brute force your way down the hill till you hit the Newton Road. I went to Newton and had to climb the steep BPA road back to my car, which sucked. If you do this yourself I'd recommend turning around as soon as you feel uncertain about where to go.
Recommended? No, unless again you're like me and just have to check this sort of stuff out to satisfy a stupid level of curiosity. If you are into the history of FP and know the area well, have navigation skills and a map, then it might be worth a look. If you are just a casual FP hiker, don't bother.
The "entrance" to Firelane 11.
If anyone has any info on these old forgotten firelanes and is willing to share it with me, please do. I love looking into this sort of thing. I've emailed some people but haven't found anything yet. I still have no idea where Firelane 6 was and I'd love to find out.