By Mo Damtew
Brentwood-Darlington’s Errol Heights Park (SE 52nd Ave. and SE Tenino St.) is expected to reopen in December, transformed for the better, following a large Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) improvement project. A formal community grand opening celebration for the community centerpiece will occur sometime in the new year. Nearly 500 new trees, a playground and accessibility improvements highlight the revitalized, popular public space.
Errol Heights will be a combination of a neighborhood park and a city natural area. The property has been noted as a local treasure among neighbors since PP&R first acquired the land more than 50 years ago. Residents fell in love with its natural habitat, which featured appealing and picturesque amenities for the community. It contains a 16,500-sq-ft Community Garden which provides neighbors with healthy, fresh, organic produce and a satisfying, relaxing hobby.
People have enjoyed Errol Heights as a community centerpiece, a destination welcoming neighbors in bonding and joy, through the generations. That strong passion for the area has only increased as the region’s population grew.
As time passed, the need for improvements and additional accessibility became clearer and more necessary. PP&R began dialog with the community to solicit input on what sort of improvements would serve them best.
The work began in 2018 when former Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and PP&R assembled a diverse Community Advisory Committee to create a list of public-supported priorities for the project to focus on. Among the many suggested ideas, the one that stood out to the 13 committee members was a need to improve access for residents with disabilities.
An ADA-accessible, elevated walkway connecting the lower and upper levels of the park is nearly complete. The 337-foot-long structure paves the way for residents to safely climb a hill, instead of a path filled with sticks and stones, to get around. Its ability to adapt to many different functions and activities at the visitors’ desire, such as birding or skateboarding, impressed the Community Advisory Committee during the project’s planning days.
“The elevated walkway is a signature feature of the park. This was a key desire for the Bureau and the public during the community engagement process,” PP&R’s Mark Ross said. To make room for the walkway, a dumpsite near the construction site was removed. Ross adds that this new pathway and connector provides greater accessibility for more people, while its design preserves the most existing trees.
To further restore the experience the community once had when spending time at Errol Heights, some of the space the dumpsite leaves behind has been used to build a meadow mimicking the pre-colonial era of the Willamette Valley’s history with Oregon oaks, providing revegetation to the disturbed land. Artists Terresa White and Mike Suri were then called on to craft a creative sculpture that embraces the scenery of the park and the neighborhood surrounding the area. Plants, animals, rainfall and trees commonly found in the park, as well as three human faces that represent diversity, are highlighted in the artwork.
In addition to the eye-catching amenities that headline the project, a number of new picnic areas were installed and a goal to restore natural area habitat was made a priority throughout the 18 months of construction. For instance, a natural wetland. Other additions set to be in use for the first time by the public in December include a new playground, basketball court, splash pad, skateboard area and lawn area to go along with 450 new trees, as well as both hard and soft trails. Native plants are expected to be deployed all over the acres the park occupies.
The $12 million dollar project is funded largely by System Development Charges from development in the city, rather than tax dollars. However, the extensive public involvement including families, gardeners and diverse neighbors is the unique part of PP&R’s latest modern park restoration project, Ross elucidated. He says city representatives anticipate a new era in the lengthy history of Errol Heights Park; one which will bring an even stronger sense of community at Brentwood-Darlington.
It’s all expected to start this month. More information on the park, including its open hours, can be found at portland.gov/parks/errol-heights-park.