A former landfill between NE Columbia and Killingsworth at the end of 72nd Avenue is now Cully Park — a 25-acre expanse of feature-filled green space in a community that desperately needs it.
Cully Park is also a major new destination located where I’m almost certain none of you have biked to before because it’s at the end of a dead-end street and surrounded by intimidating, high-speed arterials. After spending time at the park’s grand opening celebration Saturday, I’m confident that’s going to change.
Eager to experience a world-class park in an area that’s not used to having them, hundreds of people streamed down the newly updated “green street” on 72nd Avenue on foot, in cars, and on bikes. Because on-site parking was limited, there was a crowded overflow parking lot, shuttles, and people who parked many blocks away just for the chance to be there. All the pent-up enthusiasm illustrates just how big of a deal this is for the surrounding neighborhoods. And what makes it even more special is that it was designed, funded, and built, people who live in the area.
After acquiring the land in 2000 and completing a master plan in 2008, the City of Portland entered into a formal partnership with non-profit Verde NW in 2012. That partnership — which became the Let Us Build Cully Park campaign — allowed Verde to activate the community toward the vision of a new park. They reached deep into the community and not only asked people what they wanted from the park, but allowed them to actively take part in its development.
And what an amazing job they did! I had no prior knowledge of this park before Saturday and I was absolutely blown away by what I saw: the impressive play area with loads of covered seating to the sprawling and productive community garden, the new paths, the expansive views, the off-leash dog area, the huge ball fields, and much more.
“No single organization, community or jurisdiction could have built this park alone, but together we transformed what was essentially a mountain of trash into a new asset for Cully, and for Portland,” said Verde’s Alan Hipólito in a statement.
And that “we” includes a community with nearly twice the city average of people of color (53 percent) and twice the city average of residents whose income puts them below the poverty line (27 percent).
Why am I gushing about this new park on a website devoted to cycling? Because a great cycling city needs great places to ride to. Imagine all the Pedalpalooza rides that will start/stop/end here. Imagine all the kids who will learn to bike here. Imagine all the picnics-by-bike people will have here!
Cully Park also matters because it’s located in a place in dire need of infrastructure updates. Thankfully PBOT already has plans to completely rebuild NE 72nd Avenue. It currently has no sidewalks or shoulder and people had to walk and bike in the middle of the road. After 72nd is updated, much more help will be needed to tame Killingsworth’s wide, seven-lane cross-section.
Another interesting infrastructure note is future access from the park north to Columbia Blvd. Right now there’s no connection, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that there’s interest in a footbridge over Columbia to connect to Colwood Golf Course and NE Alderwood (where PBOT recently installed a new traffic signal). Once we make that connection the route could tie into improvements PBOT has planned for Cornfoot Road, a key bike route to the Portland Airport.
As we’ve all seen with Sunday Parkways, there’s a symbiotic relationship between cycling, community health, and great parks. Huge respect to Verde, Living Cully, Portland Parks & Rec, and all the other volunteers and organizations that came together to make Cully Park happen!
If you need an excuse to check out Cully Park in all its glory, put the Festival Latino on your calendar. It’s August 11th and promises a soccer tournament, free Zumba classes, live music, and a showing of Coco (in Spanish) on the big screen!
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