As we’ve learned firsthand recently, trees and plants make for very important additions to a bike route. Not only will a lush canopy help keep you cool riding around on a hot summer day, it’s also just pleasant to be able to look around while riding your bike and see the kind of greenery we are so lucky to have here.
It’s no surprise then, that crossover exists between bike and tree enthusiasts, and there are plenty of opportunities to experience both in tandem. One of these opportunities was at yesterday’s Sustainable Plants and Trees Pedalpalooza ride, where leaders from the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) and non-profit Friends of Trees (FOT) captured the harmonious relationship between bikes and trees by taking participants on a tour of north Portland’s unique plant landscape.
Unfortunately, FOT’s relationship with Portland has been anything but harmonious lately. Earlier this year, the City of Portland ended its contract with Friends of Trees in a bureaucratic conflict covered in detail by OPB this week. But while there has been plenty of drama, the discord wasn’t going to stop BES and Friends of Trees from teaming up to lead this Pedalpalooza ride.
I accompanied a group of about 10 people through north Portland neighborhoods and got a glimpse behind the scenes of some of elements of our urban forestry I have taken for granted.
We started at Denorval Unthank City Park in the Boise Neighborhood, where Chase Lansdale from BES pointed out a large rain garden planted a few years ago. Rain gardens contain wetland plants that help prevent flooding and contribute to a diverse ecosystem. Portland’s BES has done a lot of work figuring how to use all our rain for good, and rain gardens like this one are part of the answer.
Lansdale led us to a nearby hidden gem: the Boise Eliot Native Grove, tucked away right off of North Ivy Street and Gantenbein Ave. This little garden is a place for people to cohabitate with wildlife in the city, and even though it’s only a few blocks from I-5, it’s nice and quiet. Discovering places like this is a huge perk of going on Pedalpalooza rides!
Haley Miller, the Senior Neighborhood Trees Specialist at Friends of Trees, took over for the rest of the ride and brought the group to see a few special trees in the area. Two of these trees – a Ponderosa Pine named ‘Cindy’ in Arbor Lodge and a (sadly nameless) Oregon white oak in Overlook – have been officially designated Heritage Trees of Portland. This means they’re among the more than 300 trees that have been formally recognized by the city for their unique size, age, historical or horticultural significance.
Miller also showed us a maple in Boise, notable because it was one Friends of Trees’ early works. The non-profit planted it in 1997, and now it’s 25 years old and looking beautiful. Miller said she really values being a part of an organization that has had such a long-lasting impact.
There are other ways to experience Portland’s beautiful urban forestry and plant life, but a bike tour is the best I can think of. The moderate pace of a conversational group bike ride is perfect for taking a good look at everything around while still covering some ground. You could certainly take a walking tour, but you wouldn’t get as far. And forget about trying to stick your head out of a car window to check out the height of a Ponderosa Pine you’re passing. (The one we saw was 88 feet and still growing.)
“Biking allows you to slow down and really experience the benefits of trees,” Miller said when I asked why she thinks bike tours are the best method for tree gazing. “And I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but isn’t biking is the best method for doing anything?”
If you’re up for the trek, Friends of Trees will help lead another Pedalpalooza ride with the City of Vancouver Urban Forestry. Check out the details here, and remember to look way up every once in a while when you’re riding your bike around Portland!. There might be an 88 foot tall Heritage Ponderosa Pine right in front of you that you’d never noticed before.