Monday, December 11, 2006

Mount Talbert Nature Park

A new major addtion to the area's urban parks system, this hilltop preserve has a decidedly non-urban look and feel. Mount Talbert is one of many Portland-area peaks resulting from the Boring Volcanics series. A set of trails has now been placed in the park. One circles the mountain, another crosses over the 750 ft. elevation maple and oak covered top, while others fan out to the several trailheads. A notable feature of the park is the undegraded nature of the plant life. Though the trees are young, with the biggest firs only 2 to 3 feet in diameter, there are few invasive non-native plants under the forest canopy, and the natural, native plant associations are still in place.

Here at Mount Talbert, after logging perhaps 60-80 years ago, the trees and native forest floor vegetation was able to return heartily. Low elevation areas with intact natural plant communities are actually unusual, as most of the areas in the valleys and low elevation slopes have been farmed, ranched or urbanized, eliminating the natural ecology. Here land use practices were hands-off for the most part, and the forest had time to recover before the modern-day scourges of Scotch broom, hawthorne and especially Himalayan blackberry were able to intrude and dominate. This gives the park great potential from the educational and research standpoints.

An interesting and worthwhile ecological experiment is underway at the park involving the native Oregon white oak woodlands. This sun loving tree casts a very light shade beneficial to other plants. Douglas-fir seedlings are able to thrive in oak woodlands, but the fir grow 3 to 4 times higher than the oaks, and cast shade too deep for the oaks to tolerate. So in the natural forest succession the oaks will die out. It is thought that the Native American population in this area used fire to improve hunting and for other purposes, which kept the firs from growing, while the thick-barked oaks survived.

The experiment is to favor the oaks artificially by eliminating the competing firs, maples and shrubbery. About 19 acres of oak woodland has been treated in this way, out of 183 acres of parkland here. Firs and other trees in the selected areas have been girdled, topped or cut down, while allowed to continue thriving in the large areas with few or no oaks. This should result in a much more diverse ecology in the park and show us how different the tree cover types will be in terms of understory.

The preservation of Mount Talbert is one of many positive results of the 1995 voter approval of the Metro bond measure dedicated to parks land acquisition in the urban area. We are indeed fortunate to have an electorate wise enough in the long term to see the value of parks in this region. The November approval of a second such bond measure will result in much more parkland purchased and made available in our area.

The 1995 Open Spaces Bond Measure resulted in the purchase of 8146 acres for parks (36% more than the 6000 expected at the time of passage), including 74 miles of stream frontage. This was 263 separate transactions. Its expected that the 2006 measure will directly lead to as much as 5500 more acres, plus this time additional funds for development of parks for public use.

Though good trails are available to the footloose now, the 'Grand Opening' of the park will be next year. Planners have moved the planned primary public entry to a site along Mather Road, with construction in 2007. The original idea of placing the main entry and parking near Sunnyside Road proved impractical upon closer inspection.

Parking has yet to be provided, so autos must be left on residential streets, and signage is limited. Its a challenge to find the trailheads. Once you do, expect a somewhat steep initial climb onto the sides of Mount Talbert, but as soon as the main loop trail is reached, its easy going around the mountain. If you wish more elevation gain, try the Westridge Trail over the top.


Andrew said...

I'm curious to know if anyone knows where the cave is:

"Longtime neighbors of Mt. Talbert have described a natural cave
located in the northwest quadrant...It has been described as a
small cavern (inundated with poison oak) no more that 100 feet
long with limited headroom."

Bryon said...

Judging from the volcanic nature of Mount Talbert, and the description, this is likely to be a lava tube cave. These occur when a flow partially cools but the still-liquid inner portions manage to break out, leaving the hardened outer portion behind to form the walls of the cave. Another one exists in the West Hills of Beaverton and Portland, extending from Providence Hospital a good ways uphill. It was actually broken into during construction of the hospital. Evidently no opening exists but a talus slope known to only a few people 'breathes' with air from underground.

A series of lava tube caves exists south of Mt. St. Helens, including Ape Cave. They are likely originally all one continuous cave but portions are blocked by sand and in one spot by an underground lake. Total length is a few miles. Separate groups of caves are scattered over the nearby region. Parts of one I have visited, Picards Sink, fills with ice stalactites and stalagmites in winter. Best reached in winter with cross-country skis.

I do not know the exact location of this privately-owned cave on Mount Talbert. The northwest side includes some very steep terrain.

I will be posting some pictures of where some of the Talbert deer herd bedded down during the recent snow.

Eric Shawn said...


What are the three most important actions - short term and long term - the park district can undertake to care for Mount Talbert Nature Park?


Bryon said...

I'm afraid my answers at this moment may be more general that you may wish. I am not fully educated on the current management activities or planning details at Mount Talbert. Hopefully at least some portions of the following are already placed in practice. The work on enhancing the oak openings I have high hopes for. I think some of these potential projects can be done with volunteers, local schools and higher education facilities, though as with any large project the use of private firms to carry out long term or intense work needs to be considered. So there are many variables in determining specific projects out of the many possibilities. And certainly a single project may be able to address all three goals.

1 - Make sure that you really know what is there!

For example, I've found a single population each of two species of Orchids on Mount Talbert. Are their more? How big would a complete bird list for the park be? How many deer live there and is the population going up or down? How about the landslide potential on the steep parts? Has anyone mapped the presence or expansion of non-native plants? And what is the wildfire potential and what plans should be made regards it?

2 - Manage the people using the park

Talbert is a big park but there needs to be a viable way of monitoring the impact of human use of the area. Can these questions, or similar ones, be answered over time: Is the native vegetation diminishing nearest to trails? Or not? Are unofficial use trails appearing? Who is making positive use of the park? - classes, tours, study or whatever that improves our citizenry, adds to our 'natural history literacy' or our understanding of nature?
How can positive uses be encouraged? Plan for good things to happen rather than just trying to keep bad things from happening. And do you publicize unusual plants to popularize the park or take a cue from the Forest Service and oppose that because plant collectors might use the information to plan their illegal collecting activities?

3 - Make your goals high and plan to attain them

Mount Talbert is definitely a gem, a shining example of a healthy lowland preserve, and deserves to be managed with that fact in mind. Be sure invasives remain a minor portion of the coverage, and reduce them below current levels. Set aside some portion of the park for the benefit of the animals, as has been done at the much smaller Camassia Nature Preserve in West Linn. The still-in-private-hands very steep North slope of Mount Talbert would be ideal for this sort of use. Encourage some hands-on high school to university level natural science study at the park - there is salmon, an urban deer herd, owls, and much more to lend to such use.

daniel said...

hello Andrew yes i know were the cave is it has a small opening and a cavern that is about4f 50in and the cavern with is about the size of a king bedroom and no it isn't in the northwest quadrant it is of a trail by crown court apartments i wont tell you exactly were it is cause that ruins the fun of finding it it took me 5 separate trips up there to find it and whats funny is i walked by it at least three of the times but it is off one of the trails by crown court apartments

Anonymous said...


Daniel is right about the location of the cave! Back in the late 80's & early 90's I used to go there quite a bit...I was the first that I know of in the area that found the cave.But of course just like any other secrets you try to tell your friends to be quiet about it slips out!Ill give you a extra hint it is half way up the Mountain from the trail by Crown Court..