October 31, 2016

Hidden Treasure Beneath Burnside Bridge

I knew I was due another meander when, bleary-eyed and foggy-headed after a restless night, Lord Byron had something to tell me. Well, a teabag tag with his words did:

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods.”

Though we do have a substantial stretch of woods over on the west side of Portland— roughly 5000 acres and 80 miles of trails and paths— my idea of “pathless woods” looks a little different to Byron’s. When I want to let my feet lead the way, I head to the inner south-east industrial district. Somehow, I find its rough edges, mysterious industries and its artisanal, creative spirit deeply relaxing. Sometimes, gunfire echoes over the neighbourhood at night— but by daytime, it’s quite serene.

Inner SE has dozens of strange, secret spots; but today I feel drawn like a moth to light to one particular shaggy beauty:  The Burnside Skatepark. It is a beautiful example of coordinated anarchy. More than 25 years ago, a group of skateboarders decided to build their own skatepark, illegally, under the east base of the Burnside Bridge. Somehow, these wildly independent people came together to create what is said to be one of the best, most elaborate skateparks in the country.

Peel back the layers and a streetside art gallery appears.

Burnside reminds me of Easter Island. It’s a mystical, mystifying creation. I can’t quite fathom how this little collective of skateboarders manifested such a beautiful, iconic, and ambitious place to work their magic. It’s constantly evolving, both in form and appearance, muralists and graffiti artists considerately take turns to tag the bowls and walls. Being Portland, the city authorities went against the grain: recognising the value of Burnside to the city and its youth, they officially sanctioned it.

In recent years, a miracle of another sort has happened: in the midst of an epic development boom in Portland, this ragged beauty has been allowed to remain, where other landmarks have been eagerly ploughed down.

Wedged right up against it is perhaps the most contentious of recent developments: The Yard. A chocolate coloured wedge with a jagged glass façade that wouldn’t look out of place as the home of a Marvel supervillain, it’s been alternately praised for its bold statement and demonised as emblematic of what’s wrong with Portland in 2016.

Yet, say what you will, they’ve actually done events in support of, and in conjunction with, the Burnside Skate Park. It’s quintessential Portland, in a way: those you’d never expect to work together, do. 

So, next time you find yourself in Portland, venture down below and take in the unfettered fun and freedom that is the Burnside Skate Park.

      
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