28-acre natural area features resurfaced trails, restored camp spot

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Matt Kilmartin, Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District project manager for the Lowami Hart Woods renovation, shows off the park's new viewing deck.Showing off the brand-new viewing deck on the newly paved main trail in Lowami Hart Woods Natural Area, Matt Kilmartin admits the construction crew didn’t initially grasp the purpose of the rail-lined wooden platform.

“They’d say, ‘What does it overlook?’” says Kilmartin, a Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District project manager, with a grin on a Tuesday morning tour of the newly opened wooded area.

The decks, he explained, are an ideal spot for anyone, but particularly those using a wheelchair, to take a break from the trail and contemplate the beauty of the woods that somehow retain a sublime tranquility despite the proximity to busy Southwest Hart Road.

“It’s amazing,” Kilmartin says. “You can hear the creek down below, the birds in the trees towering above us. You can see the (forest growth) understory. It’s an amazing experience.”

Regardless of how one feels about the viewing deck’s practicality, anyone who enjoys strolling or sitting in a green, wooded oasis in the middle of a dense suburban neighborhood should enjoy the newly renovated Lowami Hart Woods. The natural area — including a new, 9-stall parking lot along Hart Road — quietly opened to the public last week after being closed for improvements for nearly a TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Matt Kilmartin, Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District project manager for the Lowami Hart Woods renovation, shows off the new trailhead, complete with benches, tables and a small parking lot.

Staying on course

The $830,000 project, funded through the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District’s $100 million bond measure voters approved in 2008, includes a half-mile of paved, 6-foot-wide trails, intricately designed stone retaining walls, new wooden bridges and parking. Adding interpretive signage and further planting of native species are among the short list of tasks still to be accomplished at the 28-acre area.

“Lowami provides a wide variety of natural resources and recreational opportunities,” Kilmartin said. “It is heavily forested with lots of steep topography, and South Johnson Creek runs through it. As park visitors walk the trails, they are able to experience various forested upland and wetland habitats.”

The 6-foot-wide “South Johnson Creek Trail” represents a compromise based on longtime neighbors’ concerns that the district’s 8-foot standard would be intrusive and disrupt the natural feel of the area, which is heavily canopied with Douglas fir, spruce, oak and other tall trees. The paved and newly soft-surfaced trails roughly follow dirt paths formed over the years by visitors to the area.

With grades of 5 percent or less, trails were designed to fit Americans With Disabilities Act standards and can accommodate wheelchairs, motorized scooters and baby strollers.

New park district rules call for bicyclists to walk their bikes through the park, and its recently enacted smoking ban applies to all 28 acres of the Lowami woods.

“Those rules will be difficult to enforce,” Kilmartin admitted. “But we hope that a culture will evolve where park users respect them.”

Tree cutting along trail corridors was minimized. Of the 502 trees the city of Beaverton granted permission to remove in the project, just 75 were cut.

“The trail is intentionally close to a lot of trees,” Kilmartin said in October. “We removed as few trees as possible. We made a point to keep the footprint tight, so it will look natural more quickly.”

Back to camp

The renovation project maintains the spirit and integrity of the former Camp Lowami, which the Camp Fire Girls of America operated on the property from 1956 to 1994.

With the camp’s original flagpole intact in a wide clearing by the wooden bridge over South Johnson Creek, the site is framed by large logs that will accommodate seating and opportunities for environmental education. The Tualatin Hills Nature Park Interpretive Center staff will program a limited number of half-day and all-day camps there this summer.

The asphalt-surfaced main trail, which includes a 1- to 2-foot gravel shoulder on either side, is complemented by .3 miles of soft surface loop trails weaving around the larger pathway.

From the soft-surface Johnson Creek Trail, visitors can also access the Madrone Loop Trail within the northern portion of the park, a quarter-mile-long by 3-feet-wide soft-surface trail that offers more viewing opportunities.

The main trail will eventually link to the proposed South Johnson Creek Community Trail when further funding becomes available, said Bob Wayt, the park district’s communications director.

Despite the changes that render Lowami Hart Woods a more orderly natural area than what came before, Wayt and Kilmartin are confident visitors new and old will come to appreciate how the new amenities complement the area’s natural allure.

“Our goal was to impact the forest (as little) as possible,” Kilmartin said. “I think we’ve done that. This spring we’ll see that magic happen when the green grows back. People will say, ‘Yeah, you did a good job.’ ”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Matt Kilmartin, Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District project manager for the Lowami Hart Woods Natural Area, stands in front of a handmade stone wall along one of its newly surfaced trails.

Parking area poses entrance challenges

The primary entry point for visitors to the newly reopened Lowami Hart Woods Natural Area is the new paved, nine-stall parking lot on Southwest Hart Road. Those driving to the park may find the entrance and exit design of the lot takes some getting used to. Vehicles can only enter the parking lot through the two-way road on the lot’s eastern end. Furthermore, the lack of a left-hand turn lane from eastbound Hart Road means there is no legally permitted access to the lot from that direction.

“Anybody who comes here with any frequency will get used to it,” project manager Matt Kilmartin said.

The new parking lot area is enhanced by three picnic tables, three wooden benches, an informational kiosk/bulletin board, split-rail fencing and a permanently placed, ADA-accessible portable toilet behind a wooden enclosure.

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