Johnson Lake Natural Area

Natural Area
A big tree and a trail are in the foreground, and Johnson Lake is in the background.
This page contains information about Johnson Lake Natural Area.
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Johnson Lake Natural Area is a 15.2-acre natural area, nestled immediately west of the I-205 bridge. The lake is naturally spring fed (there are over 20 springs in the lake) and the site is host to a variety of wildlife, including many aquatic and migratory birds, otters, beavers, and freshwater mussels. There is a quarter mile gravel trail through the park, which includes a small loop trail to a viewpoint of the lake.

Year acquired
1996
Size in acres
15.20
History

Over a half a century ago this lake was the recreational center of the area. Harry Johnson purchased the lake in 1911. At that time, the lake was clear and the springs in the shallow areas were so strong that the water resembled bubbling fountains. People rented boats to play, fish, and swim in the clear waters. There was a beach house where people could change and a dance hall where they could recreate.

In the late 1940s the dance hall burned down, but the community still enjoyed the lake for a number of years. In the 1950s, Owens-Illinois (glass factory) purchased the land to the south and west of the lake and the area where the lake flows into the slough system from Harry Johnson. 

In the 1960s, Harry Johnson constructed a logjam around the outflow pipes where Owens-Illinois had been discharging pollutants into the lake in an attempt to try to keep the pollutants from spreading across the surface of the lake. At that time the neighborhood kids were still swimming and fishing on this lake.

When I-205 was constructed in the late 1960s to early 1970s, a portion of the lake and a small stream that flowed into it were filled in. Over the next two decades, people continued to fish on the lake until they noticed that the fish they were catching had sores on them.

In 1996 the City of Portland purchased half of the lake from Harry Johnson's daughter, Dorothy Thoreson, and it became an environmentally protected area and is now a Portland Parks & Recreation Natural Area. 

(The above information was provided by Marcy Emerson-Peters)

In 2010, the Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Portland, and Owens-Illinois collaborated on a clean- up effort to reduce pollutants that had been discharged into the lake. The cleanup included the placement of a six-inch layer of activated charcoal and sand to prevent additional pollutants from dissolving into the water column.

Water quality has dramatically improved since 2010, and staff and volunteers have been working to restore the natural area and aquatic ecosystem since then. Recent restoration activity has included planting native plants and trees, removal of invasive vegetation, and improving the trail to maintain safe access to this unique site.

*The City of Portland is currently partnering with regional jurisdictions, community groups, and private organizations on a process to develop a formal, meaningful acknowledgement of our region’s traditional inhabitants. Email Tribal.Relations@PortlandOregon… if you have questions about this process.

Park Location or Entrance

NE Glass Plant Road and Simpson Street
Portland, OR 97218

Open hours

5am to midnight

Park policy

  • All dogs must be leashed in this park.

Neighborhood

City section

NE