Zoo railway’s next stop: national history list

Multnomah County

State panel agrees to forward nomination, with a few changes in process that could take a few months

The Oregon Zoo train’s full two-mile route could be named a national historic site. A state panel agreed Friday, Oct. 18. to nominate the railway route to the National Register of Historic Places. (Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Oregon’s zoo railway could be chug-chug-chugging toward history.

Members of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation agreed Friday afternoon, Oct. 18, to nominate the entire two-mile Washington Park and zoo railway route to the National Register of Historic Places. The committee decided to send the nomination to the National Park Service with changes that include clarifying dates of significance for the railway’s history.

Robert T. Olguin, National register program coordinator for Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s Heritage Division, said the committee wanted railway supporters to revise the period of significance for the nomination. A 73-page nomination report by Portland researcher Melissa Darby covered the railway’s history from 1958 to 1964. The committee wanted the Save the Washington Park and Zoo Railway group to associate the end of the period with something of significance in the railway’s history, Olguin said.

The state committee’s approval is one of the final steps before the railway could be named a historic site. Once the nomination is revised, it must be approved by the National Park Service, which oversees the National Register of Historic Places. That process could take several months.

‘Unstable conditions’

Former Oregon Zoo employee Dana Carstensen of Hillsboro is working to get Metro and the city of Portland to reopen the full zoo railway route after changes six years ago cut the ride from nearly 40 minutes through the entire Washington Park area, to about six minutes, winding through only zoo property. His group has a Change.org petition with thousands of signatures supporting the proposal.

Portland Parks and Recreation’s January 2018 Washington Park master plan update outlined the city’s intention to convert most of the old zoo railway route into trails. According to the plan, since September 2013, the railway corridor was closed because of “unstable conditions and cost to repair the tracks outside the Oregon Zoo.” The plan includes a pedestrian and bicycle trail on part of the rail route that could improve safety in the area. Washington Park already has about 15 miles of trails that wind past Hoyt Arboretum and the Rose Test Garden.

Naming the full railway route to the National Register of Historic Places won’t stop the city and Metro from converting part of the route to trails, but it could throw extra steps in the way.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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