PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portlanders have been decompressing in the natural beauty of Washington Park for nearly 150 years. The historic park also contains the 3 top tourist attractions in the state: The Oregon Zoo, the Rose Gardens and the newly revamped Japanese Gardens.

A crowd of people at Portland City Hall for a discussion on the master plan for Washington Park, March 15, 2018 (KOIN)

On Thursday, the Portland City Council took up the issue of the new 20-year master plan for Washington Park. Though the council unanimously passed the master plan, they made a point to say it’s a guide and not the law of the land.

That was aimed at alleviating critics of the plan, who voiced their concerns at the meeting.

What’s in the plan

Over the next 15-20 years, about $94 million will be spent to upgrade areas in 3 phases: Set the Stage, Solidify the Vision, Enhance the Park.

The first phase over 1 to 5 years will begin with upgrades and repairs to the existing facilities, officials said. Restoration, better accessibility and improving access are included, along with connect the north and south ends of the park with a regional trail for bikes and pedestrians. The visitor center for the Gardens and the Hoyt Arboretum are also planned for upgrades.

In years 5 to 15, park roadways will be modified along with transit services and parking. The Chiming Fountain will be restored and improvements will be made to the roundabout, the playground, the Depot Cafe and the Rose Garden Plaza, plus all the restrooms.

A graphic showing the overall plans in the 20-year master plan for Washington Park, March 15, 2018 (City of Portland)

The final phase beginning in year 15 will include building new features such as a Forest Canopy Walk, and Indoor Garder, upgrading the amphitheater and the off-road cycling trail.

The cost of all the projects will be split relatively equally.

The new master plan will not add any parking places since it encourages more public transportation and fewer cars inside the park.

A sign at Washington Park in Portland, March 15, 2018 (KOIN)

Kelsey Newman frequently takes her son, Gunner, to the zoo, but parking has become a problem. “Sometimes we walk and sometimes we go home when we can’t find a spot — which is kind of a bummer for the little ones,” she said.

But Portland resident Joan Kirsch said driving there is still her only option.

“Wish I didn’t have to,” Kirsch told KOIN 6 News, “but where we live there is very little public transportation.”

Some of the biggest changes under this plan are in the area above the Rose Garden near the tennis courts where a big greenhouse, food carts and some new buildings are planned.

But not everyone likes that idea.

The Washington Park Welcome Center, March 15, 2018 (KOIN)

“Can you imagine trying to stop and smell the roses with the odor of fried oil lofting through the air?”

Others can’t imagine the park without more food choices. 

Many residents want the city to restore the historic zoo train, which stopped running to the Garden area 4 years ago. The master plan doesn’t address the zoo train.

Since this master plan is a guiding blueprint, the debate over the long-term future of Washington Park is far from over.