Terwilliger Blvd / North I-5 On-Ramp Park

Every Sunday morning from May through October for several years, I walked across the Terwilliger Bridge (over I-5, here in Portland Oregon) to catch a bus downtown to volunteer at the Visitor Information Center. There's a pedestrian underpass with stairways that go under the on-ramp to I-5, and up onto the bridge's sidewalk.

Apple Maps air view

The nooks and crannies of the down/up stairway were variously landscaped, now mostly forgotten. The most neglected spot was a littered, weedy triangular pocket at the apex between Terwilliger Blvd and Interstate 5. Aside from picking up litter, I wondered what could be done for this island of urban blight.

At home, the sunflower seeds scattered under our bird feeder sprouted, ruining our lawn. I thought maybe they might naturally grow there without much help.

2015 — Before

The place was overgrown with blackberries, thistles, and 'velcro' vine.

Wild Mess

2015 — Cleared

I cleared the litter and vines. I scratched the dirt and broadcast seeds in the middle.

That's a sprinkler control vault in the middle. I didn't disturb it.


2015 — sprouts

I staked 'sunflower' labels down so people would know what was growing up.

I found a sprinkler buried in that back corner.

Seeds broadcast - Let nature work

2015 — Getting Taller

The ones toward the back grew taller for some reason - slope?


2015 — Water?

The weather turned hot and dry, and in order to keep the seedlings alive, I was bound to take water to them! I delivered a dozen liters on bike from Time Haven, then rode over to the Community Garden on Barbur Blvd to refill my bottles, shown here. I suspected some people there thought I was a homeless camper, taking the water. I did this every few days. (Is water at a community garden Public water? Surely, just select the most public spigot.)

Empty Pepsi 2x1 Liter and 4x2L bottles (10L would fit in my saddlebags)

I had hoped that sprinklers built into the little park might automatically turn on during the summer, but they didn't.

As mentioned, there is a control valve and a sprinkler in the park... so in late June, I inquired.

QUERY: Who to call - sprinkler for Terwilliger Bridge stairwell greenery?

ANSWER: I have forwarded your concern to the supervisor for street cleaning and greenspace maintenance for Maintenance Operations. This may require further investigation.

RUMOR: ODOT is charged with maintaining the greenery around the Interstate bridge, to some degree. Perhaps the some part of the sprinkling system needs repair, or understandably, it's just not a priority. (A ramp neighbor says it's been broken / off for years.)

There are several other sprinkler heads in the larger Park that surrounds the on-ramp and base of the bridge.

2015 — Ramp Closed Sign Mess

The I-5 ramp was closed several weeks (at night) for some construction work, and the crew started using the park to stash the sign and barricades during the day. It got worse, but it seemed like some of the crew were sensitive to the little garden!

Ramp Closed sign tossed across
Barricade tossed into the flowers

2015 — Other Stories

One time I was over watering, when the infamous Svetlana stopped at the park to adjust her clothing and repack her bag. She asked if she could use my phone. She called some guy whom she described as having a black truck. Anyway, she wanted to connect with him for a ride, or something, and asked me how to direct him to where she was. I told her that it would be easier and safer to meet him over on Barbur Blvd at Baja Fresh. She said she just came from there. Svetlana was a little unstable, and later (?) was accused of setting a cedar hedge on fire that shut down Terwilliger Blvd and nearly took out power and phone lines!

Another time I was over watering, when I looked up and there was Catholic Priest with a Nigerian (on foot) puzzling over a map. They wanted to get to St Clare Church. They were trying to visit all the Catholic churches or something. It was evening on a weekday. I don't think they had a mobile phone or church number to call. They had walked from downtown! I explained how they could get to the church by going on a foot trail and then through a park next to the freeway, coming out at/near Capitol Hill Elementary School, and then to the church across the street. They headed off. I watched and they balked at going into the woods and were looking again at their map, considering heading into the twisty SW hillside neighborhood. I'd never been on the foot trail, so I felt responsible for my speculative advice. I got in the car, drove to them, and offered to give them a ride to the church. At the locked up church, I told them how they could get back into town on a bus if they needed to. They thanked me. (I later checked the trail - it has 100-200 steps uphill! SW Trail #4.)

As I watered, I wondered how I might encourage others to bring water to the remote island. It was hot and dry. I cobbled together a We're thirsty! sign. It wasn't my best work. But to my surprise the next time I came by, there was a bottle of water, with a note attached. The note said to take the water, but leave the bottle, and they would refill it.. I'm not sure they understood the water was for the flowers. We did that several times till the bottle disappeared.

Other things in the On-Ramp Park...

The Park has a lampost, a railing, and potentially, water. That big rectangular sign is a RAMP SIGNAL ON sign (seen from backside). The lamppost had unused mounting brackets I thought I could use for a sign of some kind. (The brackets were for a temporary detour sign, for SW Trail #3, ending ~2015!)

City of Portland decorative Lamp Post
Lamp Post Base

2016 — Before Planting

MAY 24th.. Over the winter, the park grew mostly grasses and the velcro vines. One dead sunflower is still standing in the back, by a thistle. The field was so nice, I decided not to disrupt it, and started the sunflowers in 'pots' at home. Cynthia spotted a tall volunteer growing out of our carport gutter, so I recruited it too.

The potted crop got root bound and stopped growing. I kept delaying the planting, waiting for cooler rainy weather.

I visited the site and used a hatchet to plow up the soil just inside the railing. (This photo was taken standing at the railing. Looking down, you'd see plowed dirt.)

May 24, 2016

2016 — Planting Day

JULY 15th. Finally, on Bastille Day, I'd had enough with our insane world and decided that would be the day.

I decided I'd plant a single row just inside the railing, where anyone could water them from the sidewalk. In 2015, I'd sown the seeds in the middle, and then I had to climb around the railing to water the plants all the time. (No one else would do that!)

Bastille Day, 2016

I didn't tell you, but I had collected seeds from a dry land sunflower growing at Farewell Bend in eastern Oregon, that I thought might have a better chance of surviving. But these aren't growing appreciably yet. One is at the Park, and 3 are at Time Haven. Curious.

2016 — Harness for the tall sunflower

I used nylon cord anchored to the RAMP ON signpost, and sisal rope tied to the railing to help keep the tallest sunflower from being blown over by wind.

Harness rigged up for support

2016 — July 19 and all OK

Went by to check the Park on my way to have a sign laminated to mount on the lampost. You can see the sign mounting brackets on the right.

Flower held up by nylon cord.

2016 — Got Water? Sign

July 19, evening, sign mounted on lamppost asking passersby to shed some water.

Got Water?

2016 — October 1 - survived hot weather and growing!

I noticed that someone had pulled up the tallest sunflower (the one from our carport gutter) for what ever reason. Among the survivors, it looks like there'll be five or six flowers before Halloween.

Crop of Survivors!
Healthy Bud

2016 — November 1 - Happy!

Sunflowers are very green, and several are showing themselves to the On-Ramp and the Staircase. The smaller sunflower is also happy.

Quite a Sight!

2017 — June 18 & July 4 - planting, sunflowers coming up!

June 18, Planted 'Area 71' with Sunflowers, Mallow, Shasta Daisies, and Maryellen's contribution. No rain in forecast! Previously plenty of rain. Should start way earlier to let plants get started in the rain (mud)!

Here are the sunflowers on the 4th of July, after thinning and watering. We will see how they do on their own, how much I go over to water them, and if anyone else contributes to watering... (I also put the 'Got Water?' sign up.) No other seeds have come up, probably due to the dry weather.

2017 crop started

2017 — August 28

The one on the right is larger. Note watering jugs up on the railing. The flowers did bloom and were bright yellow all fall.

Seems like the ones on the right were larger than others each year. ??

2018 — September 3

Photo by Cynthia Stowell. Note the Bee hovering to the left! (This photo is much reduced. I should use a closeup of the bee?)

The Bee and the Sunflower

2019 — May 26

Weeded and cultivated the ground and planted Icelandic Poppies, Tall Mallow, and a Sunflower Mix. Sunflowers are along the railing at the bottom of the photo.

That dirt in the middle was actually muddy debris from the storm water drain that a crew threw in there last winter, after I reported the drain was clogged. I used most of it as mulch. We'll see if anything comes up!

Leaving grasses to hold moisture?

2019 — July 26 / August 24

Plants Doing Pretty Well on July 26!

Another group of Graduates...

I've taken to stashing gallons of water by the lamppost so that I can walk over and water them without carrying the water. I drop it off when doing an errand with the car. That orange bottle was thrown in there by someone, empty!

Water Stash

August 24, 2019 — at least not shriveled up! Every year, the ones on the right grow better for some reason.

Again, the one(s) on the right are larger.

I also planted Tall Mallow and they bloomed! I'm happy. I'll plant mallow there earlier in 2020 so they can get started in wet weather. Note defunct sprinkler head on right.

Tall Mallows (Seeds from Lobelia Path area)

September 21, 2019. Doing fine due to wet September weather...

Wow! Pretty cool!

2021 — October 2021 - 18 months into the Pandemic

All natural. Grassy, with a few individual wild plants. Mallows came up self-seeded from 2020 plants. (I think!) Since they came up before I got around to planting, I let them be, and it's glorious!

Lovely little Oasis

2022 — June — While Ukraine is being ravaged by Putin

Quite a contrast. Jumbo Variety Seeds donated by Hattie. We'll see.

One of six pre-Giants, on June 11, 2022

Started seeds at home on March 26th. They'd grown to 7-8” by May 11, when I found that they were root bound. So, I prepared the “park” and took 6 plants over and planted 4 along the railing, and two in the interior of the park.

Two Stories

Carrying the seedlings up the steps from below (from car)… I faced off with a gray-haired woman with two poodles at the top of the steps. She said: ARE YOU GOING TO PLANT THOSE HERE??

We talked. She has observed the sunflowers over the years, and was thrilled to learn they were back, and so on. She said that she couldn’t water them, but she will enjoy them. She goes on her way with her dogs, down the steps. How about that?

I climbed inside (behind the railing) and got to work. I planted 4 of them spaced out along the railing. THEN another lady comes UP the steps, and sees me in the “park". "Oh! Are you planting sunflowers??" We talk. I show her the 4, and where I’m planting two more. She thinks it’s wonderful. "Is this a Park?”, she asked. Yes, I call it the Sunflower Park, the On-Ramp park, etc. She says it's beautiful! I agree, and so on.

I’m smiling like an idiot after those ladies..

Water Feature Added!

I had found a ~4 Qt cooking pan on the bridge or sidewalk during the winter, and kept it in the park, to see if it would catch rainwater. Not much water collected. But really, if it was raining, the flowers would get watered. So, I got the idea to fill it with water for bees and whatever.. Unfortunately, the next time I checked it, two caterpillars had drown, so I bent some Yellow Salsify that had been growing right there, and added a rock to weigh it down, providing a landing place and escape route.

First Water Feature, using found pan, on July 13, 2022

The NEXT time I visited, someone had, set the rock aside, put the salsify on my compost pile, and taken the pan ‐ like they owned the place! So much for that idea.

I looked all around Time Haven for a suitable water feature, without success. I needed something not worth stealing, or maybe something I could lock down with a cable. I went to A-Boy and found a $5 item that was a good substitute until I can find something that can hold a gallon or 6 liters. Ideas?

Water Feature restored, on July 23, 2022

To be continued.

July 23, 2022

Well above the Railing on July 23, 2022!

Photo above taken from inside the little area. I think the plants have many more leaves to unfurl before the flowers form. (Two more plants are behind me.)

Bees active on August 18, 2022!

~August 30

Two of six sunflowers were torn asunder on different days. This happened in previous years too. The flowers are so vulnerable to thoughtless actions of passers-by. It's like in The Little Prince, where he places a bell jar over the only flower on his asteroid to protect it from a sheep. Our thief had to climb into the area to take a smaller second flower, not shown. Same thief? Implies someone younger, or foolish, like me, or...

Sunflower Head appeared to be twisted off

According to Nextdoor is could be a frisky squirrel! Indeed, there is a video of a squirrel doing just that! (Click on preview. Skip Ads.)

Industrious Squirrel mutilating sunflower head

The squirrel could have come up the steps from the area below, which includes part of Stephens Creek Natural Area. The steps are often littered with food items from 'campers' — an attractive nuisance. However, there is no trace of a squirrel having climbed on the sunflower. It couldn't reach it from the railing. Surely, the flower would have fallen over with the squirrel hanging on it. It was not disturbed in that way. I think someone (Putin?) gripped it with one hand, twisted the flower off with the other hand.

One year a whole plant was uprooted and taken away.. probably for Halloween decoration, so I don't discount a human culprit.

Maybe there will be more stories? Maybe there will be peace in Ukraine?

To be continued...

What can you imagine here?

I imagine a pocket of quiet between the freeway and the neighborhood. I imagine sunflowers showing themselves to thousands of motorists driving by, on their way to global warming.

One concern I had for this project was using good water, during a dry summer. So I'd like to find an ethic where people empty the day's water bottle on their way home, rather than dumping it elsewhere. I believe that Good People living near the park may bring water along on their strolls, or simply take some water to the I-5 On-Ramp Park. Ideas for that? Maybe a couple of communal water bottles?

They Say I'm a Dreamer...

Kim Stafford reflected on these scattered edens in the Sense of Place section of Wild in the City, second edition.


I will draw and post a 'floorplan' for the site, so that people can suggest how the landscape might be 'developed'. People have suggested sedums, and a variety of drought-resistant flowers. This island gets pretty hot and dry, cooked by all the concrete, so rock garden plants might do well.

Send ideas, questions, and comments to: john at timehaven.us.

Stay tuned for my series: The Street Sweepers.

Where is the Park?

The Terwilliger Bridge crosses I-5 at mile 297. There is a northbound on-ramp and exit, but only a southbound exit.

Google Maps of Ramp location


Courtesy Cynthia and Google Street View time machine. The park is overgrown with some kind of bushy thing. I don't recall it. A Camellia? Over-sprinkling probably contributed to the wilding of the place.

Google Street View (2007)


Here is Opening Day of original 'Burlingame Bridge' (recycled from Vista Street). Photo taken at north end of old bridge looking south. On-Ramp Park is on the south end of the new bridge. I-5 didn't exist in 1948!

Terwilliger — Burlingame Bridge looking south, circa 1948: A2005-001.649 [Vintage Portland]

Personal note - I served on the Terwilliger Bridge Replacement Project Technical Advisory Committee as a citizen, along with Betty Hedberg from South Burlingame. The new bridge was built ~1990. That's another story. —jm