“I remember meeting one of my best friends at the Mt. Tabor playground when I was 5 years old. She and I are now best friends,” says Bennett Lembo, a fourth grader at Sunnyside Environmental School (SES).
Seen from the classroom windows of Franklin High School (FHS) by gazing students in their English classrooms, Mt. Tabor Park is nestled at the end of Hawthorne Boulevard. For young people living in Southeast (SE) Portland, Mt. Tabor Park has played a figurative role in age, growth, and community. On the park lays the stepping stones for monumental teen moments. “It’s a versatile park,” Lembo explains. Birthday parties, cross country training, Wednesday raves, field trips, high school parties, senior photo shoots, and even prom have been organized to take place within the grounds of Mt. Tabor Park, which many students know like the back of their hand.
Harper Rhodes, a 2021 FHS Alumni says, “My favorite Mt. Tabor activity was my birthday party last year. It was one of the first social outings post vaccines and it was such a lovely day filled with laughter, smiles,[and] sunshine, in the gorgeous Mt. Tabor greenery.” One thing that has made Mt. Tabor special is how it has impacted teens’ ability to spend time outdoors during peak pandemic times.
“I like to hike to the top and look at the view where the buildings look so tiny,” says Ruby Tobler, a fourth grade SES student. “I love finding trees that I can pretend are thrones. I like to find a space between the branches to sit,” Tobler continues. I graduated from SES in 2018 with a fair share of Mt. Tabor experiences already. I took the 14 Trimet Bus with my class to the mountain on Thursdays to plant ferns, pull ivy, and sit on my throne within the trees.
SES has a tradition of weekly field trips throughout the entire school year. In the last few years this tradition has been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions on school-sanctioned events, which means students at SES are not making the trek to Mt. Tabor as frequently as I did and it may play less of a role in their coming-of-age. But Mt. Tabor’s central location— between South and North Tabor (where many SE Portland students live), has been prevalent in younger student’s lives as a “central meeting spot,” for playdates and other outdoor activities. “It’s important because it is a park near my house and I have spent a lot of time there. I’ve made a lot of memories there,” says SES fourth grader Jahmari Frame. For some lazy teenagers and others without driver’s licenses, Mt. Tabor Park has offered a close by, versatile landscape to enjoy many different activities from pre-K to post-graduate.
It is a special treat that Franklin students have had the convenience of this huge park just blocks away, which can feel like a natural second home. The 2021 prom was celebrated under the covered area at Mt. Tabor, with twinkle lights in the wood frames, long prom dresses dipped in mud from being dragged around the forest, and bowls of snacks on every picnic table. As an elementary student, I wouldn’t have expected my junior prom to take place on the “lavaless” mountain I was dragged to on field trips on rainy Portland afternoons, but there I was, and it was a pretty beautiful, full circle experience.
“In high school, especially during [COVID], Mt. Tabor was a place that we could see friends and hang out with people outside of school,” says Ellie Armbruster, a 2021 Alumni of FHS. In the summer of 2021, many SE teens gathered with “hippie” adults at Mt. Tabor Park above the reservoirs to participate in “Wednesday raves,” Mt. Tabor’s version of a UK warehouse party. Featuring electronic music, “trippy” painters, and local soundcloud rappers, the Wednesday tradition exemplified the many uses of the park in our lives throughout the years.
Urijah Burchfield, a fourth grade student at SES says, “I went to the playground one time and my friends and I would pretend to drive the fake car. It was cool because we pretended we were driving through the forest.”
Armbruster concludes, “I’ve always gone on walks on Mt. Tabor with [my] dogs, or with family and friends when they would come to visit. Everyone would always say how lucky I was to live next to the park, but I didn’t really start appreciating it until I was older and was able to make the choice to go on a run or a walk by myself. Now I am so grateful to live so close to such a beautiful place and visit it often.”