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PDX Runs: Fort Vancouver

Fort Vancouver Parade Ground Bandstand

During my first or second week in Portland, I headed over the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver for a 1km interval session with my cross country team. At the time I was really confused that there was a Vancouver in Washington, not just in Canada.

While for most the fort is a historic landmark, its personal significance became synonymous with the pain and suffering of intense interval sessions. Each cross-country season, and early in March, we would head up there for important lactate-inducing workouts at the dirt track and around the fort’s vast parade ground.

Getting There

Follow I-5 north from Portland into Washington. Take exit 1C for WA 501. Turn right onto E Mill Plain Blvd. If you are headed to the dirt track, continue on Mill Plain Blvd. and take a right onto Reserve Street. Parking will be in a dirt lot on your right.

For the Parade Ground, take an immediate right off of Mill Plain onto Fort Vancouver Way. Follow Fort Vancouver Way for 0.3 miles and take a left onto 5th Street. Park on either side, close to the fort entrance.  

Parade Ground

The Fort Vancouver Parade Ground is perfect for painful grinding cross-country workouts. The grass is almost always long, and the hills can be deceivingly difficult.

The route I created is for a 1km rep starting at 5th street just across from the old fort. Start to the left of the road that bisects the parade field at an angle. Run straight up the grass hill keeping the large oak trees to your left. The hill isn’t that steep, but it is enough to make each rep hurt from the beginning. As you crest the rise keep the towering pine trees and picturesque barracks on your left and head toward Fort Vancouver Way. Before you get there, make a large right hand arc around a small lone pine tree. Then head straight along Evergreen blvd. aiming between the fence lining the parade ground and the gazebo. Keep going to the large lone pine tree dead ahead. Do a 180 around the tree and head back toward the gazebo until you hit 1 kilometer.

Our coach would measure this out with a surveyor’s wheel and place cones every 400 meters for us. Interval lengths can easily be adjusted to any workout. If you don’t have access to a wheel or GPS watch, repeat length can also be determined by time. Take a slow recovery jog back down to the start.

Dirt Track

The dirt track at Memory/Mill Plain Park is great for early season track workouts or some faster pace work during cross country. There isn’t much special about this spot, other than the fact that it is a dirt track that can make those high volume interval workouts easier on your body. [Editor’s note: That’s pretty special.

This map of the track estimated its length at exactly a quarter mile. When measured with a wheel, however, the track is a touch long. In the fall be mindful of soccer practice and other sports in the park. After rain, the track can be pretty muddy. 

For our program it was customary to do a 3-mile warmup and cool-down either side of the workout. The loop for that essentially encircled both the parade ground and Memory/Mill Plain Park. I created route links for our warmup and cool-down loop starting from the dirt track parking lot and starting from the parade ground. If you want to make either of the loops shorter just stay on the perimeter and cut out the inner loop. If desired pavement can be avoided for the majority of this loop. Just stay on the grass of the parade ground and park.

-Will Baker-Robinson