The Portland Stairs Book

Now Read This

September 30, 2010

From time to time during my tenure here at Portland Monthly I’ve had reason to reference Portland’s Little Red Book of Stairs.

The out-of-print guidebook, which was originally published in the mid-90s, catalogs 150 of our town’s hidden staircases, many of which act as public right-of-ways in hilly, leafy enclaves. Places that, despite their proximity to town, feel surprisingly woodsy. Walk them and you’ll often find stunning viewpoints, or, at the very least, a unique, close-to-home (and less muddy) alternative to a conventional hike or gym-bound workout.

While the book was a great resource for suggesting a summer walk (like in our August 2009 issue) or for cross-referencing factoids like how many stairs line the way to the top of Mount Tabor for a fitness issue we put out a few years back (at the time, we counted 287) it was a bit of a pain to get your hands on.

First you had to trek to the downtown library, where it was categorized as “Library Use Only.” And after climbing the library’s own collection of granite and marble steps to thumb through its faded pages, you needed a few dimes in your pocket so you could make photocopies of the thing.

No more. Thanks to Laura Foster, the author of beloved local guidebooks, Portland Hill Walks and Portland City Walks, the city’s treasure trove of noteworthy staircases are back on the display counter.

In her newly released The Portland Stairs Book Foster breaks down Portland’s stair scene in nearly every way imaginable: Extreme staircases; Steps to show out-of-town visitors; 20 stairways with 100 steps or more; and, for anyone needing a rest—Steps to sit on. Want to link up on several staircases in a row? An entire chapter is devoted to walking routes on both sides of the river, with handy maps, mileage totals, and counts of the total steps you can expect to encounter. Turns out, a 5-mile trek in the Alameda neighborhood nets the most stairs—an impressive 805 in all. (Take that, Hillsdale!)

This is isn’t just a numbers game, though. Foster is known for her firm grasp on Portland’s long forgotten history, much of which we literally step over each day. And her latest offering puts readers in position for a bird’s-eye perspective on details such as Highway 30’s devastating affect on the community of Linnton and the work of community do-gooders like Don Baack, a pioneer of the town’s SW Trails movement.

Still, if you’d like to cut right to the chase, simply refer to “The List”, Foster’s compilation of seemingly every street and park staircase in the city, a total of 10,155 steps. Among them you’ll find listed, Mount Tabor, where Foster counted 282 steps.

Naturally, I’ll be headed back for a recount.

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