Thousands flock to Oaks Park birthday party

How old is this amusement park? Take a look, and find out why their “birthday party” celebration marks the beginning of a summer-long carnival in SE Portland …

Oaks Amusement Park’s promotion manager, Emily MacKay and KGW-TV’s Drew Carney cut one of the many cakes cut and given to guests as part of their 104th Birthday Celebration.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The hot spring weather helped to kick off the season for historic Oaks Amusement Park in a big way in May – by bringing in crowds of families, even though they were yet only open on the weekends.

But, their 104th Birthday Celebration on May 30 signaled that the summer full-time hours for the park were just around the corner.

Emily MacKay, a life-long Oaks Park fan – and now its Promotions Manager – told us that “the park was built by the Oregon Water Power and Railway Company, and opened on May 30, 1905. This means we’re one of the oldest, continuously-operating ‘trolley parks’ in the nation.”

Carolyn and Liam and Tillotson celebrate Oaks Park’s anniversary by enjoying slices of cake.

In the 19th Century, streetcar companies built trolley parks along, or at the ends of, streetcar lines – to give citizens a reason to use their services on weekends. As many as 1,500 trolley parks, featuring picnic and recreation areas, were operating across the nation by 1919. Many of these parks added carnival rides and other entertainment amenities.

Only a handful of similar parks started before Oaks Park remain today in operation – such as Camden Park in Huntington, West Virginia…Kennywood near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…and Seabreeze Amusement Park, in a suburb of Rochester, New York. That makes “The Oaks”, today run by a nonprofit corporation, truly an historic place.

Lots of visitors snap up the cake served at the Oaks Park birthday party.

Updated with new rides
In addition to its large selection of kiddy and family rides, the park has major ride attractions including “Disk’O”, and the “Looping Thunder Roller Coaster”. MacKay  told us, “We’ve taken good care of our classic rides; some of them have entertained guests for more than 60 years. And, we’ve added new, exciting rides for the brave.”

New for the 2009 season, she pointed out, is a brand new “Tilt-A-Whirl” ride, manufactured at the originator’s factory. “Drew Carney from KGW-TV officially opened it by taking a ride today,” she confided.

Simple pleasures, like a cool mist, are a welcome feature at Oaks Park.

44 acres of fun
And it’s not just carnival rides. MacKay noted that the Oaks’ famous Roller Skating Rink, one of the largest in the country, has operated for 103 years. “It’s the last rink in the world to feature live music played on a Wurlitzer theater organ.”

In addition to hosting events such as the Multnomah County Fair, and Oktoberfest, the park offers special areas in which many companies, organizations, and large families enjoy catered picnics under the oak trees for which the park is named. And, Oaks Park sells a wide variety of reasonably-priced meals and snacks.

An area overlooking the Willamette River offers picnic tables, dedicated to families who bring their own basket lunch.

There’s real excitement to be had on rides like Oaks Park’s “Looping Thunder Roller Coaster”, custom built for the park in Italy.

Ready for summer fun
With more people planning a “stay-cation” this summer, Oaks Amusement Park’s operators say they expect to host many more families at their location accessible from the foot of S.E. Spokane Street in Sellwood.

They’re open Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, look online at:

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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