Rock Star Bertha Guptill
by Gayle Marechal
(Published February 2021)
She’s been called the Grand Dame of Mt. Tabor Park, and no one better deserves the honor of being the first “Rock Star” of Friends of Mt. Tabor Park than Bertha Guptill.
Nearly 102 years old, Bertha remains an inspiration to all who aspire to work for the common good and unselfishly think of others in how she chooses to spend her time.
Although self-effacing when asked about her contributions to Mt. Tabor Park, Bertha’s contributions are many. A founding member of Friends of Mt. Tabor Park, Bertha also conceived and helped create the system of trail markers that guide visitors along the red, green, and blue trails throughout the park.
Bertha has long resided near the park’s east side and used the park for many years. She got involved with the park at a more intimate level starting in 2000. That’s when the city of Portland and the parks bureau conducted a series of meetings with residents to determine their priorities and concerns for neighborhood parks.
Bertha had two priorities for Mt. Tabor Park: an organized foot patrol of some type for the park and a trail marker system for existing walking routes within the park.
Soon after the meetings, city staff contacted Bertha and gave her the names of several people who had expressed similar interests and priorities. Bertha organized a meeting at her house, and recalls about eight folks attended, including Dave Hillman, Nancy Norby and
Dave suggested a broader type of organization that would offer a foot patrol as one project. The group agreed, and Friends of Mt. Tabor Park was born. Had it not been for Bertha organizing that long-ago meeting, there might not be a Friends of Mt. Tabor Park.
Since those modest beginnings more than 20 years ago at her house, the Friends group has grown into a model of what a non-profit dedicated to a neighborhood park can be.
Bertha’s idea for a trail marker system came to her while on an extended stay in Mexico in the mid-1980s. She would regularly walk in Tangamanga Park in San Luis Potosi, and noticed the various trails were marked with painted rocks. She thought a similar system would be a good idea for the trails in Mt. Tabor Park.
Years later she tried using painted stones in the park, but that system lacked permanence. Eventually, Bertha came up with the idea of the posts that now mark the various trails.
Bertha enlisted the help of Don McTaggart, the maintenance supervisor at Mt. Tabor Park, and spent two years mapping the various trails before coming up with the current red, green and blue trails.
Once she had a firm idea of how the trails would function, Bertha obtained the necessary materials. McTaggart carved out directional arrows on the wooden posts for the red and blue trails, and a neighbor, Steve Grove, did the work on the makers for the green trail. Bertha and a crew of volunteers painted them. Beginning in December 2007, the trail markers were installed, giving the park an official trail system.
Bertha also staffed the pie booth at the park’s summer concert series for nine years, and walked many miles over the years doing foot patrol duty.
There is a long-standing rumor that Bertha was obsessed with picking up cigarette butts while on foot patrol. She says this is a “myth,” probably started when someone learned she could pick up as many as five butts at a time with a trash grabber.
It is no myth, however, that Bertha’s history of involvement in the park and the history of the Friends of Mt. Tabor Park are inextricably bound.