In 1968, six southwest Portland neighbors met to discuss their concerns about the impending development of a 600-unit apartment building in Marquam Ravine. The neighbors organized and campaigned against the building of the apartment complex. Friends of Marquam Nature Park was incorporated in 1974. The board members spent years raising money from neighbors, businesses and foundations to secure the funds needed to preserve the land for public use. With this funding, land donations and matching grants, they achieved their goal. In 1983 Marquam Nature Park was dedicated.

The founding group had several goals for the park. They wanted to offer an area of retreat from Portland's urban environment and an opportunity to walk in a natural oasis within the city. It was important that the park should have several trailheads, making it more accessible by auto, bicycle and mass transit. They also wanted the park to connect to the 40-Mile Loop, a trail system envisioned first by the Olmstead Brothers, the creators of New York City's Central Park.

Over the past 25 years, several additional properties have been donated or purchased, and easements have been granted, allowing for more trails. The ownership of the property was transferred from the Friends of Marquam Nature Park to Portland Parks and Recreation in 1989 but the "Friends" continue to be dedicated stewards of the land.