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Graham Oaks: A historical habitat, renewed

Places and activities    Places to go    Graham Oaks Nature Park    Habitat and history

Native American tribes harvested food at Graham Oaks, which was later farmed by ancestors of former Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehan. The site's future was uncertain for some time, but Metro protected the land with two natural areas bond measures.

Graham Oaks planting

Graham Oaks Nature Park is returning to its roots – literally. This 250-acre site was once a rich habitat where birds flocked, mammals prowled and camas lily bloomed. Kalapuyan tribes likely dried blackberries, salal berries and huckleberries; ate fresh strawberries and raspberries; and hunted deer and elk. Plentiful oak trees provided acorns, an important staple food for the tribes. Harvested acorns were soaked, ground and cooked, a process known as “making acorn.”
Over time, Graham Oaks evolved into a farm. It was purchased in the 1880s by Marion Young and his wife, Lily Ann – daughter of John Graham, who established Graham’s Ferry and ran a mail delivery steamboat. The family grew hops, filberts, corn, potatoes and grass crops.
In the 1950s, the site was sold to the state along with adjoining land. Development options over the years included a National Guard maintenance facility and two women’s prisons. A landfill proposal triggered the activism of descendent Dorothy Young Lehan, who passed along her ideals to daughter Charlotte Lehan. As mayor of Wilsonville from 1996 to 2008, Charlotte Lehan advocated a different future for the site.
In 2001, Metro purchased Graham Oaks using funds from a voter-approved bond measure designed to protect natural areas across the Portland metropolitan area. Voters approved a second bond measure in 2006, including funds to develop three nature parks. One, Graham Oaks, received additional support from Wilsonville’s "local share" portion of the bond measure and a $500,000 Oregon State Parks and Recreation grant.
Metro worked with partners, volunteers and contractors to improve the area's wildlife habitat and plan for its future. In December 2007, 135 acres of wheat and clover were replanted with more than 100 million seeds of wildflowers and grasses. In winter 2008, Metro planted 150,000 trees and shrubs historically found in the Willamette Valley, including thousands of oaks. The new plantings are marked with plastic mesh or pale blue, solid tubes to discourage deer from browsing. Over time, the young plants will recreate historic oak and pine woodland and savanna, and replenish wetlands and conifer forests. Species such as the Western bluebird, which rely on oaks and prairies, will benefit from changes to the park.
Graham Oaks Nature Park opens in September 2010 – a legacy of the natural areas bond measures and all the people, wildlife and plants that came before. Learn more

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