From four distinct parks and natural areas to an urban creek to a stone bridge, the landscape will be transformed by $1.7 million in Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants awarded Thursday by the Metro Council.
Financed by the region’s 2006 natural areas bond measure, the grants are designed to help nature thrive in urban communities. Now in its fifth year, the program has invested a total of $6.6 million in projects across the region.
"There’s no end to what could be done, but we’ve made a lot of progress," said Metro Councilor Carl Hosticka, who has served on a grant review committee since the program launched. "It reaches all the way from the east side to the west."
Every project must be accessible to the public, and a Metro grant can foot the bill for a maximum of one-third of the total cost. Recipients typically buy land, restore it, improve neighborhood livability or fuel an urban transformation – and this year’s six projects represent all those categories. Recipients will expand Lily K. Johnson Park in Beaverton and the Baltimore Woods corridor in North Portland, develop Cully Park in Northeast Portland and Nadaka Nature Park in Gresham, replace a stone bridge at Tryon Creek State Park and restore a creek in central Beaverton.
Nature in Neighborhoods projects often nurture nature in areas where people least expect it, such as a 650-foot section of Hall Creek in Beaverton between Southwest 114th and 117th avenues. Surrounded by apartments, parking lots and businesses, with a MAX line to the north, this stretch of water is as urban as it gets. The City of Beaverton is teaming up with five property owners and more than a dozen community groups to improve the health of the creek.
The theory: While improving habitat for fish and wildlife, the project can make the area more attractive for visitors and redevelopment, too.
"We’re trying to turn this creek into something more livable for ecology, something people will want to come and visit and have a picnic," said Debbie Martisak, project manager for the city. "We also felt this would be a step toward working with eager property owners."
After hosting charrettes and engaging the community during the next year or two, the city plans to realign the creek and a trail that runs alongside it, expand the floodplain to store more water, remove invasive plants and impervious surfaces, anchor the banks with native plants and install cascading swales. With $354,000 in support from the Metro grant, the Beaverton City Council is committed to the project and could start construction as soon as 2014.
Restoring Hall Creek ties together many aspects of the Beaverton Civic Plan, Martisak said, such as promoting a vibrant downtown and making it easier for people to get around. "We want to bring some life to this area," she said.
Across the region, the Columbia Slough Watershed Council and dozens of community groups will build gateways to Nadaka Nature Park in Gresham. With $239,000 in support from Metro, they plan to create a nature-based play area, gathering spaces and sustainable landscaping and street improvements, to complement a community garden that will be planted.
A transformation has long been part of the vision for this park serving the Wilkes East and Rockwood neighborhoods, said Friends of Nadaka organizer Lee Dayfield. Three years ago, supporters secured their first Nature in Neighborhoods grant, helping pay for an expansion of the hard-to-find nature park along Northeast Glisan Street – one of the areas that will now get a makeover. Along the way, the project has won support from neighborhood associations, conservation organizations and nearby churches and businesses, all collaborating with the City of Gresham.
"It’s big enough for everybody," Dayfield said. "There are enough things to be done, people contribute whatever part they can."
Added visibility has already attracted more visitors to Nadaka, Dayfield said. The park is regularly used by residents of a nearby Alzheimer's care facility and by students at H.B. Lee Middle School. Enthusiastic crowds turn out for volunteer restoration events, which create a sense of community.
"Life in general today, people don’t talk to each other that much," Dayfield said. "When you’re in this beautiful forest and you’ve got your hands in the dirt, people just seem to open up."
The barn-raising model will also be in full force at Cully Park in Northeast Portland, where a $577,000 Nature in Neighborhoods grant will help reinvent the former landfill as a community hub for its namesake neighborhood. Sandwiched between Columbia Boulevard to the north and Killingsworth Street to the south, this future park is at a crossroads of industry and nature. You're as likely to see a killdeer take flight as you are to hear a plane swooping down toward Portland International Airport. Either way, you might have Mount Saint Helens as a backdrop on a clear day.
But, for now, a chain link fence keeps people out. The City of Portland acquired the land in 2002 and began work on a master plan to bring ballfields, walking paths and two large parking lots to this park-deficent neighborhood. Trouble is, building this 25-acre park on a former landfill was projected to cost $12 to $18 million – money the city didn't have.
A diverse collection of residents and civic organizations involved in the master plan were determined to see it through, said Tony DeFalco, coordinator of Let Us Build Cully Park. The coalition came together under the leadership of Verde, a Cully-based nonprofit that engages and supports diverse, low-income communities through nature and environmental projects. More than a dozen other members signed on, including the Native American Youth & Family Center, the Cully Association of Neighbors, Hacienda CDC, the Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives and the Columbia Slough Watershed Council.
At first, the coalition encountered a lot of skepticism. "It’s too expensive to build; how are you guys going to build it?" DeFalco remembers people asking. "We put our heads down and went to work."
Supporters began to secure grants and engage the community in a plan to transform Cully Park at a lower cost. At least for now, that translates to one modest parking lot instead of two bigger ones, fewer ball fields and a lot of hands-on help from neighborhood residents. The coalition brought a nature-based aesthetic to the plans, and promised to provide jobs, training and environmental education to low-income residents and people of color.
With Verde acting as general contractor, work will get under way this summer when a community garden goes in. Next summer, the team will tackle the four projects supported by Metro's grant: a one-and-a-half mile trail network, with fitness stations along the way. Habitat restoration, both on top of the landfill and on the north slopes descending toward Columbia Boulevard. A tribal plant gathering area. And a "green streets" transformation of Northeast 72nd Avenue between Killingsworth and the park, which will become the main entrance. As part of the first phase, which will cost about $3 million, the coalition also plans covered picnic areas, a basketball court and a youth soccer field.
The whole project is "triple bottom line," DeFalco says, achieving three important values for the community. "You’ve got the environmental aspect, where we’re doing restoration and creating habitat. You’ve got the economic piece, where we’re putting money in people’s pockets in the neighborhood. And you’ve got the equity piece, where we’re bringing a park to a neighborhood that really is park-deficient."
Nature in Neighborhoods projects are galvanizing their communities in a way that creates long-term success, said Jane Van Dyke, executive director of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council. She's involved in both the Nadaka and Cully projects, and sees them attracting far-ranging, cost-effective support – and investing nearby residents in these community assets.
"The more you get people engaged," Van Dyke said, "the more they care."
2012 Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants recipients
Recipient: Columbia Land Trust, Friends of Baltimore Woods
Partners: Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, Portland Parks & Recreation, SOLVe, Port of Portland, Cathedral Park Place LLC
Grant amount: $381,000
Bit by bit, a once-neglected strip of land in the St. Johns neighborhood is being reinvented as a haven for nature and a future trail. The Columbia Land Trust and Friends of Baltimore Woods will purchase four parcels totaling nearly two acres in the Baltimore Woods corridor, which stretches from Cathedral Park to an industrial area along the banks of the Willamette River. This new addition – to be owned by the City of Portland – builds on the success of neighboring land bought with support from Metro's Natural Areas Program and Nature in Neighborhoods grants. Partners are protecting valuable oak trees while giving the community a chance to help remove invasive blackberry bushes and replant native trees. The Baltimore Woods corridor is also envisioned as part of the North Portland Greenway trail, which will allow more people to experience the transformation of Baltimore Woods while they enjoy the outdoors, commute and exercise.
Hall Creek water quality enhancement project
Recipient: City of Beaverton
Partners: Arts and Communications Magnet Academy, Beaverton Police Department, Clean Water Services, Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, Friends of Trees, Kiwanis Club, SOLVe, Friends of Beaverton Creek, property owners providing easements (Assistance League of Portland, Carr Subaru, Realvest Lynn Marie Apartments, TriMet, and Robert Zukin/Louis Busch)
Grant amount: $354,304
When you think of nature, central Beaverton probably isn't the first place that comes to mind – but that's about to change. The City of Beaverton is teaming up with local businesses, schools, civic organizations and governments to show that restoring a 650-foot section of Hall Creek can help the environment and attract redevelopment, too. Working with six property owners, the city will realign the creek and adjacent trail, excavate sections of the floodplain, remove invasive plants, stabilize the banks with native plants, remove impervious surfaces and install a rain garden. The end result? Better wildlife habitat, better flood storage and a better place to do business. The project, which has generated strong community support, is part of the Beaverton Civic Plan.
Let Us Build Cully Park
Partners: Native American Youth & Family Center, Hacienda CDC, Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives, Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Coalition for a Livable Future, Portland Youth & Elders Council, City of Portland (parks, environmental services, transportation), Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Office of Environmental Public Health, Harvey Scott School, Vigil-Agrimis, Terrafluxus, GeoDesign, National Association of Minority Contractors-OR, Metropolitan Contractor Improvement Partnership, Jordan-Ramis, Probity Builders, Emma’s Garden
Grant amount: $577,000
Cully Park today is a 25-acre landfill, closed and gated with chain-link and razor-wire fencing to keep people out. But it will soon welcome Northeast Portland residents with walking trails, a small soccer field and basketball court, play and picnic areas, community gardens, parking and a sidewalk connecting the park to a safe crossing of Northeast Killingsworth Street. The nonprofit organization Verde will take the lead in this transformation, engaging diverse community groups and neighbors in their new park. While carrying out the first phase of a master plan developed by the community with Portland Parks and Recreation, Verde and its partners will create a much-needed destination in a neighborhood without many places to enjoy nature. This project will also bring jobs and skills training, health benefits and a new model of park development to a low-income community.
Lily K. Johnson Park expansion
Recipient: Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District
Partners: Washington County and Friends of Beaverton's Johnson Creek
Grant amount: $344,681
Nestled south of Farmington Road, Lily K. Johnson Park serves as a neighborhood destination and a potential wayside along the future Westside Trail. It will more than double in size – and grow exponentially in wildlife habitat – with a 5.6-acre addition funded in part with Metro's Nature in Neighborhoods grant. The expanding natural area includes scenic forested areas and a wetland, serving as a magnet for migratory birds. It also helps store floodwater from surrounding neighborhoods, providing water quality benefits to Beaverton's Johnson Creek. But buying land is only the beginning of a new chapter for Lily K. Johnson. The Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District envisions the new section as a trigger to restore habitat and engage the community in the future of this neighborhood gem.
Nadaka Nature Park and Garden
Recipient: Columbia Slough Watershed Council
Partners: Audubon Society of Portland, Wilkes East Neighborhood Association, Rockwood Neighborhood Association, City of Gresham, East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Verde, H.B. Lee Community School, Snowcap Charities, Police Activities League, Pacific Gardens Alzheimer’s Special Care Center, Metropolitan Family Services, Human Solutions, Grow Portland, El Programa Hispano, Eastrose Fellowship, Coalition for a Livable Future
Grant amount: $238,806
Three years ago, a Metro Nature in Neighborhoods grant helped expand hard-to-find Nadaka Nature Park so people could access it from Northeast Glisan Street in Gresham. Now, a second grant is supporting its evolution into a sustainably designed park with gathering spaces, nature-based play, a community garden and a gateway into the natural area. Pulling together more than a dozen groups, this project carries out a master plan and creates a park that will serve the diverse, low-income Wilkes East and Rockwood neighborhoods. The team will develop a five-year operations and maintenance plan, involving the community in actively caring for its park. By helping build Nadaka Nature Park, this grant is also building new advocates for public parks and natural areas.
Stone Bridge Fish Passage on Nettle Creek
Recipient: Tryon Creek Watershed Council
Partners: Tryon Creek State Park, Henderson Land Services, Friends of Tryon Creek, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Grant amount: $47,090
At Tryon Creek State Park, erosion is threatening a stone bridge across Nettle Creek – and, along with it, an important regional trail connection. The Tryon Creek Watershed Council will replace the bridge, making sure it doesn't become a missing link for walkers and joggers. In this case, what's good for trail users is good for wildlife, too. The existing bridge sits atop an undersized culvert, which makes it hard for fish such as cutthroat trout to traverse the creek; the replacement will be a free-spanning bridge or open bottom culvert. This project will also regrade the stream, stabilize its banks and enhance wildlife habitat.