The grand opening of Chehalem Ridge Nature Park began somewhat inauspiciously, with a cold and heavy rain that drenched the landscape and poured down the sides of the pop-up tents set up in the meadow at the park’s entrance.
Metro’s newest park had officially opened in late 2021, but a community celebration had been delayed until mid-June in the hopes of having better weather by then. Alas, those plans were foiled by the region's unseasonably wet late spring.
But who in the Pacific Northwest lets a little rain spoil their fun? As guests arrived, they warmed themselves with cups of tea brewed by Metro staff from plants found in the park’s forest. Children lined up for free face painting and then posed for pictures at a free photo booth.
A group from Centro Cultural’s Edad de Oro senior-support program settled themselves under one of the park’s two large picnic shelters to enjoy free sopes and tacos from Cocina Mexico Lindo. After happily snacking and chatting, they headed to the other shelter, where they could better enjoy the tracks being spun by DJ Rahel. Soon, they’d started their own dance party, raindrops glistening like diamonds on their rain ponchos as they stepped and swirled to the cumbia beat.
“Yesterday, we invited the seniors and we told them what the weather forecast said,” said Centro Cultural staff member Yolanda Valenzuela. “Everyone still wanted to come.”
“It’s such a happy thing to enjoy the park,” said Beaverton senior Julia Ramirez, speaking through a translator. “I want to come back, maybe take a walk and have a picnic with family and friends.”
Centro Cultural de Washington County played a large role in helping Metro reach out to the local community to get input as it planned and developed the park. Discussions with local community members about park use showed many Latines prioritize social opportunities like picnics and celebrations at parks. Thus, the large shelters for gatherings.
Other feedback led Metro to build multi-use paths that are open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Conversations with Indigenous tribes led to the installation of Indigenous artwork in the park as well as informative signage that honors the park’s location in the ancestral lands of the Atfalati people (also known as the Tualatin Kalapuya).
After purchasing the land with money approved by voters in the 2006 parks and nature bond measure, Metro relied on its staff conservationists to rehabilitate what had been a timber farm into a healthy, diverse forest.
Sitting under the picnic shelter, senior Elia Gonzalez gazed admiringly at the results: mist-wreathed Douglas firs, Oregon white oaks, and spiky purple lupines bobbing in the rain. “I always tell people that the most beautiful state in the United States is Oregon, because of all the plants,” she said, and her companions nodded.
“It’s important to take care of nature, to take care of our rivers and water,” added Hillsboro senior Concha Rios. “We need them to be healthy.”
Indeed, Chehalem Ridge is part of the Tualatin River watershed. Protecting the land here helps keep the entire stream system cleaner and more sustainable. With 1,250 acres—making it Metro’s second-largest park—Chehalem Ridge can help protect the watershed, provide habitat for wildlife, and allow the community to connect to nature.
As the day went on, the rain eased and the air warmed. Some visitors headed onto the trails for a guided nature walk. By the time everyone had gathered for formal remarks near the trailhead, umbrellas had been folded up and raincoat hoods had come down.
Remarks began with an opening song performed by members of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, led by Bobby Mercier, the artist who had helped create the sculptures installed at the park.
“For us to be able to put art back in a place where we used to have villages, that’s a very big thing for me,” he said.
“From the very beginning, Metro was reaching out and talking with tribe about cultural interests and concerns that we might have with the site, but also how to activate it and how to make this place come alive and be a place that tribal people would want to come to within our homelands,” said David Harrelson, cultural resources department manager for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
“This isn’t just a place to experience nature,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson. “It’s a huge piece of an entire effort—a shared effort—to have a place that we are proud to call home for generations to come. A space with clean air, clean water, and thriving habitat for native species. A place that respects the people who have called this place home since time immemorial.”
Also speaking at the event were Andrew Johanson of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Metro Parks and Nature Director Jon Blasher, and Metro Councilor Juan Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez shared memories of his first time visiting Chehalem Ridge six years ago, when his connection to it was as a Centro Cultural staff member.
“Before I ever ran for office, this park was what really sparked my passion and love for the work that Metro does in connecting communities to nature, to green space,” he said. “And really, to have the opportunity now to cut the proverbial ribbon here, close to my hometown, close to the place where I grew up, to the place where my parents immigrated, knowing that this is a natural area, a place of recreation and conservation, for kids like me and kids that will come ahead of me—that’s just a huge blessing for me in this moment and for all of us.”
There was no actual ribbon cutting. Instead, the event concluded with Harrelson leading guests through an Atfalati cultural practice called atuchip, in which rocks and earth are piled to mark a special location.
“The practice comes from people going out and setting rocks at places that are important and worth returning to,” said Harrelson. Judging by the comments and smiles from guests, Chehalem Ridge Nature Park is just such a place.