This story appears in the Summer 2015 issue of Our Big Backyard, a quarterly magazine about parks and nature. Read more stories, plan an outing with a detailed field guide, and find out more about fun nature events and classes.
Over the past 10 years, Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods grants have helped to acquire land, restore habitat and streams, connect residents to nature, transform neighborhoods, promote equity, develop the next generation of nature enthusiasts – and more.
The grants are made possible thanks to voter investments. Nature in Neighborhoods grants support partnerships so that neighborhood groups, nonprofits, government agencies and others can boost access and improve nature close to home.
On the 10th anniversary of the grants, we revisit four recipients to see the difference the grants made in their neighborhoods.
A park for people and nature
A trail, boardwalk and nature-viewing platform are coming soon to April Hill Park, thanks in part to an $83,000 grant in 2013. The transformation is designed to protect sensitive habitat while inviting people to enjoy the sights and sounds of this Southwest Portland gem, from chorus frogs and long-toed salamanders to rough-skinned newts and dozens of bird species.
Jill Gaddis, who leads Friends of April Hill Park, reflects on her journey since moving to the neighborhood nearly two decades ago:
“We’d walk down to the creek and see that it’s incised terribly, with a lot of debris. And then we would see these trails, really damaging the natural area. A few people would go in with their kids and say, ‘This is where the bugs are,’ but most people were afraid to go beyond the trees. They’d think the park ends right there.
As I tell everyone, they don’t realize how lucky we are to have this park. It’s right in the center of the neighborhood. We have a developed area where you can play and roughhouse. Then we have this wonderful, natural area that you can go into and just be at peace. It’s been abused, but I think it’s savable.
A lot of people say, ‘Oh, this is going to take too long.’ I think, pick something you have a passion for and go for it. It does take time – but so does learning to knit. To do anything takes a while.”
The Center for Diversity & the Environment received a $100,000 grant in 2014 for its Environment 2042 Leadership Program. Named after the year in which people of color are projected to become the majority in the United States, the program develops leaders who will make the environmental movement more diverse and equitable.
Rob Nathan, director of digital engagement at Northwest Earth Institute, is in the first group of participants:
“It has helped me frame the frustrations I’ve experienced in a productive manner. I can better articulate and deconstruct racial inequities and divisions of power. It has also allowed me to feel empowered to address those inequities. By creating this strong network of folks who work in the movement, we can all work together to support each other to advance equity.
My organization has been around for 20 years. We’re building an equity policy right now as a response to me pushing equity as a priority. I initiated this push as a direct result of the leadership training that came from the program. I’ve also been able to step up as a leadership chair for the Environmental Professionals of Color group.
That would not be happening if I hadn’t taken part in this program. I’m really glad that Metro made the investment so that when we say we’re building capacity, we’re investing in the people who will eventually be the decision makers.”
A sense of place
In 2010, the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership and Wilderness International Youth Conservation Corps applied separately for grants to restore Meldrum Bar Park on the Willamette River.
Metro introduced the two groups, who formed a partnership and jointly won a $15,000 grant in 2010 and a $23,000 grant in 2013.
Bethany Wray, director of Wilderness International:
“We are able to each use our strengths to make a team that’s bigger and better. Wilderness International has experience on the ground. We’re there on a weekly basis to bring in high schoolers from the (Clackamas County) juvenile department. (The estuary partnership) helps coordinate volunteer events to bring in 30 to 50 adults as well as elementary students for field trips.
Bringing in kids on a weekly basis is great, allowing us to not just pull weeds but to teach new skills through educational and job experiences.
The funding from Metro helps make this happen. This experience helps our at-risk youths develop a sense of place. Now they are familiar with the wildlife and plant species. This helps them connect, gives them an appreciation for other projects and makes them want to care for their surroundings.
We’ve had students who’ve vandalized fences or property. Now that they see the effort needed [to clean it up], they don’t do it again.”
A ribbon of green
With the help of a $322,000 grant in 2011, the Virginia Garcia Cornelius Wellness Center transformed a crumbling alley into an inviting, block-long community green space. English and Spanish interpretive signs, created in partnership with Clean Water Services, teach visitors about the center’s bioswales and water-saving features.
The green alley has created a space for community, says Gil Muñoz, CEO at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center:
“We are thrilled with the outcome. The community now enjoys a serene space where trees and native plants are flourishing. The space connects to a green plaza and teaching gardens filled with seasonal vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, bushes and a grape arbor.
We see community members coming to stroll the green alley and sit on the benches on the weekends, children playing games on the green plaza and families walking through the lush gardens. The green alley is the entrance to the primary care and dental clinics, so our patients enjoy it when they visit.”
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Una franja verde
El centro de salud Virginia Garcia Cornelius Wellness Center utilizó una aportación de $322,000 otorgada por Metro en el año 2011 para transformar un callejón deteriorado en un atractivo sendero comunitario con zonas verdes y carteles en inglés y español. Los carteles se diseñaron con la colaboración de Clean Water Services para explicar los beneficios de bio-canales de filtración e instalaciones para ahorro de agua del lugar.
Gil Muñoz, Gerente General de Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, explica cómo el proyecto ha creado un espacio de encuentro comunitario:
“Estamos emocionadísimos con el resultado del proyecto, hoy la comunidad goza de un espacio tranquilo donde crecen árboles y plantas nativas. El sendero conecta con una plaza ecológica y jardines de enseñaza llenos de vegetales y hierbas de temporada, árboles frutales y un emparrado de uvas.
Los fines de semana observamos a personas de la comunidad caminando por el sendero o descansando en los bancos, niños jugando en la plaza ecológica y familias paseando por los jardines. El sendero verde es la entrada principal a las clínicas de salud primaria y dental, así que nuestros pacientes lo desfrutan cuando vienen a consulta.”