OREGON CITY -- The Metro Council on March 31 unanimously approved a plan to provide formal public access to Newell Creek Canyon, a 233-acre natural area in Oregon City. The plan calls for four miles of hiking and off-road cycling trails, picnic areas, restrooms, parking, scenic overlooks and more.
Next steps include design and engineering, permit applications and construction. If all goes smoothly, the site could open in early 2018. The plan includes space for a nature play area, picnic shelter and overlook shelter if money becomes available later for additional improvements.
“I’m just so excited for us to have this opportunity, because it really outlines what we can make happen, how we can improve on nature through restoration efforts, but also how we can provide public access for this very delicate place,” Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington said. “I am a big use of public natural areas because they help restore my soul and enable me to function.”
Back in 1995, neighbors of Newell Creek Canyon in Oregon City walked door to door campaigning for Metro’s natural areas bond measure in order to protect the watershed and beloved natural area in the face of rapid development. The parks and natural areas levy voters passed in 2013 provided money for public access planning and improvements.
“Instead of being 52 home sites, it became the core center of the park you’re being asked to approve in this master plan,” neighbor Sha Spady, who served on the stakeholder advisory committee, told Metro councilors shortly before their vote. “It’s an amazing journey. There are so many people here today who are responsible for this.”
The plan is the culmination of two years of conversations with the community to craft a long-term vision for the future of the site. In the beginning, the bicycling and hiking communities weren’t in agreement, but slowly came together after a series of community events, said Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, whose district includes Newell Creek Canyon.
“This is a really wonderful project, and I’m looking forward to how well it works, if we can hold that shared vision,” Collette said.
Blane Meier, owner of First City Cycles in Oregon City, said the future trails at Newell Creek Canyon will provide an opportunity for families with children to cycle in nature while staying close to home.
“The process has been very fair,” said Meier, who also served on the stakeholder advisory committee. “Nobody get everything they want, that’s the way it goes. I want to thank all of you for your openness in including bike trails.”
The plan also calls for continuing restoration to protect and enhance Newell Creek Canyon’s unique natural and scenic resources and to create a place for wildlife to thrive. Deer, Pacific wren, pileated woodpeckers, varied thrush, coyotes, northern red-legged frogs and other wildlife all call Newell Creek Canyon home. Native coho salmon, steelhead trout and Pacific lamprey can be found in the namesake creek. Several sag ponds hide among the verdant firs and maples, remnants of the area’s geologic history of landslides.
Metro will continue to work with local social service agencies and police to transition illegal campers found in the canyon to local homes. The canyon has experienced illegal camping for some time, which also brings litter, dumping, unauthorized trails and other impacts that affect the habitat.
“The purpose of the access master plan is to attract a steady flow of visitors and, in the process, help discourage illegal camping,” Printz said. “However, this must be done with respect for ongoing conservation efforts that embody Metro’s commitment to the preservation and improvement of water quality and wildlife habitat throughout the region.”
The meeting location at the Museum of the Oregon Territory overlooking Willamette Falls proved fitting as Metro councilors also approved a new agreement with Oregon City, Clackamas County and the State of Oregon that outlines roles and responsibilities on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project through June 2017.
Metro is leading project management and spearheading the design of a public riverwalk that will provide stunning views of Willamette Falls. The riverwalk is intended to spur economic redevelopment of the former Blue Heron paper mill site. Metro is also investing $1.9 million in the project in the current and next fiscal years.