One of the most popular elements of Metro’s Parks and Nature work is the millions of dollars in grants and local share money that go toward local community nature projects. Metro’s community investments have a direct impact on locally significant projects.
Altogether over the last 25 years, the public – through Metro – has invested more than $90 million to support a broad range of community nature projects across the region, helping to preserve land, restore habitat, build visitor amenities and more.
Nature in Neighborhoods grants through the 2006 bond measure and the 2013 levy provide money for community organizations, nonprofits, watershed councils and other groups. Local share money, including $44 million in 2006 bond measure, supports local parks providers.
Over the past year, Metro awarded the last rounds of grants available through the 2006 bond measure and 2013 levy. Nature in Neighborhoods grants will be offered again starting in 2018, when funding from the renewed levy becomes available.
After nine rounds and $15 million, the Metro Council in December 2016 awarded the last batch of Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants. The grants totaled $1.8 million and supported nine projects with goals as diverse as restoring salmon habitat on Johnson Creek and turning an alley into a park. The 51 projects that received capital grants since 2006 have been just as varied as this last batch, but have been united by an effort to maintain or improve the Portland region’s natural resources.
In summer 2016, eight projects received $204,000 in conservation education grants. Selection committee members at the time noted a shift in recent years, with a growing number of community-based organizations and traditional environmental organizations emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion in their applications.
In fall 2016, eight projects received restoration grants totaling $205,000. The projects range from creating a greenspace in Hillsboro to improving pollinator habitat in Wilsonville and increasing shade for Johnson Creek.
Johnson Creek watershed is returning to health thanks to science, strategic restoration work
For generations, Johnson Creek was unhealthy: a creek no longer home to salmon, lacking trees and shrubs along its banks, its shores serving as loading docks for industry. Nearby residents mostly ignored the 26-mile artery that flows into Willamette River in Milwaukie -- except when it flooded homes and roads in the worst of weather.
Now Johnson Creek is slowly being nursed back to health through the methodical efforts of community organizations, volunteers and government agencies. Metro has contributed to those efforts with seven Nature in Neighborhoods grants over the years, including five to the nonprofit Johnson Creek Watershed Council. The grants have paid for projects that rely on science to make strategic, effective investments that help restore the watershed and connect people to nature.
The grants helped pay to replace culverts, plant trees and reforest surrounding habitat, all of which are small steps toward the larger goal of restoring healthy runs of salmon and other fish.
“Salmon were nearly wiped out from Johnson Creek, but now their population is increasing,” said Daniel Newberry, the watershed council’s executive director. “That’s an indicator that the watershed’s health is improving and the investments in restoration are paying off.”
The Johnson Creek Watershed Council, formed 22 years ago, relies heavily on science-tested data to set priorities for improving a watershed that encompasses 54 square miles in two counties and five cities.
For example, in 2013 and 2014, the council analyzed 273 troublesome culverts that block or impede fish passage and that are in need of improvement or replacement. It established a list of 18 priority projects based not on cost but on their impact on fish migration.
One of those priority projects was the Badger Creek culvert, beneath the Springwater Trail near Southeast Telford and Rugg roads south of Gresham. A $25,000 Nature in Neighborhoods grant helped pay to replace the culvert in 2016, one of three culverts to be replaced or retrofitted partly using Metro grant money.
A 2016 capital grant to the watershed council provided $80,000 to improve fish passage in the North Fork of Johnson Creek by replacing or retrofitting seven culverts, opening up two miles of off-channel habitat for fish.
A 2016 restoration grant to the watershed council provided $30,000 for workforce training crews from communities of color to plant native trees and shrubs on private property, providing shade to cool the water.
Columbia Slough Watershed Council, George Middle School nurture next generation of nature stewards
On a cool May morning, 24 students from George Middle School stepped off a school bus in Kelley Point Park at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers. The seventh graders were only a few miles away from their North Portland school, but some hadn’t known this place existed.
The students had come to paddle the last stretch of the 19-mile Columbia Slough before it spills into the Willamette. Their field trip was sponsored by the Columbia Slough Watershed Council<u>’s</u> Slough School and funded in part by a Nature in Neighborhoods grant from Metro. It would be the first time on water for many of these young students, even though they’d just built a rowboat in their science classroom.
As the tandem canoes launched, the noise of industry gave way to the sounds of birds and the splashing of paddles. Some spotted geese in the cloudy sky, and a lucky few caught a glimpse of a blue heron.
“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream,” one boatload of students sang as the four rowing crews settled into competition and teamwork.
The journey was a highlight of a multi-year focus at George introducing students to North Portland’s abundant but often overlooked natural environment. Grant-funded educational activities also extend to students in some of the 40-plus schools within the Columbia Slough watershed in Portland, Fairview and Gresham. Often, the Columbia Slough Watershed Council is at the center of it all.
The Slough School’s goal is to link school science curriculums “with authentic science and positive outdoor experiences,” said Jennifer Starkey, the watershed council’s education director and leader of the kayak outing. “We want to give them an opportunity to form relationships with natural areas.”
Learning about nature and about how their own neighborhoods relate to their natural surroundings help students gain skills in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math – the elements of STEAM education.
In spring 2016, Darci Morgan’s seventh-grade science students built a Bevin’s Skiff, a 12-foot flat-bottom rowboat, in a 10-week project led by the educational nonprofit Wind & Oar Boat School. That project was funded in part by another Nature in Neighborhoods grant.
In the same science classroom, sixth-graders constructed a 3-D map of the North Portland peninsula, complete with buildings and bridges across the two great rivers, using Styrofoam and papier-mâché. The finished 8-foot-by-8-foot model, built on a scale of 1 inch for every 5 feet, is a new venture for Wind & Oar, one that benefitted greatly from access to Metro’s sophisticated GIS maps.
Sixth-grader Damien Cook said he has learned math by cutting the right scale for his pieces of the map, and he now thinks about the topography of his community. When you learn by doing, “science is more fun, and (you) engage more,” he said.