As they work toward finalizing a master plan for one of Washington County’s largest natural areas, leaders from Metro’s parks department have rolled out options for the future at the planned Chehalem Ridge Nature Park.
The release came at a Sept. 8 open house in Forest Grove, where about 60 people heard more about potential entrances, trail network and activities at Chehalem Ridge.
A former tree farm spanning more than 1,200 acres, Chehalem Ridge is being planned to serve as one of the largest nature parks on the west side of greater Portland. It was acquired by Metro starting in 2008, but remains closed to the public while officials focus on restoration and a long-term plan for the site.
At the open house, community members and Metro officials discussed the future of the area, including the location of trailheads and the type of activities residents would like to see available onsite, such as hiking, picnicking, horseback riding and off-road cycling.
“Overall, people showed incredible enthusiasm for the park, they’re really excited about the future of Chehalem Ridge as a nature park,” said Karen Vitkay, a planner in Metro’s parks and nature department. “They’re excited about the opportunity. They love hiking, being in the outdoors, taking their kids outside, and having a place to access nature close to home - something some community members don’t currently have. It’s going to be a great opportunity for the western part of the region.”
Community members have been weighing in on the project for most of the year, with surveys, open houses and tours offered to get feedback on the site.
“We reported back on community input, so things that we learned from the first survey, we did,” Vitkay said. “We talked about how that information is influencing the planning process, particularly in terms of helping us meet our equity goals in order to create a welcoming place to all people.”
At the community forum, officials conducted a presentation and displayed posters to inform the public of the many ideas Metro has for restoring and maintaining the natural area.
“The way people access nature is different for everybody,” Vitkay said. “For some people it’s about walking, hiking and observing birds and wildlife, but for other people it means only going as far as the trailhead, parking, getting out, having a picnic with their family.”
Additionally, officials from Centro Cultural de Washington County are assisting Metro in garnering thoughts and opinions from Spanish-speaking communities. A Spanish-language feedback opportunity is scheduled for Sept. 16 in Cornelius.
“The data shows that people want a space that accommodates families,” said Juan Carlos González, development director at Centro Cultural. “[Latinos] like going in larger groups, so they’re interested in camping spaces, picnic spaces, and spaces for kids to play.”
Vitkay says that for Metro, equity and inclusion are two important elements in planning for the future of Chehalem Ridge. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2015, about 16.4 percent of the population in the Washington County area identify as either Hispanic or Latino, which is a reason Metro is focused on making sure the community’s input is heard.
“[There is] a strong number of people for whom Spanish is their first language, so we’re trying to do a dual approach [and] have a lot of information available in Spanish,” Vitkay said. “During the first survey, we asked people about their barriers to accessing parks and nature and we learned some things - like just having information about where the parks are, available transportation options and how to be safe in nature - those can be barriers for our underserved community members.”
That's one of the reasons for hosting a second open house this month, at Centro Cultural's "El Grito" celebration on Sept. 16.
“[The community] is expressing sincere gratitude that they’re being asked for their thoughts and input,” González said. “They’re very appreciative of that.”
Though the overall tone of the Sept. 8 meeting was positive, Vitkay says there are community members who voiced some concerns regarding changes to the area. In particular, some residents of the rural areas around Chehalem Ridge expressed concerns about the potential for increased traffic.
“Overall, we’re looking to do what is best for the site and our community members while working within a budget and our current operations capacity,” Vitkay said. “That means assessing and weighing many factors in order to meet our mission of protecting habitat and water quality, while also providing public access to nature.”
The Metro Council is expected to adopt its plan for the site by mid-2017.