Throughout the summer, construction has been underway on on two new nature parks. After years of research, planning and restoration. Chehalem Ridge, near Forest Grove, and Newell Creek Canyon in Oregon City will provide nature experiences close to home while supporting wildlife habitat and water quality. Both natural areas were protected as a result of voter-approved bond measures passed in 1995 and 2006.
Both parks are expected to open in 2021.
For over a decade, Metro scientist Kate Holleran has been managing restoration work at the 1,280-acre Chehalem Ridge natural area, which offers sweeping vistas of the Tualatin River Valley and the Coast Range as well as several Cascade peaks. Her work has focused turning what had been a commercial Douglas fir farm into a healthy, diverse habitat. This included protecting dozens of upland streams that drain into the Tualatin River, thinning the tightly packed forest, reintroducing native plants, and restoring stands of Oregon white oak, a declining habitat in the Willamette Valley.
Diversifying forests expands habitat for native wildlife with the added bonus of creating resilience to climate change, an increasingly important factor in Metro’s restoration work.
“It’s interesting that the best practices for creating forests resilient to climate change are the same recommendations for just having a healthy forest,” Holleran said. “You maintain species diversity and manage the number of trees on a piece of ground so they can survive these hotter, drier summers.”
The forest restoration at Chehalem is slow, methodical work, and it will continue for many more years. The park will be closed periodically to thin more trees and plant more native plants.
On the southern end of greater Portland, the 240-acre Newell Creek Canyon provides stunning scenery and important wildlife habitat – right in the heart of Oregon City. Work here has focused on restoring forest areas impacted by road building and logging and protecting Newell Creek itself.
“When forests are restored, wildlife species respond to those changes,” said Metro scientist Brian Vaughn. “The restored forest at Newell Creek Canyon will support water quality conditions that are favorable to spawning coho salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey.”
When it was time to plan each park’s amenities, the community showed up.
At Chehalem Ridge, Metro partnered with Centro Cultural, a community-based organization in Washington County, to bring the area’s Latinx community into the planning process in an intentional and meaningful way.
“Centro helped us develop and design community outreach events,” said Karen Vitkay, the lead planner for Chehalem Ridge Nature Park. "They already had so many connections to the community and were a trusted resource.”
Surveys conducted in English and Spanish showed that Spanish speakers especially valued amenities like space for family gatherings and trails wide enough for groups with a gentle grade suitable for kids and aging adults, and signs in multiple languages, all considerations reflected in the final park construction.
Amenities at both parks include day-use areas, multi-use trails, off-road cycling, scenic overlooks and opportunities for nature education. Chehalem Ridge will offer equestrian access. Future development phases include features like interpretive information, public art and a nature play area.
At Chehalem, a nearly $350,000 Local Government Grant from Oregon Parks and Recreation Department allowed for the construction of the entire trail network during the initial build. Visitors will be able to enjoy 10 miles of trails at the park.
Newell Creek Canyon is within walking and biking distance of downtown Oregon City and neighborhoods off of Highway 213. The park’s front door, a day-use area that includes parking for buses, opens to three miles of trails for hiking and off-road cycling.
Tannen Printz, Metro’s lead park planner at Newell Creek Canyon, is grateful for the support of passionate residents who’ve been involved every step of the way.
“There’s a whole community behind protecting this place and making it someplace special,” Printz said. “Metro is just trying to move that mission along.”