Chehalem Ridge Nature Park could open as early as 2020 after the Metro Council on Thursday unanimously approved the master plan that will guide future visitor amenities.
The 1,230-acre future park 15 minutes south of Forest Grove and Cornelius will provide visitors with opportunities to enjoy picnics, take in views from the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains, and hike, bike and ride horses on about nine miles of trails.
“I’m so pleased that we’re able to open up a portion of this property, while also protecting a good deal of it for the benefit of nature,” said Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, whose district includes Chehalem Ridge.
Construction is expected to be completed in phases, with the first phase possibly starting in summer 2019.
The first phase would build most of the southern portion of the site, including about three miles of trails, restrooms, a trailhead at Southwest Dixon Mill Road, a picnic area, equestrian parking area and a parking lot for 70 to 80 cars with a bus drop-off spot. A multi-purpose shelter to accommodate groups up to about 50 people is also planned.
The first phase is estimated to cost in the range of $2.5 million to $3.9 million.
Future phases would be built once additional money is identified. Those improvements would include building the rest of the trail network, a nature play area and a second, smaller trailhead at the northern end of the park.
Lindsey Garcia, the education program manager at Centro Cultural de Washington County, a nonprofit based in Cornelius, said she is looking forward to opportunities for children to experience nature and unplug from screens. During nature tours at Chehalem last summer, students had fun exploring and hugging trees, she said.
“They wanted to go out and touch everything,” she said. “After the field trip, the kids were relaxed, and we could see the benefits. It’s not often they are able to go out somewhere and experience nature like they did that day.”
Connecting with the community
Planning started in early 2016, and more than 6,000 comments were submitted by community over the course of seven open houses, community events, online surveys and more.
“This plan was one of the most thorough, well thought out public processes I have ever seen in my career,” said Tom Gamble, the Forest Grove parks and recreation director and a member of the Chehalem Ridge stakeholder advisory committee.
A key part of the community engagement was the partnership between Metro and Centro Cultural to ensure that the plan took into consideration the needs of the fast-growing Latino community in Washington County. For instance, people of color and Spanish-speaking people said that activities for families, youths and people with disabilities were particularly important.
Metro and Centro Cultural co-hosted Spanish-language events, translated materials and hosted outreach booths at cultural events. Metro staff also trained Centro Cultural staff and volunteers to lead public tours of Chehalem Ridge in English and Spanish.
“Most importantly, we’re able to advance the way communities of color engage with nature,” said Juan Carlos González, the development director of Centro Cultural. “This partnership has fostered a way for communities of color to really authentically engage with the planning process.”
The partnership with Metro provided a lot of value for the Centro Cultural community, said Maria Caballero-Rubio, the executive director.
“For me, the highlight has been that we’ve been able to engage our entire staff in going out and becoming engaged and learning about Metro,” she said. “We’ve claimed this park. It belongs to us. We have a lot of pride, and we’ve internalized that.”
A shared experience
About six miles of trails would be available for hikers, off-road cyclists and equestrian riders.
Peggy Harris, a Chehalem Ridge neighbor and chairwoman of Citizen Participation Organization 15, said she can’t wait for her daughter and grandchildren to ride horses at Chehalem Ridge.
“I’m going to be bringing all my friends from Portland here,” she said.
Chehalem Ridge is the third Metro nature park in the works that would allow off-road cycling. The Metro Council last year also approved plans calling for off-road cycling at North Tualatin Mountains northwest of Forest Park and Newell Creek Canyon in Oregon City.
Matthew Weintraub, a member of the board of Northwest Trail Alliance, said the group was “in full support” of the plan. Off-road cyclists would have preferred to have seen bike-optimized trails but are happy with access to multi-use trails, where children can learn to mountain bike.
The trail network at Chehalem Ridge includes a 1.5-mile all-abilities trail that could be used by visitors with varying physical abilities.
John Charles, the president of Cascade Policy Institute, a libertarian think tank, said he would have preferred to see many more miles of trails at Chehalem Ridge, including separate trails for hikers and off-road cyclists. He also would have liked to have seen dogs allowed at Chehalem Ridge.
Metro does not allow pets at most regional parks and natural areas to protect native plants and wildlife, which consider dogs as predators.
A legacy of nature
The mission of Metro’s park system is to protect clean water, restore fish and wildlife habitat and provide opportunities for people to experience nature. When planning for public access, Metro reviewed the location of sensitive natural resources, prioritizing visitor amenities for areas that might have the least impact on water quality and habitat. For instance, trails are located to avoid steep slopes and sensitive headwater areas and to preserve large blocks of undisturbed habitat.
Native wildlife such as bobcats, beavers, spotted towhee and more live in Chehalem Ridge’s Douglas fir forests, oak woodlands and streams. The habitat at Chehalem Ridge also provides important connections to nearby natural areas, including Metro’s Wapato View, Penstemon Prairie and Spring Hill Wetlands sites.
Money from the voter-approved natural areas bond measure in 2006 and the parks and natural areas levy in 2013 was used to acquire land, restore habitat and plan for public access. Design, engineering and construction will also be paid for with money from voter investments.
Alberto Rodriguez, a Centro Cultural information specialist who led English and Spanish tours at Chehalem Ridge, said it was important that the nature park creates a welcoming place that children and families can enjoy for many decades.
“The greatest thing I feel is to be a part of this place that is going to be there for years to come,” he said. “And it is very important for me as a human being to be a part of this thing that the community will be sharing.”