The Metro Council on Thursday unanimously approved a road map for future Parks and Nature work, laying the groundwork to build on 20 years of voter investments.
Read the highlights of the Metro Parks and Nature System Plan or delve into the full-length plan.
The Metro Parks and Nature System Plan also provides a framework for the council’s upcoming discussions about the funding needed to sustain this portfolio of work, including the possibility of asking voters as early as November 2016 to renew the current local-option levy.
"This is a really smart, strategic plan," Metro Council President Tom Hughes said. "What we now need are the resources to make the plan work, to bring the plan to life. I am today asking my fellow councilors, the Metro Parks and Nature team and virtually everybody who celebrated this plan to begin to work together to put an extension of the operating levy on the ballot November of this year. There’s an opportunity in November of this year that we will not have in a while, so I believe it’s important to do that."
Voters in the greater Portland metro region approved a five-year, local-option levy in May 2013 to protect clean water, restore wildlife habitat, and provide opportunities to access natural areas and rivers. A renewal of the current levy would extend its end date from June 2018 to June 2023 – providing stability to plan and implement multiyear restoration projects, park improvements and other programs.
The levy costs 9.6 cents per $1,000 in assessed home value – about $20 a year for the owner of a typical home with $200,000 in assessed value.
Metro's plan for the future of its regional parks and nature system is the culmination of discussions that began more than 45 years ago, said Mike Houck, executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute.
"It's a historic milestone for Metro and the region," said Houck, who urged councilors to keep science and conservation as the main focus. "I think it’s going to be really important for you to keep that first and foremost. This program was instituted specifically to focus on natural areas protection and restoration and biodiversity."
Other community members urged Metro to continue to partner with local parks providers and community organizations to provide better access to nature.
"I would encourage you to think about how a regional investment can help nurture the role of local governments, particularly in parts of the region that are behind in their local parks," said Jim Labbe, a member of Friends of Nadaka, a community group supporting Nadaka Nature Park in Gresham. The group has received four Nature in Neighborhoods grants from Metro to help acquire, restore and provide access to nature in an underserved part of the region.
With 17,000 acres, Metro manages parks and natural areas across every community in the region – from Chehalem Ridge on the west to the Sandy River Gorge on the east, from Blue Lake and Broughton Beach on the north to Graham Oaks on the south.
The newly approved plan comes after nearly two years of conversations with the public and stakeholders, including representatives of underserved communities, community-based organizations, and conservation, restoration and parks experts.
The plan lays out Metro Parks and Nature’s mission and role, the status of the portfolio today, trends that will shape future work and strategies to guide the future. The plan is intended to provide clarity on Metro’s direction, support partners and strengthen relationships – complementing the broader regional network of parks, trails and natural areas.
Metro Parks and Nature protects water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and creates opportunities to enjoy nature close to home through a connected system of parks, trails and natural areas.
To organize its Parks and Nature portfolio, Metro has defined 11 “naturehoods” named for unique geographic and ecological identities. For example, in the Tonquin Naturehood, large boulders and scoured ponds tell the tale of historic floods that ripped through the area – and provide the setting for today’s Graham Oaks Nature Park and Ice Age Tonquin Trail.
"The naturehoods -- it’s a great way to get to know our area and get to know not only the natural beauty that you can see, but all of the wildlife that is connected and utilizes it," Councilor Kathryn Harrington said. "And it’s incumbent on us as humanity to continue to be good stewards for these places and for wildlife."
A new property classification system will guide planning, development and management for a portfolio that ranges from popular regional destinations to sensitive habitats where people rarely set foot.
Metro’s vision will succeed only if it benefits diverse communities across the region, said Kathleen Brennan-Hunter, director of Metro Parks and Nature. Traditionally, parks and nature investments focused on people who were already engaged and already enjoyed access to the outdoors. The new plan makes additional commitments to better serve people of color and low-income residents, she said.
"It’s a breakthrough event to see diversity and goals for diversity put into a plan that will guide the future of how land is developed," said Mike Abbate, director of Portland Parks & Recreation.
Though newer programs, such as Partners in Nature, are working with community-based organizations to better connect underserved communities with nature, making a long-term difference will require resources, planning, collaboration – and time. One such partnership began with Self Enhancement, Inc. in 2014 to develop nature lessons, projects and field excursions for hundreds of the young people served by SEI. Based in North Portland, SEI supports at-risk urban youths through a charter school, summer and after-school programming, and family support services.
"The program with SEI, we call that a pipeline," said Gerald Deloney, SEI director of program advancement and co-chair of the Coalition of Communities of Color. "We start early, we get them introduced. We’re looking at the future, but we’re looking at the now, too, as in how can we make a change tomorrow."
Metro Parks and Nature will rely on six mission-critical strategies and five other strategies to guide its future work.
- Use science to guide the portfolio.
- Ensure programs and facilities support the needs of underserved communities, including communities of color, low-income communities and young people.
- Develop a stable, long-term funding source to support Metro’s Parks and Nature portfolio.
- Ensure that parks, trails, natural areas and cemeteries managed by Metro are knit together into an integrated system.
- Diversity the businesses and people who do contracted work for Metro Parks and Nature.
- Build, sustain and leverage partnerships to advance the region’s shared commitment to an interconnected system of parks, trails and natural areas.
- Protect and conserve nature.
- Create and maintain great places.
- Connect people to nature.
- Support community aspirations
- Convene, plan and build a regional trail system