“Teacher Kate, you must help us do a project to give back to the Gresham community.” Jose Abel Martinez from Honduras stood in my Mt. Hood Community College office door in 2000 and insisted that the international students in the natural resources program needed to clear the invasive blackberries from the riparian area along Beaver Creek next to the college.
Soon 40 students from Central America and the Caribbean were swinging machetes and using loppers to cut blackberries and prepare the land for native plants.
It would take 16 years and an ongoing partnership between Metro and the college for the restoration work to be completed. Students gathered data helping us understand the
natural area more fully. Hard work by student volunteers reduced litter and weeds. And voter investments provided the money we needed to improve habitat across the entire site.
South Beaver Creek Natural Area is a 62-acre site bordered on the east and west by the college. Long ago the land surrounding the forested canyon was cleared for farming. But
the steep slopes and wetlands along the stream made the canyon unsuitable for farming. Large old Douglas fir, western red cedar and black cottonwood trees were scattered along
the stream, and big leaf maples and red alder sprung up after an earlier timber harvest.
In 2004, Metro purchased the riparian canyon from the college using money from the 1995 natural areas bond measure. Soon after the purchase, I left the college to become a natural
resources scientist at Metro, and Beaver Creek became part of my portfolio.
For decades this forest has been a refuge for wildlife as Gresham and Troutdale grew. The part of Beaver Creek that flows through the natural area provides some of the best salmon
habitat in the stream, with areas of deep shade and large wood jams for hiding. Wildlife is abundant and includes bobcat, beavers, great blue herons and pygmy owls.
Though patches of native salmonberry, willows and sedges survived under the tree canopy, many of the stream banks were blanketed with Himalayan blackberries and reed canarygrass. These two invasive plants offer very limited wildlife habitat, aren’t effective at holding the soil in place and provide little shade for the fish in the creek. It was these wide swaths of invasive plants that the students started cutting away 16 years ago.
Progress was slow and much of the land cleared by the students was reclaimed by blackberries by the next summer.
Throughout the years, international students in the college’s natural resources program continued small-scale restoration around the wetland at the north end of the natural area. But without more aggressive weed control, the goal of improving the three-quarters of a mile of stream side forests would not be completed.
Thanks to money from the 2013 parks and natural areas levy, Metro is now able to complete the restoration the students started. We are just wrapping up levy-funded work to clear most of the remaining blackberries and install tens of thousands of native plants.
South Beaver Creek Natural Area is full of good things for wildlife and with a little tender, loving care every year, it should stay that way.