After nine rounds and $15 million, Metro’s last planned Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants are going to nine projects with goals as diverse as restoring salmon habitat on Johnson Creek and turning an alley into a park. The 51 that received capital grants since 2006 have been just as varied as this last batch, but have been united by an effort to maintain or improve the Portland region’s natural resources.
No matter the size or type of community group, agency or business, many capital grant recipients say that without the grant their project wouldn’t exist.
“This grant was the catalyst,” said Shelly Parini, senior executive project manager for the John Inskeep Environmental Learning Center at Clackamas Community College, which Metro awarded $863,000 in 2014. “We would not have been able to do it without this. It’s creating so many unintended positive benefits.”
“This project would not have happened without Metro, truly,” said Roberta Schwarz, the cofounder of Neighbors for a Livable West Linn, who sparked the now 20-acre West Linn White Oak Savanna project that received two grants from Metro totaling $832,000.
Lee Dayfield of the friends group supporting Nadaka Nature Park in Gresham, which was awarded $459,000 in two grants, said, “It’s so much more than seed money. We wouldn’t have anything at all.”
Nadaka Nature Park and Leach Botanical Garden, which received a grant this year, are desperately needed natural spaces in park-hungry neighborhoods, says Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick, who represents the cities and communities on the east side of the greater Portland region and served on the capital grants review board.
“My side of the region is really park deficient, and people wouldn’t have these without the grants,” she said. ““Nadaka literally created a park out of nothing, something that is incredibly popular.”
The Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants program kicked off in 2006 with voter investment in a $227.4 million bond measure. Of that, $15 million was set aside for grants, while the rest allowed Metro to expand its natural areas and develop a broader park system.
The grants were tasked with funding public projects that improve water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and increase access to nature for residents. This gradually shook out to include four types of grant projects: the purchase of land that would become publicly owned natural areas; development projects that incorporate green infrastructure; habitat restoration; and efforts to bring nature into school, parks and other public lands.
Every year, Metro awarded between four and 12 grants. In December, eight new grants were awarded while an additional grant was given to a project that received previous funding, bringing the grand total to 51 grants. The full list of 2016 awards is below.
When the grants began a decade ago, these weren’t the types of projects governments normally funded. Often they aren’t what most people picture when they imagine a public capital project – typically some big piece of infrastructure, like a road, or a facility, like a water treatment plant.
The Nature in Neighborhood grants allowed a more expansive view. Within Metro’s responsibility to improve water quality and fish habitat, however, the work to restore Mount Scott Creek’s banks creates a capital asset. A water treatment plant more readily fits the profile of a capital project, but a healthy creek does much the same work and more.
The concept of a community-focused projects went through its own evolution.
“At the beginning, we really thought we would just get the proposals to build something and feel like the end products was what was built,” said Mary Rose Navarro, capital grant coordinator for Metro’s park system. “As we went through reviewing projects over the last nine years, it became apparent that the review committee was looking for community impact. … It’s about how they are really inspiring the community to engage in the space.”
One of this year’s grants will help develop an alley into what’s essentially a micro-park in inner southeast Portland. It will offer a green space to the residents of 106 new affordable housing units as well as the many people who rely on services provided by St. Francis parish. “The way they took this short alley to respond to the needs of these diverse populations – the people living in the housing, the people using St. Francis dining hall, the businesses in the neighborhood –it was inspiring,” said Navarro. “It could have just been an alley.”
Full list of recipients of Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants program 2016
Total award amount: $1,828,602.48
Bull Mountain Park Projects
Grant amount: Amends 2015 award with a $60,000 increase
Recipient: Friends of Bull Mountain Park
Partners: Tualatin River Watershed Council, City of Tigard, and a variety of local community-based organizations
The Friends of Bull Mountain Park and Tualatin River Watershed Council were awarded a $125,943 Nature in Neighborhoods capital grant in 2015 to engage community members in constructing improvements to the Bull Mountain Nature Park including a nature play area, a picnic pavilion, a tool shed, soft surface trails, an ADA access trail, a bathroom shelter, a water fountain, benches and signs.
Leach Botanical Garden Improvements
Grant amount: $188,000
Recipient: City of Portland
Partners: Leach Garden Friends, Portland Development Commission
The Leach Botanical Garden project reflects the city’s commitment to providing safe natural places, using programming in underserved neighborhoods, and bringing together community residents to plan for more equitable access to parks infrastructure. This project will create an engaging & welcoming place for both the region and the local community by enhancing the plant collection at the botanical garden. Metro’s funding would support the creation of a pollinator garden.
North Fork Johnson Creek Fish Passage
Grant amount: $79,746
Recipient: Johnson Creek Watershed Council
Partners: City of Portland, East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, Oregon Department of Transportation,
Multnomah County and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
This project will improve fish passage by replacing or retrofitting seven culverts on the North Fork of Johnson Creek, opening up two miles of off-channel habitat for salmonids.
College Creek Confluence Clean Water Retrofit
Grant amount: $486,833.33
Recipient: Sandy River Basin Council
Partners: Mt. Hood Community College, East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, City of Gresham, Intel
Laboratories and Salmon Safe
This project will launch a campus-wide stormwater retrofit of Mt. Hood Community College’s 228 acres, which surrounds the confluence of two fish-bearing creeks. Partners will retrofit six acres of parking lots and a large courtyard to improve water quality, reduce temperature and pollutant runoff, and restore habitat for native fish and wildlife.
Rock Creek Floodplain Enhancement at Portland Community College
Grant amount: $257,073.15
Recipient: Clean Water Services
Partners: Portland Community College and Tualatin Riverkeepers
The vision for the Rock Creek Floodplain Enhancement Project integrates urban, rural and ecological communities across a natural and dynamic floodplain. The approach to this restoration effort is to encourage beaver activity in order to create dams that will hold water and allow it to spread throughout the floodplain. This will be done by installing large woody debris and intentional plantings that will create anchor points for beaver activity.
Fanno Creek Floodplain Fix
Grant amount: $245,700
Recipient: Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District
Partners: Clean Water Services, Vose Neighborhood and Friends of Trees
The project is located in the middle reach of Fanno Creek. This segment of the creek is channelized and has poor access to its floodplain, it is constricted by a pair of undersized culverts, and has degraded fish and wildlife habitat due to poor hydrology and a lack of native plants. The proposed restoration will remeander the creek to allow access to its historic floodplain, replace a culvert with a bridge, add large wood and revegetate the project area with native plants that will be followed by 20 years of active maintenance.
SE Oak Street
Grant amount: $261,250
Recipient: Home Forward
Partners: St. Francis Parish, St. Francis Park Apartments and Oregon Tradeswomen
This project will renovate the vacated portion of SE Oak Street between SE 11th and SE 12th Avenues in Southeast Portland. The project will provide an open park-like experience for the 106 affordable housing units being developed to the south and the 150 to 200 people served by the St. Francis parish to the north. The project will also provide a green transition between the Buckman Neighborhood to the east and the business district to the west.
Courtyard at Cornelius Place
Grant amount: $100,000
Recipient: City of Cornelius
Partners: Bienestar, BRIDGE Housing, Blooming Nursery, BRIDGE Housing, Nielson Group and Scott Edwards Architecture.
The Cornelius Place Courtyard will be a 5,000-square-foot space within the new library and senior affordable housing. Its central location within the heart of Cornelius, across from the elementary school and two blocks from Centro Cultural of Washington County, will increase the community’s ability to access this open space with native landscaping and storm water improvements.
Building an Inclusive Playground at Couch Park
Grant amount: $150,000
Recipient: Harper’s Playground and City of Portland
Partners: Friends of Couch Park Playground
Portland Parks & Recreation is working with Harper’s Playground to create an inclusive nature-based playground for people with all abilities at Couch Park in Northwest Portland.