Beyond Forest Park, where elk roam forested hills and salmon swim in streams, voters have invested in a growing collection of protected natural areas.
Metro's Natural Areas Program has purchased 550 acres in western Multnomah County during the past two years, including a significant addition last month. As this network of wildlife habitat grows, so do the possibilities for restoration and recreation.
"If we protect enough land, we will have a safe place for native plants and animals to prosper as well as great places to go for a walk and refresh ourselves," said Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, who represents the area. "A network of protected creeks and canyons from the flats to the peak of Tualatin Mountain will be a treasure and a legacy unparalleled."
Metro's new natural areas are divided into two clusters. Near Northwest Kaiser Road, 160 acres of wildlife habitat straddles Alder Creek, one of the most important headwaters of Rock Creek. A half mile north, another 390 acres – Metro's most recent purchases – are nestled along McCarthy Creek and its headwaters, north of Northwest Skyline Boulevard.
These natural areas were built piece-by-piece through seven transactions, using a total of $5.3 million from the region's voter-approved 2006 natural areas bond measure. Land is bought from willing sellers, at market value, in targeted geographic areas across the region.
Although people sometimes assume Forest Park has already been protected, there's much to be done, said Carol Chesarek, who serves on the Forest Park Neighborhood Association board and leads a City Club of Portland committee advocating for improved restoration and funding at the park. By protecting land beyond the park – and, ultimately, creating links with the Rock Creek watershed and the Coast Range – the region can help elk, black bears and other animals travel across the landscape, she said.
"Those animals can only use Forest Park because of its connections to the larger landscape," Chesarek said. "They can't survive in Forest Park if it becomes an island."
Metro's natural areas team will monitor use at its new natural areas, making decisions in the coming years about the right level of access to support habitat goals. To protect natural resources, Metro prohibits ATVs, hunting, biking, horses and dogs at its natural areas.
Meanwhile, restoration work will get going right away. Metro's science and land management team typically marks boundaries, meets neighbors and controls invasive species. In this area, initial plans call for replacing weeds with native trees and plants, evaluating the need for stream bank stabilization and improving the condition of spring-fed stream channels.