In addition to protecting clean water and restoring habitat, another core piece of Metro’s Parks and Nature mission is to expand opportunities for people to experience nature close to home. Projects focus on safety and low-impact improvements at parks, trails and natural areas that provide new ways for visitors to hike, view wildlife, learn about the landscape, unwind from a stressful day, or enjoy a picnic with family or friends.
Projects begin with a scientific review and mapping of each site to identify areas compatible with access and areas where sensitive habitat would be unsuitable for trails and other amenities. Extensive conversations with community members, partners and others ensure the access improvements provide the nature experience and visitor amenities the community wants, while also incorporating opportunities for habitat restoration, volunteering, nature education and more.
Two new regional destinations opened in the past year: Orenco Woods Nature Park in Hillsboro and Farmington Paddle Launch on the Tualatin River south of Hillsboro.
Metro and the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department partnered to open Orenco Woods, a 42-acre nature park in a residential neighborhood. The new park offers trails, restored habitat, a picnic shelter, a nature-based play area, two public art installations and an important segment of the Rock Creek Regional Trail, including a new bridge spanning the creek.
Farmington Paddle Launch provides paddlers the opportunity to enjoy the Tualatin River from a unique perspective. The launch site offers visitors a safe location to set out on the Tualatin River Water Trail, a long-term vision to provide access points to the river approximately every five miles. Farmington Paddle Launch is also an excellent spot for cyclists to begin their journeys through the flat, rolling terrain of Washington County.
Master planning continued for a future nature park at Chehalem Ridge, located about 15 minutes south of Forest Grove and Cornelius. At more than 1,230 acres, Chehalem Ridge is one of the largest publicly owned natural areas in Washington County and includes important headwaters of the Tualatin River. Metro is partnering with Centro Cultural de Washington County on planning efforts to ensure the future park is welcoming to the region’s growing Latino community. The Metro Council approved the Chehalem Ridge master plan in October 2017.
In spring and summer 2017, planning got underway for improvements at East Council Creek and Gabbert Butte nature parks. Both projects are piloting Metro’s Connect with Nature initiative, which engages diverse community members to create a new model for planning parks and designing facilities that are welcoming to communities of color and considers cultural preferences.
The two projects serve different parts of greater Portland. East Council Creek is a 33-acre natural area in northeast Cornelius. Gabbert Butte, jointly owned by Metro and the City of Gresham, sits in the East Buttes area. The partnership between Metro and the city leverages combined resources to plan an even better destination and builds on decades of voter investments by both agencies.
Willamette Falls Riverwalk design features scenic viewpoints, public gathering places
Scenic viewpoints and trails in the Willamette Falls Riverwalk design would allow visitors to get up close to the second largest waterfall in the country by volume.
The design, unveiled in June 2017, also includes several public gathering places, restored habitats and a public boat dock.
The first phase of the riverwalk could open in 2022 and would provide public access to view up-close a natural wonder hidden for decades behind private businesses at the 22-acre riverfront site in downtown Oregon City.
Planning for the riverwalk started after the Blue Heron Paper Co., the previous owner of the property, filed for bankruptcy in February 2011. When the last mills closed, the opportunity came to provide public access to Willamette Falls and an historic industrial area that powered the birth of Oregon.
“There’s no way I could’ve envisioned something so exciting,” said Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, who represents the area. “Oregon City is so much about its working class history and the sense of its relationship to the river. We couldn’t have a project that is more perfect for that community.”
Building the riverwalk is the first step in a larger effort known as the Willamette Falls Legacy Project, a collaboration between Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon.
The riverwalk design calls for selectively removing some buildings and repurposing others. Some buildings would be available for the new private property owner to redevelop, potentially with a hotel, office buildings, restaurants and shops.
The riverwalk would be built in phases, with the first phase to be completed and open to the public around 2022. It includes repurposing the boiler complex and Mill H buildings to provide upper and lower scenic overlooks. It would also provide for some restoration work, and the demolition of some buildings to prepare the site for future improvements.
The first phase, including the planning work done to date, is estimated to cost $25 million.
Future phases would depend on available funding. Improvements would include trails along the Portland General Electric dam to allow visitors even closer views of Willamette Falls with an overlook at the Hawley Powerhouse foundation site. Additional work would complete the signature public gathering place nicknamed “the public yard,” convert Mill O into a sheltered gathering spot, complete more restoration work and additional improvements.
Metro, Hillsboro celebrate grand opening of Orenco Woods Nature Park
Dozens of Hillsboro community members poured into Orenco Woods Nature Park in February to celebrate the grand opening of the region’s newest nature park.
Metro and the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department hosted the grand opening celebration of Orenco Woods, a 42-acre park that was once home to the Oregon Nursery Company, the largest nursery on the West Coast.
The event featured speakers, a variety of family-friendly activities, guided tours, children’s activities and informational booths with Hillsboro Parks & Recreation naturalists on site.
“The turnout was amazing, but not surprising because people love Orenco, and they’re so excited for this park,” said Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway.
Orenco Woods sits nestled between Orenco Woods Elementary School to the west, Northwest Cornelius Pass Road to the east, the MAX Blue Line to the north and neighborhoods to the south. Rock Creek, a tributary of the Tualatin River, quietly meanders its way through the park, with a variety of vegetation covering the park’s wetland, oak savanna and forest habitat.
After the nursery closed in 1927, the land eventually became a nine-hole golf course. Developers in 2006 planned to turn the area into a large housing development, but plans came to a halt when the recession hit in the following years. Orenco community members then urged city officials to turn it into a park.
The City of Hillsboro and Metro jointly purchased the land in December 2011 using money from the 2006 Metro natural areas bond measure. Restoration work in the following years included placing large wood in the Rock Creek floodplain to provide fish habitat, and planting native trees, shrubs and flowers to provide wildlife habitat. A significant part of the park is a new portion of the Rock Creek Regional Trail and an iconic new walking and bicycling trail bridge over Rock Creek.
“If I know one thing about Washington County residents, it’s that we love having a bit of nature in our community’s backyards,” said Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, who represents the area.