Another core piece of Metro’s Parks and Nature mission is to expand opportunities for people to enjoy nature close to home. New parks are some of the most visible ways that community members can enjoy the benefits of voter investments. Projects focus on safety and visitor improvements at parks, trails and natural areas that provide ways for people to hike, view wildlife, learn about the landscape, or enjoy a leisurely picnic with family and 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 or development. 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.
Building new parks often takes years. After a thoughtful planning process, the Metro Council needs to approve a formal “master plan” for a site. Design, engineering and construction drawings must then be completed, and land-use permits and money for construction must be secured before development of the park can begin.
Metro Council approves Willamette Falls Riverwalk master plan
Metro councilors in January unanimously approved the Willamette Falls Riverwalk master plan, the long-term vision that will guide development and public access at the former Blue Heron paper mill site in downtown Oregon City.
The riverwalk, trails, a public boat dock and other amenities will bring visitors up close to North America’s second most powerful waterfall, which has remained largely hidden behind industrial buildings for more than a century. The first phase of the riverwalk could open as early as 2022, pending approval of permits.
“I am more than pleased to support the master plan here and look forward to not just the riverwalk but the redevelopment of that entire site becoming the national destination that has been presented and envisioned by this group,” Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen said.
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. Oregon City commissioners are expected to consider approving the master plan in February.
The riverwalk would be built in phases. The first phase includes repurposing the boiler complex and Mill H buildings to provide upper and lower scenic overlooks. It would also provide for some restoration work, public gathering places and the demolition of some of the more than 50 buildings to prepare the site for future improvements.
The first phase, including the planning work done to date, is estimated to cost $25 million. Metro contributed $5 million using money from the natural areas bond measure voters approved in 2006. Rediscover the Falls, the nonprofit friends group, is hoping to fundraise $10 million for the first phase of the riverwalk.
Future phases would be planned in coordination with the private owners of the site and 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, restore the historic shoreline to support native plants and fish and additional improvements.
East Council Creek recommendations shaped by inclusive planning process
Parking, restrooms, picnic facilities, improved trails and other visitor amenities could be coming to East Council Creek Natural Area in Cornelius.
Several dozen community members provided feedback on the recommendations for the future nature park at the third and final open house held in June at Centro Cultural de Washington County.
Metro staff connected with diverse community members over the past year to develop the recommendations. The concept plan aims to provide official public access that accommodates a broad range of visitors, improves the trail experience, and reduces visitor impacts to the habitat in the forest and along the creek.
The recommendation includes a parking lot for eight cars on the east side of Northwest Hobbs Road, with an accessible path leading visitors to a wetland overlook, picnic facilities and restrooms. On the west side of Northwest Hobbs Road a half-mile trail with multiple trailheads and interpretive signage about plants and wildlife will allow visitors to explore the forest next to the creek.
The Metro Council is expected to consider approving the master plan by early 2019. Design and engineering could begin in late 2019. Once construction costs can be estimated, Metro officials will seek to identify funding to pay for construction.
Metro acquired East Council Creek Natural Area using money from the 1995 natural areas bond measure. Money from the 2013 parks and natural areas levy and levy renewal are paying for the planning effort.
Through the Connect with Nature initiative, Metro is partnering with diverse communities to learn how to make parks and natural areas more welcoming and meaningful to everyone, particularly people of color. The goal is to empower communities to help plan, design and take care of parks through a process that works for them.
Metro contracted with the nonprofit Verde to organize a series of multilingual Connect with Nature workshops in partnership with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, the Native American Youth and Family Center and Multicultural Collaborative. The workshops brought together people from different cultural backgrounds to inform planning for two new nature parks: East Council Creek and Gabbert Butte in Gresham.
“It’s a really innovative project that tried to get people of color and other minorities represented and involved,” said Gerardo Lemus, a Cornelius resident and community leader for Connect with Nature. “I really enjoyed just getting the community involved and making sure their values were reflected in the draft.”
Through the workshops, community members not typically involved in the planning process shared the ways they recreate outdoors and visited the two sites to discuss the amenities needed to attract communities of color. Input from these sessions as well as traditional open houses shaped the recommendations for East Council Creek.