Communities of color, low-income residents and other historically marginalized groups have traditionally faced barriers to accessing parks and nature and enjoying the benefits of clean water and healthy habitats.
Thanks in part to voter investments, Metro is now working hard to rectify historic inequities and making a concerted push to create safe and welcoming spaces for all community members.
In 2016, the Metro Council adopted the Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The plan established that “Metro will concentrate on eliminating the disparities that people of color experience, especially in those areas related to Metro’s policies, programs, services and destinations.”
Over the past year, the Parks and Nature Department created its Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. The action plan comprises more than 80 actions – some multi-year, department-wide undertakings, others short-term, discrete tasks – that work toward Metro’s racial equity goals. The actions also drive to three desired outcomes: economic equity, environmental equity and cultural equity.
The action plan covers every facet of the department’s work, including work culture, decision-making, community engagement, contracting and daily tasks. It makes clear that the work of racial equity is the responsibility of every member of the department. It institutionalizes racial equity.
One initiative called Connect with Nature is contracting with Verde, a community-based organization, to develop a new approach to designing parks that are welcoming to diverse communities. The information gathered from Connect with Nature participants is being used to plan for visitor amenities at East Council Creek Natural Area in Cornelius and Gabbert Butte Natural Area in Gresham.
The department is also working to develop and implement a transition plan that would bring parks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As a first step, Metro hired consultants in fall 2017 to evaluate parks for barriers to public access. With data about needed improvements – from playground surfacing, parking and trails, to the height of grab bars in restrooms – a three-phased approach to achieve ADA-accessible hiking, picnicking and other outdoor programs across Metro’s public sites is under development. The plan could take 10 to12 years to implement and cost at least $7 million.
Metro, Centro Cultural partnership shapes Chehalem Ridge Nature Park
Construction could start in 2020 on Chehalem Ridge Nature Park.
The 1,230-acre future park, 15 minutes south of Forest Grove and Cornelius, will provide visitors with opportunities to enjoy picnics, take in views from the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains, and hike, bike and ride horses on about nine miles of trails.
“I’m so pleased that we’re able to open up a portion of this property, while also protecting a good deal of it for the benefit of nature,” said Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, whose district includes Chehalem Ridge.
The Metro Council in October 2017 unanimously approved the master plan that will guide future visitor amenities. Construction is expected to be completed in phases.
The first phase would build most of the southern portion of the site, including about three miles of trails, restrooms, a trailhead at Southwest Dixon Mill Road, a picnic area, equestrian parking area and a parking lot for 70 to 80 cars with a bus drop-off spot. A multi-purpose shelter to accommodate groups up to about 50 people is also planned.
The first phase is estimated to cost in the range of $2.5 million to $3.9 million.
Planning started in early 2016, and more than 6,000 comments were submitted by community over the course of seven open houses, community events, online surveys and more.
A key part of the community engagement was the partnership between Metro and Centro Cultural de Washington County to ensure that the plan took into consideration the needs of the fast-growing Latino community in the county. For instance, people of color and Spanish-speaking people said that activities for families, youths and people with disabilities were particularly important.
Metro and Centro Cultural co-hosted Spanish-language events, translated materials and hosted outreach booths at cultural events. Metro staff also trained Centro Cultural staff and volunteers to lead public tours of Chehalem Ridge in English and Spanish.
“Most importantly, we’re able to advance the way communities of color engage with nature,” said Juan Carlos González, the development director of Centro Cultural, who will be joining the Metro Council in January. “This partnership has fostered a way for communities of color to really authentically engage with the planning process.”
The partnership with Metro provided a lot of value for the Centro Cultural community, said Maria Caballero-Rubio, the executive director.
“For me, the highlight has been that we’ve been able to engage our entire staff in going out and becoming engaged and learning about Metro,” she said. “We’ve claimed this park. It belongs to us. We have a lot of pride, and we’ve internalized that.”