Partnership was the theme on July 9 as the Metro Council approved a new round of grants to boost residents' access to nature, the latest round of Metro's voter-supported Nature in Neighborhoods grant programs.
At a special meeting at the Centro Cultural de Washington County in Cornelius, Metro councilors unanimously approved 22 grants, totaling $2.8 million.
Seven grants totaling $2.1 million will support land acquisition and capital improvements for parks and natural areas region-wide, including $126,000 to construct a nature play area, picnic pavilion and other improvements at the future Bull Mountain Park in Tigard and $650,000 for a new fish- and pedestrian-friendly bridge where Boones Ferry Road crosses Tryon Creek in Southwest Portland.
Another 15 conservation education grants totaling $700,000 will help connect people throughout the region to nature. These grants range from $7,600 to develop a conservation education curriculum for immigrants and refugees in the Rockwood area, to $100,000 to support the Audubon Society of Portland's TALON program, a training and apprenticeship program to connect young people of color in east Multnomah and north Clackamas counties to environmental science professions.
Four kinds of grants
Metro's Nature in Neighborhoods grant program, supported by voters, offers four types of grants throughout the region:
Capital grants fund the purchase of or improvements to public lands throughout the region.
Restoration grants provide opportunities for restoring habitat. These were last awarded in fall 2014.
Conservation education grants help people connect with and learn about nature.
Trails grants provide opportunities to plan, build and restore regional trails. This is a new grant opportunity; applications are due Nov. 3, 2015.
All grants are available to a variety of organizations, but criteria and deadlines vary for each.
Learn more about Nature in Neighborhoods grants
For the agencies and nonprofit organizations that receive grants, the money is often critical to meeting community desires for high-quality parks and natural areas, and for connecting more people – particularly historically disadvantaged populations – to the natural environment that many see as a cornerstone of the metro region's quality of life.
Indeed, just before its meeting, the Metro Council toured two past recipients of Nature in Neighborhood grants, a community garden at Centro Cultural created as part of its STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) after-school teaching program for Latino youths and an extensive teaching garden and public plaza at the Virginia Garcia Cornelius Wellness Center directly across the street.
"The garden reflects a huge transformation for our patients, our providers, staff members and for the community," said Serena Cruz Walsh, executive director of Virginia Garcia's foundation. It not only looks beautiful, but is also a part of how we treat patients. "This landscape and environment we've created with Metro really connects with our mission."
Similar transformations could be on the way for other areas of the region thanks to this year's grants.
Hidden between cul-de-sacs and behind businesses in the midst of Clackamas County's largest unincorporated urban area, the Boardman-Rinearson wetland complex has long been home to invasive blackberries and grasses, nearly entirely unknown even to its neighbors.
But a $360,000 Nature in Neighborhoods capital grant will help the 5.8-acre wetland begin a transition from forgotten backwater to a welcome refuge for people and wildlife. The Oak Lodge Sanitary District will complete a plan to acquire the wetland and establish a passive recreation trail and environmental education programs there.
"With the Metro grant, this district can do more and do it much faster," said district staffer Markus Mead, adding that the project's success depends on partnerships with nearby neighbors, local school districts, the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District and nonprofit SOLVE.
Partnerships are especially key to the highly competitive conservation education grants. In two rounds of the grant program, 450 partner organizations have been listed on 128 total applications, though only a fraction of the projects can be supported with the available money.
Of the grants awarded Thursday, many involve collaborations between better-known conservation nonprofits and a wide array of community-based organizations, government agencies, schools and businesses. Many specifically target groups that have not historically had as easy access to the region's natural areas, such as communities of color, low-income residents or recent immigrants.
"This year's grant applicants are developing capacity within their communities and strengthening partnerships," said Heather Nelson Kent, who manages the Nature in Neighborhoods program for Metro.
Ariadna Falcon Gonzalez, a participant in the Audubon Society's TALON program, thanked the Metro Council for supporting the program and helping her develop leadership.
"I have grown in confidence, and no longer do I feel alone," said Gonzalez, a senior at Reynolds High School in Troutdale. "I can see myself working in the field of environmental science, and the color of my skin and my background no longer make me feel self-conscious or doubtful of how successful I will be in the near future."
As they approved the grants, Metro councilors repeatedly echoed their appreciation for the number of partners working together among the recipients.
"There are days we get to look out and hear things like we have 450 partner organizations working together to protect nature and also to introduce nature to so many communities that don't get to experience it," Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette said. "I can hardly talk about it without getting choked up, because it is really one of the most significant things we get to do as Metro councilors."
"Our vote today…is really a vote of confidence from us that you can take the resources that we are privileged to be able to give you, and take them out into the larger community to help improve our environment," Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen told the grantees.
Several Metro councilors also directly thanked voters for approving the Nature in Neighborhoods program to begin with. "The commitment, the dedication, the optimism, the enthusiasm and future orientation of so much of this work is a tribute to our voters, the staff and all of you," Metro Councilor Bob Stacey said.
Originally established by regional voters through a 2006 natural areas bond measure, the Nature in Neighborhoods program expanded to include conservation education and trails grants after voters approved a parks and natural areas levy in 2013.
Full list of grant recipients
Bull Mountain Park Projects
Friends of Bull Mountain Park: $125,943
The Friends of Bull Mountain Park and Tualatin River Watershed Council will 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.
Partners: Tualatin River Watershed Council, City of Tigard, and a variety of local community-based organizations
Boones Ferry Fish, Wildlife and Trail Passage Partnership
City of Portland: $650,000
The Boones Ferry Fish, Wildlife and Trail Passage Partnership will allow the city of Portland to replace a culvert under Southwest Boones Ferry Road with a bridge that will enhance native salmonid passage, restore riparian and upland habitat, open a corridor for wildlife and provide a safe pedestrian crossing and trail re-alignment for the Hillsdale to Lake Oswego Regional Trail.
Partners: Oregon State Parks & Recreation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of Tryon Creek State Park, Tryon Creek Watershed Council, Arnold Creek Neighborhood Association and SW Trails PDX
Hogan Butte Nature Park Phase 1
City of Gresham: $290,000
This project provides access to Hogan Butte Nature Park, a 52-acre undeveloped natural area at the top of Hogan Butte in Gresham. It will also connect to surrounding trail networks throughout the East Buttes region. Design and construction of new public amenities will consist of a shelter with restroom, informational kiosks, a small parking lot, driveway improvements, park signage, benches, picnic tables, a security gate, paved and soft-surface trails and a "volcano viewpoint".
Partners: National Park Service and a variety of local community-based organizations
Mount Scott Creek Oak Bluff Reach Restoration
Clackamas County Water Environmental Services: $175,228
This restoration project will improve water quality and restore aquatic habitats for threatened and endangered fish species in a degraded reach of Mount Scott Creek. It will engage surrounding businesses and leverage existing partnerships to install large woody debris and replace invasive vegetation with native plants. Local schools will use the site for environmental study in the WES Watershed Health Education Program.
Partners: North Clackamas Urban Watershed Council, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District, Clackamas Web Academy and Costco
Let Us Build Cully Park: Play Area
This project will build upon Verde's 2012 Nature in Neighborhoods grant which responded to the Cully neighborhood's longstanding need for open space, economic opportunity and environmental education. Park features will now include a play area based on designs from students at four Cully educational institutions. The park will create an accessible, destination playground that incorporates nature play elements.
Partners: Portland Parks & Recreation, Hacienda Community Development Corporation, Rigler School, Scott School and the Community Transition School
Oak Island Marsh Restoration at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve
City of Hillsboro: $335,000
The Oak Island Marsh project will transform 270 acres of degraded wetlands and abandoned fields into a functioning ecosystem with intact native plant communities and a diversity of wildlife. This will be accomplished by converting non-functional wastewater treatment facilities and structurally unsound wetlands into emergent marsh habitats and restoring the associated plant communities. The project will also install facilities for public access to the wetlands without disturbing wildlife or sensitive habitats. Finally, it will generate a significant amount of community involvement through volunteer projects, community programs and environmental education.
Partners: Clean Water Services, Ducks Unlimited, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve and Friends of Trees
Boardman-Rinearson Wetland Complex Land Acquisition
Oak Lodge Sanitary District: $362,012
This project will acquire 5.8 acres of property in order to establish a new natural area in urbanized, unincorporated Clackamas County between the cities of Milwaukie and Gladstone. Boosted by strong community support, this project will restore wetlands and wildlife habitat, and create a passive recreation trail with environmental education elements, including a field classroom for local schools to use.
Partners: North Clackamas Urban Watershed Council, North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District and SOLVE
Conservation Education Grants
Teaching the importance of STREAM (Science, Technology, Restoration, Engineering, Arts, Math) via Youth Engagement and Career Mentorship
Adelante Mujeres: $93,940
Partners Adelante Mujeres and Tualatin Riverkeepers will engage Latino youth, their families and the broader community to develop future conservation leaders. They will provide opportunities to explore the field of conservation and to share the learning with their peers.
Partners: Tualatin Riverkeepers, Friends of Fernhill Wetlands, Clean Water Services and Jackson Bottom Wetlands
Asian Pacific Islander Youth Leaders in Nature
Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO): $25,000.00
This projects strengthens partnerships between Asian Pacific Islander youth groups with local conservation and environmental literacy organizations to jointly plan retreats and action projects that build relationships, political skills and stewardship.
Partners: Jade District, Audubon Society, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Pacific Islander Student Association, Harrison Park School and Center for Diversity and the Environment
The TALON Program (Teach, Advocate, Learn, Observe, Nurture)
The Audubon Society of Portland: $100,000
TALON is a training and paid apprenticeship program designed to build diversity in the environmental community. This project will engage youth of color living in east Multnomah and north Clackamas counties in professions in environmental education, stewardship, conservation advocacy and wildlife care.
Partners: ROSE, Hacienda and Bienestar Community Development Corporations, Friends of Nadaka, City of Portland’s Parks and Recreation and Leach Botanical Gardens
Home Is Where the Watershed Is: Conservation Education for Low-Income and Housing Insecure Families
Community Partners for Affordable Housing, Inc. (CPAH): $25,000
Home Is Where the Watershed Is provides conservation education to ethnically diverse, low-income youth and their families in Washington County. Through enduring and innovative partnerships, they will offer culturally responsive opportunities to strengthen community stewardship of local natural areas.
Partners: Tualatin Riverkeepers, Beaverton School District English Language Learners/Somali Program and Good Neighbor Center
Ecology Education in North Clackamas
Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors: $24,900
The broader Ecology Education in North Clackamas program provides a series of hands-on ecology lessons and outdoor field experiences for 47 classrooms in six diverse and low-income schools in the North Clackamas School District.
Partners: North Clackamas School District, Milwaukie Elementary, Oak Grove Elementary, Riverside Elementary, Ardenwald Elementary, Bilquist Elementary, Lewelling Elementary, Clackamas Water Environment Services, North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District, Oak Lodge Sanitary District, Portland State University and Institute for Permaculture Education for Children
Friends and Neighbors for Environmental Diversity
Friends of Tryon Creek: $91,869
Friends of Tryon Creek has forged a dynamic partnership with Neighborhood House, Center for Diversity and the Environment, and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to increase access by low-income individuals and people of color to outdoor nature programs. The long-term goal will be to achieve organizational change.
Partners: Neighborhood House, Center for Diversity and the Environment and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
St. Johns Community Conservation Program
George Middle School: $93,676.00
The program will facilitate the development of culturally responsive K-12 conservation education programming through community involvement and teacher professional development. Teacher capacity will expand through on-site and technology-based collaboration. Students’ connection with nature will align with themes of equity and diversity.
Fiscal sponsor: Portland Public Schools
Partners: Portland Metro STEM Partnership, Portland State University Graduate School Of Education, Portland State University Leadership and Sustainability Education, Slough School, Sauvie Island Center, Portland Public Schools, Wind & Oar Boat School, Clean Rivers Education and the city of Portland
Kairos Learning Exploration Garden
KairosPDX is creating a learning garden to create cultivated and wild spaces where students can learn. This project will create access to nature and experiential education, utilizing student-driven learning strategies in a rapidly changing neighborhood.
Partners: Portland Community Reinvestments Initiative, Independence Gardens and Ask Mr. Science, LLC
Opportunity Corps & Beyond
Momentum Alliance: $15,000
Momentum Alliance and Northwest Youth Corps will collaborate to create a pilot 5-week paid internship supplemented by wrap-around, year-round training and coaching. The program will start with 10 underrepresented Youth Leaders to increase their connection with nature, improve environmental literacy, diversify conservation leadership among their peers and create and evaluate a model for conservation equity region-wide.
Partners: Northwest Youth Corps, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Bureau of Land Management, Open Meadow and Outside In
Exploring Language, Exploring Nature, Curriculum for Immigrants & Refugees
People-Places-Things, LLC: $7,608
This partnership between conservation professionals and an established English learning program for adults will bring conservation education to an underserved, highly diverse population and create a model for using the natural world as curriculum.
Fiscal sponsor: Columbia Slough Watershed Council
Partners: City of Gresham Natural Resources Program, Portland Bureau of Environmental Services Green Street Steward Program, Multnomah County Libraries and Friends of Nadaka
Rosemary Anderson High School and Friends of Trees Student Crew Leader Training Program
Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC)/Rosemary Anderson High School: $25,000
OIC will partner with Friends of Trees, Portland Parks and Recreation and Friends of the Columbia Children's Aboretum to engage a group of eight to 10 students in two unique applied learning experiences: invasive species removal and native restoration planting, and community outreach, education and crew leadership.
Partners: Friends of Trees, Portland Parks and Recreation, Friends of the Columbia Children’s Arboretum and Ecology in Classrooms & Outdoors
OakQuest Phase 2: Expanding Education, Empowering Citizens and Native Youth
Urban Greenspaces Institute: $15,478.50
Urban Greenspaces Institute and partners will mentor three Native American youths in career-building conservation education and hands-on experience and engage more than 50 citizen scientists to field-verify the final regional oak map.
Partners: Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA); Kingfisher Ecological Services; Mark G. Wilson; Portland State University Indigenous Nations Studies; The Intertwine Alliance; Tualatin Hills and North Clackamas Park and Recreation Districts; City of Portland Parks and Bureau of Environmental Services; West Multnomah, East Multnomah, Clackamas, and Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Conservation Biology Institute; Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; US Fish and Wildlife Service; Audubon Society of Portland and Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation
Verde will support education, environmental and economic outcomes for Verde Landscape Crew Members. Verde Landscape, a nonprofit social enterprise, connects people with nature, builds environmental literacy and develops conservation leaders by recruiting and training low-income adults to restore the region’s natural areas.
Partners: East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, Metro Science and Stewardship Division, Portland Parks & Recreation, BestHQ, Innovative Changes and Hacienda Community Development Commission
Wisdom Workforce Program
Wisdom of the Elders, Inc.: $75,000
Wisdom’s Native American environmental education and workforce development initiative embraces local partnerships to provide Native adults with culturally-tailored multimedia workforce training, environmental service learning, and career pathways. This program will expand classroom and hands-on service learning in local natural areas for Native youth, multicultural and STEM students.
Partners: Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), Beaverton Schools Indian Education, Metro, Portland Parks & Recreation (City Nature East), Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, Johnson Creek Watershed Council, Highland Park STEM Middle School, Oregon Health Authority, Portland Community College Career Pathway Program, Mt. Hood Community College Workforce Development and Ecotrust
Zenger Farm School
Zenger Farm: $67,050
Zenger Farm seeks to build on the highly successful Farm School program by updating and expanding content and developing new partnerships with schools and organizations in the underserved communities of outer Southeast Portland.
Partners: David Douglas School District, Lent School and East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District