Salmon restoration projects, new trailheads and innovative conservation initiatives are one step closer to being on the ground, with a $5.2 million boost from Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods grant program.
The Metro Council awarded grants last week to 27 community projects across the greater Portland region, rewarding innovative ways to bring together natural area conservation, stewardship and community involvement.
"It's really a wonderful combination of people bringing different groups of people together. By working on a common goal, especially one related to nature, it's just really exciting," said Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette.
Last week’s awards fall in two categories: capital improvement and conservation education.
Funded by Metro's 2006 natural areas bond measure, capital grants finance projects like building trails, buying land or making structural improvements. The grant for Whitaker Ponds Nature Park, for example, will enhance safety at the park entrance and make the site more accessible for people using wheelchairs.
This year’s 12 recipients received a total of $4.5 million for projects that span the region, from Tigard's Dirksen Nature Park to the City of Wood Village's Donald L. Robertson Park trail extension.
The largest grant, $1 million, will help launch the Gateway Green project in east Portland. Nestled between Interstate 205 and Interstate 84, Gateway Green represents 37 acres of neglected right-of-way.
The project intends to turn this strip of land into a world-class bike park, children's nature play area and sustainability demonstration area. There is also a plan to connect this green area to 80 acres of public land on Rocky Butte, expanding trails for people to explore.
More than eight years in the making, this project started with the Gateway Urban Renewal group’s effort to build community assets in east Portland. Community activist Linda Robinson and developer Ted Gilbert grew their vision from the urban renewal group to an alliance of 35 groups: nonprofits, for-profit corporations and government organizations.
"It started as a grassroots thing, but it quickly evolved into a collaborative effort," Robinson said.
In Tigard, improvements to Dirksen Nature Park will have a similar impact. The park is Tigard's second largest – and its only nature park. The grant will allow the Tualatin Riverkeepers to build on their environmental education efforts, filling a need that’s not met by city programming, according to Steve Martin, Tigard's park and streets manager.
The conservation education grants are new to Metro, emerging from a 2013 natural areas levy. The Metro Council awarded nearly $700,000 to 15 projects.
Grant recipients will connect people around the region to the natural environment through conservation projects and nature education for school-aged children.
Mike Houck of the Urban Greenspaces Institute worked with multiple partners to secure two conservation education grants focused on engaging Native American people in conservation initiatives: Oakquest and Sense of Place.
Through Oakquest, two Native American college students are leading volunteer crews to map the region’s remaining oak habitat through an iPhone app. The Sense of Place program will engage both tribal and urban native communities within the region to strengthen partnerships and foster communication and collaboration around restoration, conservation and indigenous stewardship.
These projects are designed to include more voices in the environmental movement, Houck said. He cites great work being done by Native American groups such as NAYA, but said their involvement has not been integrated into the region's efforts.
"Our effort is to rectify that and to reach out to the tribes, the Native American and the urban Native American community on their terms," Houck said.
Both the capital improvement and conservation education grants focus on engaging diverse and underserved communities – a theme that resonated with the Gateway Green leaders, who cited a lack of parks for the diverse community in east Portland
"I have come to believe that east Portland is our region's geographic region of greatest need," Gilbert said. "It is the most diverse area in the entire state of Oregon… It is also the most park- and open space-deficient."
When the Metro Council approved Nature in Neighborhoods grants at a special meeting last week, the crowd exploded into applause. There’s a lot of excitement, Collette said, because these grants expand access to nature – a critical element of the region’s long-term efforts.
"We are creating a whole generation of informed, educated, caring people who probably wouldn't have had these opportunities. These are multicultural, very diverse audiences," Collete said. "We are learning about how other cultures experience nature, and in order to preserve it we need to know why they would care."
Nature in Neighborhoods capital grant awards
Beaver Creek Fish Passage and Habitat Enhancement, Multnomah County, $579,500
Dirksen Nature Park: A Walk through NW Ecosystems, City of Tigard, $390,000
Donald L. Robertson Parks Trail Extension, City of Wood Village, $22,042
Gateway Green, Friends of Gateway Green and Portland Parks & Recreation, $1,000,000
Lilly K. Johnson Woods Natural Area Phase II, Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, $136,435
Old Town Loop Trail and Restoration Project, City of Forest Grove, $138,000
One North Community Courtyard, Catlin Gabel School and the Portland Bureau of Transportation, $420,313
Overlook Bluff Oak Savanna Protection, Friends of Overlook Bluff and Portland Parks & Recreation, $288,000
Siskiyou Pathway, Northwest Zen Sangha DBA "Dharma Rain Zen Center and Portland Parks &
Site Restoration at the John Inskeep Environmental Learning Center, Clackamas Community College, $868,342
Whitaker Ponds Nature Park - Entry, Parking and Access Improvements, Portland Parks & Recreation, $422,667
Zenger Farm Urban Grange Courtyard, Friends of Zenger Farm and the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, $142,750
Nature in Neighborhoods conservation education grant awards
Building Environmental Capacity in Communities of Color: Knowledge, Research and Discourse, Coalition of Communities of Color, $20,000
Creating Change Agents for Inclusion during Restoration, Friends of Trees, $19,130
IRCO Intergenerational Community Gardens Project., Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), $25,000
An Online Regional Trail Map for People with Disabilities, Independent Living Resources/Access Recreation, $25,000
Northwest Youth Corps’ East Metro Stewardship Project, Northwest Youth Corps (NYC), $15,000
Siskiyou Field Laboratory, Northwest Zen Sangha, Inc., (dba Dharma Rain Zen Center), $25,000
Oakquest: collaborative mapping and stewardship of Oregon white oak, Urban Greenspaces Institute, $24,776
Sense of Place: Engaging Indigenous Peoples, Urban Greenspaces Institute (fiscal sponsor), $25,000
The Wisdom Project, Wisdom of the Elders, Inc., $25,000
Environment 2042 Environmental Education (E42 EE) Leadership Program, Center for Diversity & the Environment, $100,000
STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), Centro Cultural of Washington County, $100,000
Nadaka 2020 Conservation, Education and Stewardship Programming, Columbia Slough Watershed Council (fiscal agent), $61,000
Slough School Community Engagement Project, Columbia Slough Watershed Council (Slough School), $66,963
Building a Comprehensive Regional Leadership Model for Conservation Education, The Environmental Education Association of Oregon (EEAO), $100,000
PMSP E-STEM Connections, Impact NW, fiscal sponsor of the Portland Metro STEM Partnership, $67,629