Racial equity is the heartwood of Metro’s parks and nature values: every other aspect of work grows from that strong core. In 2016, the Metro Council adopted the Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the parks and nature department created an action plan to work toward that policy. The 2019 bond measure, which voters passed by an overwhelming margin, strengthened the department’s commitment to racial equity by making it a requirement for all of the bond-funded work. Beyond these strong and clear policy direction from the Metro Council and voters, the department holds its own commitment to make nature accessible to everyone.
For Metro, achieving racial equity in greater Portland means that race would no longer be a reliable way to predict a person’s life outcomes on measurements like education level, health or wealth, which are currently very closely related to race. In the process of creating racial equity, every group and community in greater Portland would see its well-being improve.
This means making sure people of color feel welcome and safe when they visit Metro destinations. It means creating job training and mentoring for people of color so the department’s workforce looks like the people it serves, which isn’t true now. It means Indigenous people, both those with close historical and cultural ties to the region and those with tribal roots in other parts of the country, will have more meaningful and easier access to cultural resources on properties that Metro protects and manages, all of which are on land ceded by regional tribes in the early years of colonization. It means contracting with more certified minority-owned, women-owned and emerging small businesses.
Metro’s commitment to racial equity leads it to also work to better serve other communities that have been underserved or harmed by governments, including Metro. Thanks to the 2019 bond, Metro has been able to devote more resources to making its parks are accessible in a variety of ways to the disability community. That means making improvements to meet ADA requirements, but it also means going beyond ADA to provide options like trails that adaptive mountain bikers can both access and find challenging.
Three Elders statues at Chehalem
Upon entering the trail network at Chehalem Ridge Nature Park, visitors are welcomed by a tall, slender figure sculpted in metal. Its silver-colored arms stretch down the edges of its body, ending with open hands – a gesture to welcome all visitors to the site.
It is one of the Three Elders, a series of statues created and installed in partnership with members of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
Whenever Metro creates a new park, one percent of construction funding is set aside for site-specific artwork. In the case of Chehalem Ridge, an advisory committee decided to work in partnership with Grand Ronde to write the call for artists and select an artist.
“This is our tribe’s ceded territory,” explained Bobby Mercier, who served as both cultural advisor and lead artist for the project. “And so, it’s kind of fitting that tribal members get to put our art back in our own place, especially over the tops of our own villages.”
From: "The story behind Three Elders at Chehalem Ridge Nature Park."
Making Newell Creek Canyon accessible to adaptive mountain bikers
“The huge battle is getting trails we can actually ride,” says Kipp Wesslen, who works for Washington County and has quadriplegia. “This is one of the first places that has had some thought around accessibility put into place. There aren’t that many places within easy distance that we can ride, either because of gates, trail width or camber.”
Indeed, until recently even Newell Creek Canyon had a barrier for aMTBs, adaptive mountain bikes. While the trails had been designed for all-access passage, the gate to the trailhead had been made to have a narrow opening, just enough for an upright bike or baby stroller to pass through – a standard park practice, designed to keep motorized vehicles off the trails. But that opening couldn’t accommodate the much wider wheelbase of aMTBs, which can be upwards of 40 inches.
Max Woodbury, a mapping specialist at Metro who became a quadriplegic in his 20s due to a spinal-cord injury, says that the first time he visited the park, he needed to ask a ranger to unlock the gate in order to start his ride.
“That’s not really accessible,” he noted wryly.
When the park opened, Metro hired a contractor to test the aMTB accessibility of its trails and discovered the issue with the gate. At first, it seemed like it would be a complicated fix requiring a new gate. But park rangers innovated a way to winch the existing gatepost away from the gate, creating a wider opening. Today is the riders’ first time biking the park since the gate has widened – the moment of truth to see if the rangers’ solution has worked.
Once everyone is strapped in and ready to ride, they roll through the gate and pause at the top of the trail. “That’s awesome,” Wesslen notes as each bike cruises easily through.
From: "'This is what makes it fun:' riding adapative mountain bikes at Newell Creek Canyon Nature Park."