From white oak savannas to urban creeks, land acquisition projects are preserving special places in our urban neighborhoods.
Communities have come together to protect local assets that aren’t covered by Metro’s regional efforts to buy natural areas. Preserving these small neighborhood jewels unites groups as diverse as local governments, neighborhood associations, churches, businesses and nonprofit organizations. Sometimes, land trusts help get the job done.
As a tried-and-true conservation tool, land acquisition provides a straightforward way to make a difference. But purchasing land isn’t an ending point. It’s often the first step in a community’s mission to open a nature park, build trails or restore habitat.
Dirksen Nature Park, $1 million: At 48 acres, Dirksen Nature Park is Tigard’s largest nature park. Nestled along Summer and Fanno creeks, the mature forest, wetlands and open spaces are blossoming as a hub for environmental education. Nature lovers might spot turtles, frogs, salamanders, red-tailed hawks, owls and herons.
Nadaka Nature Park, $220,000 award: It’s easier to find Gresham’s Nadaka Nature Park these days, thanks to a two-acre expansion supported by a $220,000 Nature in Neighborhoods grant. The park, which was tucked away in the East Wilkes Neighborhood, can now be reached from Northeast Glisan Street.
Lilly K. Johnson Woods Natural Area expansion, $345,000 and $136,435 awards: Nestled south of Farmington Road in Beaverton, Lilly K. Johnson Woods Natural Area serves as a neighborhood destination and a potential wayside along the future Westside Trail. With a new addition, it will more than double in size and grow exponentially in wildlife habitat.
White Oak Savanna, $334,000 and $500,000 awards: Protecting the 20-acre White Oak Savanna in West Linn preserves a special habitat – and, for commuters who zoom by on Interstate 205, a spectacular view. A soft-surface trail will allow visitors to experience this unique habitat, showcasing remarkable vistas over the Willamette River to Canemah Bluff.
Overlook Bluff, $288,000: A heritage Oregon white oak believed to be around 200 years old will be preserved with the help of a $288,000 grant that went toward acquiring a 0.83-acre site. The beloved tree sits on the Overlook Bluff in North Portland within a corridor of oak and madrone trees in a public natural area that continues to provide watershed, wildlife and community benefits.
Case study: Grant connects neighbors with nature in St. Johns’ Baltimore Woods corridor
Urban properties often don’t meet the criteria for grants that protect wildlife habitat and endangered species. Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants are a rare exception.
Like many urban areas throughout the country, North Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood struggles with its share of vacant land that gives rise to weeds, litter and neglect.
But neighbors around a 30-acre corridor along North Decatur Street saw a community asset. And with the support of two Metro Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants, the woods were given a new lease on life.
Much of Baltimore Woods borders homes, garages and lawns north of Cathedral Park, stretching toward Pier Park. The trees, some crawling with ivy and blackberry, act as a buffer between the elevated residential area and industrial sites below, on the eastern banks of the Willamette River.
Friends of Baltimore Woods had been advocating for restoration for several years, but with development looming, it was time to act. They contacted Three Rivers Conservancy – which has since become part of the Columbia Land Trust– and met with Virginia Bowers, who specializes in helping acquire land for preservation. There must be an option for rescuing the woods, the group thought. After hearing their vision, Bowers said, “it seemed appropriate for Three Rivers to have a spot at the table.”
Meanwhile, a study funded by the Port of Portland looked at ways to route two proposed regional trails through Baltimore Woods rather than on a nearby street. The report noted support for preserving the woods as a trail asset and buffer, improving storm water filtration, saving 30 Oregon white oaks and potentially creating an area for environmental education.
Barbara Quinn, chair of Friends of Baltimore Woods, said the group hoped to purchase several lots, which peaked in value a few years earlier and were now less appealing to developers. But purchasing the land could be difficult, Bowers explained. Urban properties often don’t meet the criteria for grants that protect wildlife habitat and endangered species.
Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants are a rare exception. The Baltimore Woods project was chosen in 2010, with commitments from the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services’ Grey to Green program, the restoration volunteer group SOLV and the funding match of the City of Portland’s Parks & Recreation department. Metro provided $158,000 toward the $475,000 price tag.
With financial backing, Bowers helped the group scoop up five vacant lots – including the site of proposed condos that is home to a large oak grove.
“The recession had a silver lining because people were willing to sell,” Quinn said. “Some saw that we were very interested in this project, and they wanted to do something good for the neighborhood as well.”
SOLVE organized volunteers to remove invasive species and plant new natives. A number of groups, representing both schools and businesses, have taken part.
A second Nature in Neighborhoods grant, awarded in 2012, helped buy four more parcels for preservation. Bowers thanks Metro for turning a grassroots efforts into real progress for the St. Johns community.
“Without the grant from Metro, it wouldn’t have happened,” she said. “No way.”