Parking, restrooms, picnic facilities, improved trails and other visitor amenities could be coming to East Council Creek Natural Area in Cornelius.
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Several dozen community members provided feedback on the recommendations for the future nature park at the third and final open house held Wednesday at Centro Cultural de Washington County.
Metro staff connected with diverse community members over the past year to develop the recommendations. The concept plan aims to provide official public access that accommodates a broad range of visitors, improves the trail experience, and reduces visitor impacts to the habitat in the forest and along the creek.
The recommendation includes a parking lot for eight cars on the east side of Northwest Hobbs Road, with an ADA-accessible path leading visitors to a wetland overlook, picnic facilities and restrooms. On the west side of Northwest Hobbs Road a half-mile trail with multiple trailheads and interpretive signage about plants and wildlife will allow visitors to explore the forest next to the creek.
Feedback on the recommendations will be incorporated into a draft master plan, anticipated to be available for review late summer. The Metro Council is expected to consider approving the master plan by early fall. Design, engineering and permitting could begin as soon as early 2019. Once construction costs can be estimated, Metro officials will seek to identify funding to pay for construction.
Metro acquired East Council Creek Natural Area using money from the 1995 natural areas bond measure. Money from the 2013 parks and natural areas levy and levy renewal are paying for the planning effort.
Lucy Garcia has lived along East Council Creek for 14 years but has walked down to the creek just once. “It’s cool to have that creek and kind of a waste to not have access,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it. Having a trail will be perfect.”
She believes bringing in foot traffic will also discourage any potential misuse of the area.
Through the Connect with Nature initiative, Metro is partnering with diverse communities to learn how to make parks and natural areas more welcoming and meaningful to everyone, particularly people of color. The goal is to empower communities to help plan, design and take care of parks through a process that works for them.
Metro contracted with the nonprofit Verde to organize a series of multilingual Connect with Nature workshops in partnership with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, the Native American Youth and Family Center and Multicultural Collaborative. The workshops brought together people of color to inform planning for two new nature parks: East Council Creek and Gabbert Butte in Gresham.
“It’s a really innovative project that tried to get people of color and other minorities represented and involved,” said Gerardo Lemus, a Cornelius resident and community leader for Connect with Nature. “I really enjoyed just getting the community involved and making sure their values were reflected in the draft.”
Through the workshops, community members not typically involved in the planning process shared the ways they recreate outdoors and visited the two sites to discuss the amenities needed to attract communities of color. Input from these sessions as well as traditional open houses shaped the recommendations for East Council Creek.
Connect with Nature participant Leonardo Chun, born in Guatemala, has lived in Cornelius for 20 years. “Group members were excited to share their ideas,” he said. “We wanted a balance of a place to go without damaging plants, animals and nature.”
A significant Latinx community lives in Cornelius, and an important part of the culture is to recreate outdoors with family and friends.
Chun is happy that the recommendation includes a picnic area because this was important to the group. “We requested a barbecue, because if you’re going to nature, you want to enjoy cooking there, too,” he said.
Some community members look forward to having a place to enjoy nature so close to home, while others are cautiously optimistic. Neighbors who had early concerns about disruptions to wildlife, increased traffic and unauthorized activities expressed relief after seeing the recommendations.
“I’m feeling better,” said Connie Starrett, whose home borders the natural area.
She was relieved to see that the recommendation did not include a park entry through the neighborhood, which was previously considered. She also appreciates that the area will be designated day-use only with no added lighting.
Cornelius expects a 25 to 30 percent population increase over the next five to seven years, and the new nature park “will improve the quality of life for the whole city,” said Ryan Wells, community development director at the City of Cornelius. “You have play areas in city parks, but here you encounter nature in an unspoiled way.”