In addition to protecting water quality and habitat, another core piece of Metro’s Parks and Nature mission is to expand opportunities for visitors to experience nature close to home. Projects focus on safety and low-impact improvements at parks, trails and natural areas that provide new opportunities for visitors to hike, view wildlife, learn about the landscape, unwind from a stressful day, or enjoy a picnic with family or friends.
Projects begin with extensive conversations with community members, partners and others to ensure the access improvements provide the opportunities the community wants, while also incorporating opportunities for habitat restoration, volunteering, conservation education and more.
In the third year of the levy, master planning wrapped up for the Killin Wetlands, North Tualatin Mountains and Newell Creek Canyon access projects, all of which moved into the design and engineering phase. Construction started in spring 2016 for Orenco Woods Nature Park and in fall 2016 for the Tualatin River paddle launch.
In early 2016, planning got underway for a future nature park at Chehalem Ridge, located about 15 minutes south of Forest Grove and Cornelius. At more than 1,200 acres, Chehalem Ridge is one of the largest publicly owned natural areas in Washington County and includes important headwaters of the Tualatin River.
Partnership with Centro Cultural helps shape Chehalem Ridge, connect Latinos with nature
On Chehalem Ridge, high above Gaston, nine people stand in tall grass. Their eyes are closed, palms raised and fingers outspread. Each time they hear a sound, they fold one finger down. After 10 sounds they open their eyes and gaze at the blue hills in the distance.
Finally, their guide, Juan Carlos González, breaks the silence. “What did you hear?”
There’s a chorus of responses:
“Three different kinds of bird.”
“The wind through the grass.”
“Someone cracking their knuckles.”
González is development director at Centro Cultural de Washington County, an education, social services and economic development nonprofit that is helping Metro bring the Latino community into the planning process for a future nature park at Chehalem Ridge. In summer and fall 2016, Centro leaders are offering bilingual tours of the site and leading other outreach efforts with the Latino community.
At more than 1,200 acres, Metro’s Chehalem Ridge is one of the largest publicly owned natural areas in Washington County. Although it’s approximately the same size as beloved Oxbow Regional Park in east Multnomah County, Chehalem Ridge isn’t yet open for official public access and is largely unknown beyond its rural neighbors 15 minutes south of Forest Grove and Cornelius.
But Chehalem Ridge is on the cusp of a new chapter. During 2016 and early 2017, the community is invited to help guide Chehalem Ridge from a hidden jewel to Metro’s next regional destination. What that nature park looks like will be up to community members to shape.
The work with Centro Cultural is just one of a number of collaborations through Partners in Nature, Metro’s program with culturally specific organizations throughout the region to better connect diverse communities with nature. The partnership between Centro Cultural and Metro will help make Chehalem Ridge more welcoming to the region’s increasingly diverse residents. At the same time, the partnership will help Centro Cultural build capacity and allow staff to gain experience in engaging the community.
The tours are one way to achieve what González calls “authentic community engagement.” He mentions some others. “We’re a hub for the community – 3,000 people show up for our Children’s Day event, for example. It makes sense for Metro to tag along at our cultural events.”
Also, information boards about Chehalem Ridge are on display in Centro’s lobby. “We talk to people one-on-one about Chehalem Ridge when they visit,” he says.
This deliberate, personal approach resulted in 50 additional Spanish-language responses to a survey about what programs and facilities visitors would value in a future park at Chehalem Ridge, says Ellen Wyoming DeLoy, senior community engagement coordinator at Metro. And it builds trust: “People were surprised that the government wanted their opinion, and they were into it after they understood that their voice had value.”
Newell Creek Canyon in Oregon City to welcome visitors after Metro Council approves access plan
The Metro Council in March 2016 unanimously approved a plan to provide formal public access to Newell Creek Canyon, a 233-acre natural area in Oregon City. The master plan calls for four miles of hiking and off-road cycling trails, picnic areas, restrooms, parking, scenic overlooks and more.
Next steps include design and engineering, permit applications and construction of the first phase of improvements, including the parking lot, restrooms and some trails. If all goes smoothly, the site could open in early 2018.
The plan includes space for a nature play area, picnic shelter and overlook shelter if money becomes available later for additional improvements.
“I’m just so excited for us to have this opportunity, because it really outlines what we can make happen, how we can improve on nature through restoration efforts, but also how we can provide public access for this very delicate place,” Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington said. “I am a big user of public natural areas because they help restore my soul and enable me to function.”
Back in 1995, neighbors of Newell Creek Canyon walked door to door campaigning for Metro’s natural areas bond measure to protect the watershed and beloved natural area in the face of rapid development. The parks and natural areas levy voters passed in 2013 provided money for public access planning and improvements.
“Instead of being 52 home sites, it became the core center of the park you’re being asked to approve in this master plan,” neighbor Sha Spady, who served on the stakeholder advisory committee, told Metro councilors shortly before their vote. “It’s an amazing journey. There are so many people here today who are responsible for this.”
The plan is the culmination of two years of conversations with the community to craft a long-term vision for the future of the site. In the beginning, the bicycling and hiking communities weren’t in agreement, but slowly came together after a series of community events, said Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, whose district includes Newell Creek Canyon.
“This is a really wonderful project, and I’m looking forward to how well it works, if we can hold that shared vision,” Collette said.
Blane Meier, owner of First City Cycles in Oregon City, said the future trails at Newell Creek Canyon will provide an opportunity for families with children to cycle in nature while staying close to home.
“The process has been very fair,” said Meier, who also served on the stakeholder advisory committee. “Nobody got everything they want, that’s the way it goes. I want to thank all of you for your openness in including bike trails.”
The plan also calls for continuing restoration to protect and enhance Newell Creek Canyon’s unique natural and scenic resources and to create a place for wildlife to thrive. Deer, Pacific wren, pileated woodpeckers, varied thrush, coyotes, northern red-legged frogs and other wildlife all call Newell Creek Canyon home. Native coho salmon, steelhead trout and Pacific lamprey can be found in the namesake creek. Several sag ponds hide among the verdant firs and maples, remnants of the area’s geologic history of landslides.
As construction for access improvements gets underway, Metro will continue working with local social service agencies and police to transition illegal campers found in the canyon to local homes. The canyon has experienced illegal camping for some time, which also brings litter, dumping, unauthorized trails and other impacts that affect the habitat.