Cities in the Portland-metro area have a significant partner in preserving natural areas and open spaces.

 Metro and its regional support has allowed smaller cities to preserve open spaces and create recreational opportunities for residents, such as this walking trail in Nadaka Nature Park and Garden in Gresham. Photo courtesy of Lee Dayfield.

Metro and its regional support has allowed smaller cities to preserve open spaces and create recreational opportunities for residents, such as this walking trail in Nadaka Nature Park and Garden in Gresham. Photo courtesy of Lee Dayfield.

Metro is a unique government entity that voters created in 1978. It is the only directly elected regional government in the country, encompassing 25 cities and Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties. Its primary functions are waste management, land-use planning and environmental management.

The cities within Metro’s jurisdiction have a complex relationship with the government entity.  Because Metro also has authority over land-use planning and growth management, its five-member council makes policy determinations regarding the Urban Growth Boundary, how land within the boundary will be designated or used, and the allocation of federal transportation dollars. Metro also has the legal authority to require local jurisdictions to change their comprehensive plans to comply with Metro’s regional growth vision and standards. These aspects of Metro have caused some small cities to resent the development, density, and environmental regulations Metro has a hand in creating, often considering such regulations unfunded mandates.

Metro’s focus on planning for regional growth intersects with preserving the area’s quality of life and the environment. This has led to a large natural areas program developed out of the acquisition of several former Multnomah County parks properties and cemeteries in the 1980s. Former East Multnomah county parks, now known as regional parks, include Oxbow Park along the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Sandy River and Blue Lake Park in Fairview, among others.

Residents have agreed to financially backed three funding measures to fund Metro’s open spaces acquisition program for the protection of wildlife habitat, air and water quality.  The Open Spaces, Parks and Streams bond measure in 1995, as well as a second Regional Natural Areas Bond in 2006. Together, these bonds raised $360 million to protect water quality, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation areas. Funding has protected 13,000 acres, 90 miles of river and stream banks, and allowed communities to complete projects through “local share” funding to buy, preserve and restore natural areas; improve parks; and build trails. Nature grants to neighborhoods allow communities to fund capital projects, restore habitats and provide conservation education. Most recently, voters approved another $50 million for regional parks and open spaces by passing a local option levy in 2013. The money will go toward caring for regional parks and opens spaces with improvements for visitors and restored habitat.

Each government in Metro’s jurisdiction gets part of the local share funds, which are distributed to local jurisdictions based on population. Although the intent is for the money to be spent on land acquisitions to better water quality or improve wildlife habitat, local providers have been given broader discretion on how to spend the funds. As such, local residents are urged to help determine how the funds are best spent.

In fact, community input and local advocacy is now more important for the regional system than ever. This has in some cases fostered good working relationships between small communities and the regional government. After all, Metro can handle aspects of open space acquisition and management that smaller cities may not have the means to tackle.

“Local park districts play an increasingly critical role in this regional system,” according to Metro’s website. As city general fund revenue for parks declines, local park providers have been forced to partner with other jurisdictions or private civic groups to manage parks and greenspace. “In many ways, this has enhanced regional coordination and public involvement in a positive way. So while local park budgets are usually tight, natural area advocates will find plenty of opportunities to get involved in local greenspace planning and to improve natural resource management and protection as part of developing an interconnected park and greenspace system in our region.”

Below is a sampling of East Multnomah County projects that have received Metro funding. Some projects required matching funds from the cities in which they are located.

40-Mile Loop Trail

This is the Port of Portland’s multi-modal access project to complete a segment of the regional 40-Mile Loop Trail and unlock 214 acres of land for freight export. The project, which is benefiting from $10.3 million in regional flexible funds, calls for construction of a 1.7-mile mixed-use trail from Sundial Road in Troutdale west to Marine Drive and connecting to Blue Lake Regional Park. The proposed asphalt trail will be 10-feet across with gravel shoulders that transition to grass, plus improvements such as plants, benches, and trash cans.

The freight access element of the project will reconstruct and widen Graham Road, creating a sidewalk connection to the 40-Mile Loop Trail. It also is close to a hub of manufacturing, freight, and distribution facilities, as well as air and deep-water sea export terminals, creating a potential for more than 5,000 additional jobs for local residents. Being linked to the 40-Mile Loop Trail also allows those workers a safe alternative to driving to work.

Trail construction is underway, with industrial access construction expected to begin in 2015.

East Buttes

Metro teamed up with Gresham to buy 92 acres on Gabbert Hill that were slated for development. Now, animals roam it, but someday it could offer scenic trails and vistas for people to enjoy, too.

Gresham also passed its own bond measure in 1990, allowing it to join forces with Metro to buy property on Hogan Butte. The city now owns 61.5 acres, with almost 47 designated as the Hogan Butte Nature Park.

But until the city can acquire land needed for the public to access this scenic gem, only city officials and wildlife can take in its panorama views, which includes five mountains and the Columbia River Gorge.

Sandy River Gorge

Metro’s first natural areas bond measure protected more than 1,000 acres in the Sandy River Gorge. The 2006 bond is allowing Metro to purchase more property along the river and its tributaries with the aim of creating more contiguous links of protected land.

Sandy River Delta Restoration

The Sandy River Basin Watershed Council received $ 85,800 in Metro funding to spend two years removing invasive vegetation, planting 132,000 native plants and offering educational and stewardship opportunities to the public on the next 100 untreated acres of Sandy River Delta habitat. Local partners include Friends of the Sandy River Delta, Mt. Hood Community College, East Multnomah County Soil & Water Conservation District, FedEx Corporation, Jubitz Foundation and the PGE Habitat Fund.

Fairview Woods Park

This 8-acre nature park used to be so overgrown with ivy and blackberries that vines were choking off the trails. Crime also was infiltrating the park with graffiti on trees and gunshots alarming residents.

So city officials and neighbors joined forces with Metro, which allocated $99,000 in bond money to widen trails and make them wheelchair-accessible. Goats helped clear away those non-native plants and work crews replaced them with native Northwest species.

Nadaka Nature Park and Garden

Fall foliage at Nadaka Nature Park and Garden. Photo courtesy of Lee Dayfield.

Metro has awarded three grants totaling more than $500,000 to the Friends of Nadaka and the City of Gresham to help expand this park from 10 acres to 12 acres, creating an area suitable for gardens and a play area that, while making the park more accessible to the public. Funding is helping improve the habitat, remove invasive species and diseased trees, and provide nature-based education on wildlife, gardening and stormwater management.

The most recent grant will help fund multicultural environmental education, community events, a stewardship program and a natural history ambassador program as part of a three-year programming, operations and maintenance plan.

Nadaka Nature Park and Garden is located in Gresham at Northeast 174th Avenue and Glisan Street in the low-income ethnically diverse Wilkes East and Rockwood neighborhoods.

Johnson Creek Watershed

• Revegetation

Friends of Trees received $ 43,000 in Metro grants to continue prior revegetation efforts in the watershed, including parts in Gresham, and expand them to include more than 1,000 volunteers and 26 events.

• Fish Passage Restoration

The Johnson Creek Watershed Council received $ 58,000 in Metro grants to work toward removing two fish passage barriers, benefiting natural areas upsteam and improving the creek for salmon and trout. Partners in East Multnomah County include the Centennial School District, Pleasant Valley Elementary School, City of Gresham, Clackamas and Multnomah counties, and the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.

• Riparian Reforestation

The Johnson Creek Watershed Council received $ 25,000 in Metro grants to provide shade to Johnson Creek and its tributaries in order to lower stream water temperatures enough that native salmonids can survive and thrive in the creek. The City of Gresham is a partner in this effort.

Beaver Creek

Metro awarded The City of Troutdale and other partners $ 579,500 to restore Beaver Creek by improving three culverts that block fish from passing. This will improving spawning areas for federally listed salmonids, steelhead trout, and other native fish species by allowing fish to reach the upper basin of Beaver Creek where agencies have already been working with property owners to restore stream habitat. Local partners include Multnomah County, the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, Mt. Hood Community College, the Sandy River Basin Council, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Donald L. Robertson Trail

Thanks to a $ 22,042 Metro grant, the City of Wood Village is building a new recreational nature trail with a new bridge, extending its existing recreational trail system to encourage connectivity with other trails, neighborhoods and retail centers. Local partners include Arata Creek School/Multnomah Education Service District, Rotarians, and McMenamin’s.

Backyard Habitat Certification Program Expansion

Metro awarded $25,000 to the Audubon Society of Portland and Columbia Land Trust to expand the popular  Backyard Habitat Certification Program. The program encourages residents to cultivate native plants, removing invasive plants, and reduce or eliminate pesticide to preserve wildlife and managing storm water in backyards. Local partners include the City of Gresham, Friends of Nadaka Nature Park, Friends of Tryon Creek, East / West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, and local green businesses and nurseries.