Greening Wilkes

Collaboratively connecting a community to their natural resources

In April, residents of the Wilkes community got to celebrate nature in their neighborhood with an Earth Day Celebration at Wilkes City Park. Dozens of volunteers participated in a tree care event and an ivy pull, followed by food, fun, and a bird walk through two natural areas in the Wilkes neighborhood.

This celebration was part of Greening Wilkes, a project incorporating a layered approach to community engagement. Four community organizations have joined together in the collaborative effort to enhance and diversify green spaces throughout the neighborhood around Wilkes City Park and Wilkes Creek Headwaters in outer East Portland.

Friends of Trees, Portland Audubon, Verde, Columbia Slough Watershed Council, and Portland Parks & Recreation have teamed up on this pilot project, so that they can each provide their unique and complementary approaches to community engagement around important natural resources in the Wilkes community. The work is currently being supported by Port of Portland Airport Futures and Slough Enhancement grant funds.

Portland Audubon is enrolling Wilkes residents in their Backyard Habitat Certification Program and leading community nature walks and educational activities. Verde is building relationships with youth and families in the Wilkes community, and has supported further engagement by flyering and door knocking. Columbia Slough Watershed Council has worked on site prep and vegetation management with Wisdom of the Elders and Teen Service Corps.

This planting season, Friends of Trees put on two planting events and two tree care events in the community. Greening the community can take place in both neighborhoods and natural areas, so we worked with community members to prune street trees and plant trees on private property to grow the neighborhood’s canopy, and we continued the robust restoration work at the Wilkes Creek Headwaters Natural Area with Portland Parks & Recreation.

The natural area is special because it is home to the headwaters of Wilkes Creek. Just past the planting site, you can see the natural spring where water comes to the surface and turns into a stream.

“Wilkes Creek is one of the only remaining free flowing above ground streams that makes its way into the Columbia Slough,” says Yoko Silk, a Stewardship Coordinator with Portland Parks and Recreation. “There used to be hundreds, now there’s only a handful. So it’s really special for being that source of cold, clean water into the slough. And it provides a really important habitat to all sorts of critters.”

Volunteers, with crew leaders from POIC, planted and cared for nearly 1,000 native plants and shrubs at the Wilkes Creek Natural Area this year. Beyond enhancing habitat and greening the community, the planting and tree care events give Wilkes residents an opportunity to connect with nature, and each other. That connection is the shared goal of all the organizations working on the project.

“I’ve had community members tell me that they didn’t even realize that this natural spring was here,” says Harrison Layer, our Green Space Specialist who leads Wilkes Creek plantings. “It’s really special to share it with them.”