Wilkes Creek – Connecting a Community
New funding will develop the Wilkes Creek Headwaters into an accessible natural area
For three planting seasons, Friends of Trees volunteers have been enhancing the natural area at the Wilkes Creek Headwaters in outer East Portland. The 20.7-acre hybrid park is nestled in the neighborhood, and provides opportunities for local residents to connect with nature. The site was jointly purchased by Portland Parks & Recreation, the Bureau of Environmental Services, and Metro in 2011, and it will be preserved and enhanced as a public space for generations to come.
The natural area is particularly special because it is home to the headwaters of Wilkes Creek, which flows into the Columbia Slough. Just past the planting site, you can see the natural springs where water comes to the surface and turns into a stream.
“The headwaters can be seen bubbling up from the earth near the midway point of the property,” says Maija Spencer, Senior Community Engagement Coordinator for Portland Parks & Recreation. “Forty bird species, coyotes, and the Stumptown scud—a freshwater crustacean found only in the Portland area—call the property home.”
“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 PP&R. “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.”
Friends of Trees volunteers have planted native plants throughout the central part of the park as part of the Greening Wilkes Initiative. There’s a wildflower meadow, where they’ve put in thousands of camas, checker mallow, lupine, yarrow, goldenrod, and many more. On the hillside, below an old hazelnut orchard, they have planted shrubs and small-form trees like serviceberry, Oregon grape, snowberry, and oceanspray.
“We want visitors to feel transported,” says Green Space Senior Specialist Harrison Layer. “We’re preserving this natural space as a beacon for birds flying overhead, and wildlife on the ground.”
Wilkes Creek Headwaters has received 8 million dollars in funding for its preservation and development through Portland Parks and Recreation. This park is considered a hybrid space because it’s being enhanced as a natural area at the same time it’s being developed into a usable park with benches, trails, and educational signage. In addition to providing the community with more access to green spaces, developing trails and signage will help protect the natural area that the community has worked so hard to develop.
“Portland Parks & Recreation will collaborate with partners and community members to create a plan for developing the park, with a focus on including the voices of Native and Indigenous communities and communities of color,” Maija says. “The goal is to enhance the park’s natural features, while also providing more recreational opportunities and access to nature for East Portland residents.”
“This is an important park because of its location in East Portland, an area that has less park space and opportunities to connect with nature,” Harrison says. “It also shows the connectivity that a creek can bring to a community. It starts at the park, moves through neighborhoods and industrial space, and eventually flows into the slough. Protecting this area will help protect the Columbia Slough as a whole.”
The Greening Wilkes Initiative incorporates a layered approach to community engagement. 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 each provide their unique and complementary approaches to community engagement around important natural resources in the Wilkes community.
“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.”
You are invited to join in shaping the future of this special place by joining the email list and applying for the project advisory committee. More info can be found here.