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.
Trees for Clean Air in NE Portland
If you live in Sumner, Cully, Parkrose, Argay, or Wilkes, register here to get a free tree!
Of all the benefits that trees provide, clean air is one that entire communities benefit from. When the Owens-Brockway glass facility was found to be excessively polluting in the vicinity of several Northeast Portland communities and the Columbia Slough Watershed, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fined the facility and granted funds to Friends of Trees and our partners to lead community tree plantings in the area.
Friends of Trees, in partnership with community members and organizations, will coordinate the planting of 5,000 native plants and trees over the course of the Clean Air Canopy project.
Of these, about 800 trees will be located along neighborhood streets and private properties in the Sumner, Cully, Parkrose, Argay, and Wilkes neighborhoods. 4,200 more native plants and trees will be planted in natural areas located across these neighborhoods and along the Columbia Slough watershed.
This project would not be possible without our partners: Verde, the Cully Air Action Team (CAAT), and the Cully Association of Neighbors. Verde and CAAT’s advocacy work held this polluter accountable and led to this project’s creation. These partners have been instrumental to our outreach efforts.
“This project really represents the breadth of what we do at Friends of Trees,” says Green Space Program Manager Michelle Yasutake. “Working in both neighborhoods and natural areas, connecting with community members, and providing a tangible benefit in the form of cleaner air.”
These new trees and native plants will improve air quality and the quality of life for residents of these NE Portland neighborhoods. Leaves from the trees planted in this project will not only intercept and store particulate matter from the air, they will provide shade and cooling benefits, lessen urban heat island effects, and improve habitat and stormwater management.
Friends of Trees is already working with community members to identify planting locations. Planting and caring for the trees together gives us a chance to talk with the community about the positive impacts of clean air, clean water, and healthy urban tree canopy in neighborhoods and nearby industrialized areas.
“We’re really excited for this opportunity to form connections with residents, and to work alongside them to understand their needs and bring trees to their community in a way that works best for them,” says Aliesje King, the Neighborhood Trees Program Manager at Friends of Trees.
Rescuing native plants along the new Salmonberry Trail project
Usually Friends of Trees volunteers are tasked with planting trees, but last weekend in Banks, they got to rescue them! Volunteers worked on a stretch of railway, part of a route once home to the Pacific Railway and Navigation rail line, that will become the Salmonberry Trail in coming years.
Because the railway isn’t used anymore, native trees have sprouted among the tracks. Working along the scenic West Fork Dairy Creek, volunteers set about rescuing them by safely digging up knee-high bigleaf maple and Douglas-fir saplings, soaking them in water and storing them in bare-root bags. They used special de-rooter tools for the most obstinate trees.
“We’ve been out here for a couple years now, leading work parties,” says John Vogler of the Salmonberry Foundation to volunteers. “Next year, we will clear this whole section with big machines, so any trees that we can salvage is great. It’s a big task, and you’re part of the very beginning of this 86 mile trail to the coast.”
This rails-to-trails project will create a new 86-mile mixed-use path for walkers, runners and cyclists. The Salmonberry Trail will also connect to the existing Banks-Vernonia Trail to create a loop.
This event came to us thanks to our longtime partner Clean Water Services, whose Tree for All campaign has planted more than 14 million trees and shrubs in Washington County. They proposed this tree rescue event as a fun way to engage folks in the Banks community with our work. Rescuing plants isn’t typical for Friends of Trees, but the nature and scale of this specific project made it a good fit for volunteers.
With their hard work, volunteers rescued 375 bigleaf maples and 100 Douglas-firs from the tracks. They were safely stored by Clean Water Services in their cooler until they were planted elsewhere in the Tualatin River Watershed. The Doug-firs went to a Tualatin Soil & Water Conservation District project along East Fork Dairy Creek. The maples were planted at the Penstemon Natural Area on the Tualatin River near Forest Grove, and at Rivers Bend Natural Area on the Tualatin River near the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.
Volunteers also cleared a quarter mile of future trail of invasive Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry and 100 pounds of trash.
Volunteers were excited to rescue about 100 more trees to plant at their own homes, including cherries and hazelnuts. “It was fun to come to a different event like this,” said Hannah, a volunteer. “And so great to take a native tree home to plant!”
Thanks to Clean Water Services, The Salmonberry Foundation, and Friends of Stub Stewart State Park & Banks-Vernonia Rails to Trails for partnering with us on this project.
It’s the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this year. Friends of Trees was planning to celebrate in our usual fashion: Planting trees. Together. But, like everyone, our plans changed.
We would, of course, prefer to be outside with you. But since we can’t we have some really special virtual tree treats for you.
Since trees and nature can be so comforting, the Friends of Trees staff contributed to Earth Day with some homemade tree talk videos; we’re hoping these will tide you over until we can plant trees with you again. Below is a selection of our work, you can find the entire playlist here (we’ll be adding more, so check back!).
“It was an amazing day, perfect weather, awesome people and healthy trees! Couldn’t ask for a better planting day, truly.” Alex, volunteer tree planter (above photo taken at our Gresham planting event)
So far in our 2019-20 planting season we’ve planted more than 16,000 trees and native shrubs! Here are some highlights from some amazing days this season:
Neighborhood Trees Program: 820 trees planted
“It was wonderful to plant in our neighborhood! I look forward to checking up on all of our trees over the next few years.” -Neighborhood Trees volunteer planter
Green Space Program: 15,800 trees planted
“The team created a warm and welcoming environment. It was a lovely event that we truly enjoyed!” -Green Space planting volunteer