Master Naturalists in Portland

By Julia Benford

Have you ever walked through a park and found yourself wanting to know more about a particular tree, flower, or bird you saw there? Even in the depths of Winter Portland's parks hide natural treasures just waiting to be discovered. 

One great way to learn more about the native species of the Pacific Northwest is to take a Master Naturalist course, offered through Oregon State University’s Extension Service. We spoke to Brandy Saffell, Portland Chapter Coordinator of the Oregon Master Naturalist Program, to find out more about the role of Portland parks for wildlife conservation.

How have Portland’s parks played a role in your life?

The Master Naturalist training that I lead focuses on the Willamette Valley eco-region, which means that we do field work in Portland. We conduct two field classes in Portland parks, one at the Hoyt Arboretum and one at Mount Tabor. I find that hosting  classes in the parks is a great way to educate people about plant and animal life within the city. On a personal level, I really enjoy spending time in Portland’s parks because they create the feeling  of being out in the middle of a forest, but with all the amenities of a traditional park. That sense of being in the wilderness is something that’s unique to Portland parks.

What benefits have you seen from holding naturalist classes in city parks?

I remember one Master Naturalist class trip to the Hoyt Arboretum where many of the students were already knowledgeable in one particular field-- some were birdwatchers, some had studied native plants, et cetera. As a group, it took us three hours to do a third of our planned trail walk because people kept stopping to point out plants and animals along the way! It was amazing to see the students so engaged with their surroundings and eager to teach others about the natural world. Seeing the existence of biodiversity in the city can help spark a passion for learning more about the plants and animals around us.

What value do parks hold for Portland residents?

In addition to the important habitat they provide, parks are valuable because they inspire excitement about the outdoors! Many urban dwellers don’t have access to rural wilderness areas, but Portland’s parks allow people to explore a similar forested ecosystem. Having access to such beautiful natural areas encourages Portland residents  to value conservation, because they see the ways that habitat can be incorporated into the city.

This month, why not take a Master Naturalist course for yourself? The next time you visit a Portland park, you’ll feel proud knowing that you can identify the plants and animals that live there. Learning more about the natural world is a great way to gain an even deeper appreciation for the wildlife here in Portland.

Parks that Changed America

Portland was ranked 6th for the best parks in the nation last spring according to the Trust for Public Land’s survey of the top 75 largest cities in the nation.  Portlanders are proud of their parks, and work hard year-round to fundraise, friendraise and volunteer to continue making our parks more accessible to our citizens. 

But what really goes into designing a park or park system? What makes a park a place where a community will gather? This documentary explores 10 historic parks that look very different, but have defined what parks mean to our communities.  Get some popcorn and enjoy looking at some of our nation’s most historic city parks.

CLICK HERE: 10 Parks That Changed America photo courtesy PBS

CLICK HERE: 10 Parks That Changed America photo courtesy PBS

More Than A Walk In The Park

By Julia Benford

In the modern world, people interact with their neighbors very differently than they did a century ago. Acording to a recent study by the National Association of Realtors, today 70% of Americans  live in single-family houses, separated from people outside of their immediate family.  The design of American neighborhoods also means that people use personal cars to get almost everywhere, from home to work to the grocery store. As a result, most people don’t spend much time interacting with their neighbors in a meaningful way.

Childhood development research shows that cultivating relationships with people outside of one’s immediate family is important for social engagement and mental well-being. Unfortunately more and more we don’t have as many opportunities to make those kinds of connections in today’s world.

Luckily, a few spaces still exist where community members come together. Parks are one such space, and they’re especially important because they’re free for everyone to access. Neighborhood parks allow people to interact in casual ways while doing other activities-- joggers say hello as they pass one another, dog owners chat as their pets play in the dog park, and parents schedule playdates with other families. These interactions build familiarity and trust, strengthening the sense of community in the neighborhood. A well-maintained park can truly serve as a “third space,” where people create social relationships outside of the home and the workplace.

Improving the stewardship and accessibility of Portland’s parks is a big part of our mission here at the Portland Parks Foundation,  but sadly not everyone has access to a safe and well-maintained park in their neighborhood. However, people still recognize the value of parks, and they often come together to support the parks in their neighborhood. Mark Wells, Portland’s Neighborhood Watch coordinator, spoke to us about some community efforts to promote safety in local parks. A new Neighborhood Watch program called Park Watch serves as “a collaboration between neighbors and crime prevention, where both work together to bring positive activities back to neighborhood parks.” In Sellwood, the local Neighborhood Watch has teamed up to help take care of nearby Sellwood Park, cleaning up trash and reporting maintenance issues. Many of these types of programs have been very successful, showing how positive the effects can be when communities come together around parks.

Everyone deserves access to a clean, safe neighborhood park. The space that parks provide is incredibly valuable for creating connections between neighbors and helping reduce the sense of isolation that some people feel. Even if your local park needs some work, chances are good that others in your community feel the same and want to help create positive change. If you spot maintenance issues in your neighborhood park, you can report them using the PDX Reporter app. Or you could get involved by volunteering at a park near you with Neighborhood Watch! When you volunteer, you not only make connections with people in your community, you can also help create parks that forge those connections for others.

Portland's First Living Room

By Julia Benford

Did you know that Portland has over 12,000 acres of parkland within its city limits? One of the best things about Portland is the way that green space is integrated with the rest of the city, making it possible to enjoy a day in the park while still having access to shops, restaurants, and cultural opportunities. South Park Blocks, located downtown, is a great place to visit if you want to experience Portland’s unique combination of parks and culture. We sat down with David Newman, founder of Friends of South Park Blocks, to find out what makes the park so special.

What role does South Park Blocks play in the surrounding community?

There are 3-4,000 people living within 2 blocks of the park. Since downtown Portland is an urban area without room for yards, South Park Blocks provides important green space for those residents. It has something for everyone-- in addition to nearby residents, you also see downtown workers taking their lunch breaks, preschool groups having recess, and visitors checking out downtown. So really it’s a space for anyone who comes to downtown Portland.

What connection does South Park Blocks have with nearby businesses?

Being downtown, South Park Blocks is located near many businesses and organizations. The Portland Art Museum, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and the Oregon Historical Society Museum are all located adjacent to the park, and there are lots of restaurants and shops nearby. Having the park nearby gives a distinctive feel to the area. It’s unique to have a park so close to these kinds of downtown visitor attractions.

Without South Park Blocks, how would the neighborhood be different?

Without the South Park Blocks, there would be no green space or gardens in the neighborhood. Having the park there makes the area more open and spacious, creating a venue for local events. As I mentioned previously, there is a nice concentration of cultural centers in the neighborhood, and the park provides a central space that ties these organizations together.

Next time you’re downtown, try spending some time exploring South Park Blocks and its neighboring attractions. There’s no better way to spend an afternoon than a relaxing stroll in the park, followed by some beautiful paintings at the Portland Art Museum and an evening performance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. If you’re looking for a quicker trip, check out the South Park Blocks Wednesday Farmer’s Market, where you can pick up some tasty pizza for lunch and fresh produce for dinner. South Park Blocks is a convenient way to enjoy both Portland’s vibrant city life and its beautiful parks.

Building The Portland Landscape

More goes into building a park than most of us can imagine.  While creating a small garden this spring, I began to understand the time, effort and resources that go into making a small spot of beauty and utility within the city. Now multiply that area by over 11,000 acres and you have a clue to the intensity of the design process that goes into Portland’s parks.

The materials, landscape and park features all create something that community members want to recreate in and enjoy.  Like most wildlife, humans need places of shelter and beautiful lush greenery to feel relaxed in parks.  Water features create comfort and cooling areas during hot summer days.  In this TED Talk, Amanda Burden talks about how she reinvigorated New York through parks.

View: How Public Spaces Make Cities Work Photo courtesy Friends of the Highline

View: How Public Spaces Make Cities Work

Photo courtesy Friends of the Highline

From Brownfield to Soccer Field

By Julia Benford

One of the greatest features of parks is the way that they bring people together. Take a stroll around a Portland neighborhood park on a nice day and you’re likely to see children playing, joggers and dog-walkers getting some exercise, and people lounging in the grass while soaking up the sun. Parks provide a space where neighbors can socialize and relax at the same time, making them ideal for community-building. We spoke to Kari Christensen, director of the Brownfields Initiative at the Oregon Department of Public Health, about the role of parks in creating healthy communities.

What is the Brownfields Initiative? What impacts does it have on local communities?

The Brownfields Initiative works to clean up abandoned spaces in Portland and around Oregon, turning them into spaces, like parks, that the general public can use. In the process, we solicit a lot of input from the community about the kinds of places they’d like to see brownfields turned into. One project that we’ve been working on is the Salmonberry Trail, which will replace an abandoned rail line in Tillamook with a new trail for cyclists and pedestrians. These kinds of projects help the community prosper by bringing in visitors and business opportunities.

How do parks benefit communities here in Portland?

Parks have enormous benefits, particularly when incorporated into park-deficient communities. The new Cully Park in Northeast Portland has involved the whole neighborhood in the planning process, soliciting the input of community organizations like Hacienda CDC and Verde. Neighbors were able to collaborate to address safety concerns, building trust in one another. The park also sourced labor from within the community, providing jobs for low-income residents.

What impacts do parks have on community health?

When people think of health, they typically picture biological health-- doctors, medicine, feeling better when you’re sick.  But health has multiple dimensions. Parks support holistic health, giving people tools to help their well-being and avoid getting sick in the first place. Not only do they provide opportunities for physical exercise, they also have mental and social benefits. Being out in nature helps people relax and manage stress, and having a park in the neighborhood allows community members to get to know one another in a casual setting. These aspects of parks promote overall well-being.

The next time you feel the urge to get out in nature, try looking up parks in your neighborhood! Visiting local parks is a great way to meet new people, whether you’re playing a game of pick-up basketball or chatting with other parents as your kids use the playground. And keep updated here on the progress of Cully Park in NE Portland. You can help us make it happen by donating to the effort today!

Nancy Hebb Freeman Grants

Nancy Hebb Freeman

Nancy Hebb Freeman

This Fall the Portland Parks Foundation created a new small grant program, which will help local parks complete improvements and add new features such as fountains and playgrounds. The grant program is named after Nancy Hebb Freeman by a generous donation from the estate of Nancy Hebb Freeman who passed away in August 2015 and left a bequest to the Foundation. Nancy loved Portland’s parks, and she and her family wanted to continue that legacy.  To honor her memory, we wanted to share Nancy’s story and her relationship with Portland parks.

Nancy Hebb Freeman grew up on the east coast but fell in love with the West. Here, she met her partner Ray Siderius, who very kindly gave us the material to write this little bio. Both Nancy and Ray greatly enjoyed spending time in the outdoors, and went on frequent walks in Forest Park, Hoyt Arboretum, Macleay Park, Gabriel Park, and many other parks around Portland. Along the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park, they would make little bets on the mileage markers-- whoever guessed the number closest to the one on the mileage marker would have to buy the other a cup of coffee. For Nancy, Portland’s parks were a place to not only get some exercise, but to find peace of mind as well.

Portland’s parks also provided inspiration for one of Nancy’s greatest passions: art. Nancy studied art in college and found a passion for Pacific Northwest landscapes when she moved to Bellingham in 1990. She continued to draw inspiration from parks in and around Portland, and she greatly enjoyed painting from nature. Her partner Ray Siderius writes, “I think the time in nature was an essential part of Nancy’s spiritual life."

e are honored that Nancy left everyone a parks legacy and look forward to crafting a small granting program in the next year that serves those that love our parks the most - the volunteers that work every week to keep our parks beautiful.  You can carry on Nancy’s legacy of appreciation for Portland’s parks today by exploring one near you. Take a page from Nancy’s book and make bets with your friends and family on the mile markers in Forest Park! Or you could continue her love of art by taking a class at the Multnomah Arts Center, which is run by Portland Parks & Recreation and features outdoor classes as well. Nancy’s pressence brightened the lives of the people around her, and we’re grateful that her legacy continues to live on at the Portland Parks Foundation.

Top Fall Colors

Bryan Aptekar Lands Stewardship Operations Coordinator for Portland Parks & Recreation Bryan has worked for PP&R for 15 years, in various roles. He’s a former environmental educator, who currently works with park partner groups and helps to manage our treasured green spaces.  For more of Bryan’s writing and his photography, see his website, Edge of the Road Beauty.

Bryan Aptekar Lands Stewardship Operations Coordinator for Portland Parks & Recreation

Bryan has worked for PP&R for 15 years, in various roles. He’s a former environmental educator, who currently works with park partner groups and helps to manage our treasured green spaces.  For more of Bryan’s writing and his photography, see his website, Edge of the Road Beauty.

By Bryan Aptekar

All photos © by Bryan Aptekar

Do you feel it?  You must have noticed the whiff of fall in the air.  The briskness of the breeze, the quick drop of the temperatures at night, and the hint of color around town. And of course, for those of you with your own deciduous trees to care for, the need to get the rake ready for the season.

I think fall is my favorite season in Oregon, with the colors, the smells, and the drop in temperatures. Our parks in Portland offer a place to enjoy the best of fall colors for everyone – from a rigorous hike or a stroll, to playing in a pile of leaves with the little ones.  Working at Portland Parks and Recreation has its perks – one of them being to get top notch advice from world class horticulturalists.  What follows are suggestions from myself and some of my colleagues about just some of the many places to enjoy the show that our urban canopy puts on for us. Many of these sites are also hosting Parke Diem work parties, so links to those efforts are included.

1.)  Starting our tour of fall splendor downtown, lets first stop at Chapman and Lownsdale Squares, also known as the plaza blocks, which were Portland’s first parks.  They feature several large old elm and gingko trees, both of which turn a brilliant yellow in the fall. The gingkoes in these parks bear fruit, a small cherry-like yellow berry. While some cultures find the seeds inside these both tasty and medicinal, the fleshy part of the fruit has a pretty strong smell, similar to what one might step in at a dog off-leash area. So, watch where you step.

2.)  Also downtown one can enjoy strolling through the South Park Blocks. These parks feature a large number of old elms, among other species, that provide some great fall colors. Check out the landscape beds across from the Portland Art Museum to see the great work of our staff and the Friends of the South Park Blocks.  Or join them for a volunteer Parke Diem project.

 

3.)  There’s a good reason that the Pittock family perched their mansion in the west hills.  The views from the Pittock Mansion are simply stunning, and this is a great place to enjoy fall colors.  Up close, you can enjoy a variety of maples and other showy fall plants on the grounds of the mansion. Then wander out to the overlook and see the riot of color that blankets the landscape across the valley all the way to Mt. Hood. Parke Diem project information.

4.)  One other west side place that has to be visited for a dose of fall color is the Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park. This tree museum has literally 2000 species of trees from around the world, so there are many places to enjoy fall here. Our curator recommends the Japanese larch grove along Fisher Lane, for a walk or a drive. These are deciduous conifers, so they lose their needles each season, but not before turning yellow then orange.  There are many trails that feature various tree families, each with their own delights to discover. For more information, visit the (free) Visitor Center, run by the Hoyt Arboretum Friends.  There are two Parke Diem projects at Hoyt, one on Friday, and another on Saturday.

Laurelhurst 2.jpg

5.)  Moving across the river to the east side, one could start at Laurelhurst Park, built in the Olmsted tradition of meandering paths through large trees. A visit to the south side is where you can find the black tupulo trees, famous for their brilliant fall display, ranging from purples to scarlet reds. Check out the fall colors reflected on the pond, or follow your nose to find the fragrant smells of the fall-blooming sweet osmanthus, or fragrant olive, an evergreen shrub found on the north side of the park. Parke Diem project information.

6.)  Irving Park in NE Portland has lots to discover for the whole family.  The splash pad will be off at the end of September, but the playground, off-leash area, tennis and basketball courts, ballfields, and many paths take you on a nice stroll through a variety of oaks, maples and other trees that should give a good show. Look for the golden yellows of the Norway maples.

7.)  Traveling further north, a must visit spot is the Columbia Children’s Arboretum. This site is a favorite with our environmental education staff as a place to celebrate fall color with the little ones.  So, grab the kids (or let loose your inner child) and come kick up the leaves, have a picnic, and enjoy some fresh picked apples from the trees that harken back to this park’s orchard days. Parke Diem project information.

8.)  Still further north, Pier Park offers a range of recreational opportunities from ball fields and picnicking, to a skatepark and Portland Parks & Recreation’s only disc golf course.  It’s near station # 4 that you’ll find a whiff of cotton candy or burnt sugar smell as you walk by the katsura trees that have a showy apricot color when they change colors. Try crushing the leaves for a stronger scent. Parke Diem project information.

 

9.)  You can also find (and smell) the katsura trees at the Leach Botanical Garden, as well as many other showy fall colors. Look for vine maples, ginkgoes (without the berries!), and other great specimens around the Manor House and on the trails. Here too you can learn and shop at a (free) Visitor Center, managed by our nonprofit partner. Stop by to learn about their educational programs for people of all ages and hear about the exciting Upper Garden Development Plan. Parke Diem project information.

 

10.)               For a more global view, consider heading up to Rocky Butte, a natural area, the summit of which is called Joseph Wood Hill Park.  Whether you hike or bike up, to get your blood pumping, or you drive up, the reward will be the same. The views from the summit of Rocky Butte offer a great perspective across the landscape, particularly north and east across the Columbia River. Parke Diem project information.

 

 

Nike Gives Back at Parke Diem

We are gearing up for Parke Diem on October 14 & 15 and wanted to take a moment to thank one of our biggest supporters from the beginning - Nike. Parke Diem is Portland’s largest citywide volunteer event for the city’s parks and Nike has supported the event since its inception with t-shirts and other gifts for volunteers across the city.

More than 1000 volunteers are joining forces at 58 community gardens, neighborhood parks and natural areas across Portland for Parke Diem’s fourth year. Teams of Nike employees will be volunteering with their colleagues and families throughout the city showing their support for our wonderful Portland park system.

As part of its 15th anniversary celebration, the Portland Parks Foundation is also awarding $11,228 in micro-grants to support Parke Diem projects this year and is hoping to raise a total of $15,000 to invest in parks. Installing new trail railings in Forest Park, renovating the display garden at Leach Botanical Garden and installing and winterizing garden beds in 57% of Portland’s community gardens are just some of the exciting Parke Diem projects supported by PPF funds.

“Portlanders benefit so much from their parks, and Parke Diem is a great way to give back,” says Portland Parks Foundation Executive Director Jeff Anderson. “We're also pleased to be able to give micro-grants to support Parke Diem’s grass-roots projects--they may be small compared to the $11 million of investments we’ve made in parks and park programs since 2001, but the community volunteers make a little go a long way."

Thanks to Nike sponsorship and volunteers, Parke Diem will be a citywide event to remember. Don’t miss your chance to sign up today and give back to the Parks we all love!

Parks for Prosperity

In his TED talk, Chicago community organizer and artist Theaster Gates says about his effort to revitalize his neighborhood, “I think beauty is a basic service.” One organization in Portland, Living Cully, epitomizes how beauty is born from the people of a community and their dreams for the future.

The many community members and organizations that are part of Living Cully started out in 2010 envisioning better lives for their neighbors.  As they say, “Through its work in NE Portland’s Cully Neighborhood, Living Cully reinterprets sustainability as an anti-poverty strategy by concentrating environmental investments at the neighborhood scale and braiding those investments with traditional community development resources.”

Living Cully is benefiting everyone in the Cully neighborhood, and those benefits are rippling out into the rest of Portland by doing something radical – building a sustainable livelihood not piece-by-piece, but TOGETHER.  They are focusing on the economic, housing, environmental, health, transportation and leadership aspects of their community as one project with many parts instead of separate parts alone.

Partnering with one of the Living Cully organizations, Verde, the Portland Parks Foundation is helping Verde revitalize Cully by turning a landfill into a park for the community.  Having a destination park in Cully will bring jobs, opportunities for new business, raise the health of families in the area, and provide a beautiful area where community can convene. Please consider joining the effort by donating today or volunteering today.

View: How to Revive a Neighborhood With Imagination, Beauty, and Art Photo by Jason Smith, courtesy University of Chicago

View: How to Revive a Neighborhood With Imagination, Beauty, and Art

Photo by Jason Smith, courtesy University of Chicago