|Up the creek, with a shovel |
Johnson Creek fans help tidy the banks of urban waterway
By JIM REDDEN Issue date: Tue, Mar 2, 2004
The Tribune Hundreds of Portlanders turned out Saturday to clean up and rehabilitate acres of land along Johnson Creek.
Some removed debris, pulled invasive plants such as English ivy, and planted native trees and shrubs. Others surveyed fish and vegetation along the banks.
The volunteers included five generations of a family that donated 3.6 acres of wooded riverside property to the public in 1975. Dozens of relatives showed up at the Bundy Wildlife Refuge to clear blackberry bushes, pull ivy and plant ash trees.
"This was a fun place to grow up, and we want to help return it to nature," said Karl Lett, 87, whose uncle, Kingsley Bundy, bought the site near Southeast 141st Avenue and Foster Road in 1932.
Other volunteers concentrated on 11 additional sites along the 26-mile ribbon of water that runs from its headwaters near the Sandy River in the foothills of Mount Hood to its confluence with the Willamette River near Milwaukie. They included Karl Lee, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who helped plant new foliage at Beggar's Tick, a wetlands area near Southeast 111th Avenue and Foster Road.
"More people are realizing the importance of natural areas in urban settings," said Lee, explaining that native vegetation cleans rainwater before it flows into the river.
Lee is a member of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, which coordinated the event. The council is a nonprofit organization guided by a 22-member volunteer board. Its executive director, Michelle Bussard, said the high turnout demonstrates the strong commitment to the environment that local residents feel.
"Many of the people I talk to say they live here because of the quality of life," she said. "That includes the environment, and events like this show that people are willing to work to improve it."
Johnson Creek has been the focus of government, business and community concerns for many years. It runs through a wide mix of natural, industrial, commercial and residential lands. The river frequently overflows its banks during heavy rains, washing out adjacent properties and sweeping up contaminants.
Some of the flooding is caused by earlier public projects along the river, according to council member Maggie Skenderian, a community relations specialist with the city's Bureau of Environmental Services. They included a WPA project in the 1930s that lined miles of the river's banks with rocks.
"They thought it would keep the water in the river, but it makes the river more likely to flood and hurts the water quality. We've learned a lot more about how rivers work since then," Skenderian said.
Helping land helps water
Watersheds have emerged as a focus of environmental concern in recent years in large part because of federal laws designed to save endangered species such as salmon. Bussard said Johnson Creek is the only remaining free-flowing stream in Portland that's home to migrating salmon.
Saturday's work was intended to improve water quality in the creek by enhancing the watershed that feeds it.
Watersheds are areas of land that drain downward to a lowest point, usually to a river system that grows progressively larger as it moves downstream. Rainwater and melting snow flow through a network of drainage pathways that may be underground or on the surface. In some dry regions, watersheds may drain into ponds or marshes.
As water flows downhill it collects loose material, including fertilizer, oil and garbage that can harm water quality.
Local governments are taking steps to protect and enhance watersheds. The city's Environmental Services Bureau is drafting plans for managing all watersheds in the city limits. Metro, the regional government, is planning to adopt guidelines governing some development along all waterways in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties.
Some of the ideas are controversial. Last year the Portland Planning Bureau withdrew a proposal to regulate development along the city's waterways because of opposition from affected property owners. The bureau hopes to unveil a revised set of regulations later this year.
C.M. Meyer, the watershed council's financial director, said Saturday's event shows people can make a difference in the environment.
"They know this is something they can actually do to improve the watershed," Meyer said. "Sometimes it feels that progress is so slow, but with events like this, you can actually get something done."
Volunteers take a role
The Johnson Creek council is one of 90 organizations around the state dedicated to preserving and restoring watersheds in their areas. Other councils in the Portland area work to enhance the Columbia Slough in North Portland and Tryon Creek in Southwest Portland.
The councils are part of a statewide effort to improve watersheds that began with the creation of the Governor's Watershed Advisory Board in 1987. By 1995 it had evolved into the Oregon Watershed Advisory Board, which adopted an action plan that included volunteer efforts coordinated by the councils to restore and enhance animal habitat along Oregon waterways.
In addition to organizing large-scale volunteer efforts, the councils work to educate the public on how to reduce pollution through recycling and natural gardening techniques.
Bussard said the council's $200,000 annual budget comes from grants from other nonprofit agencies and contributions from governments that have jurisdiction over Johnson Creek, including the cities of Portland, Gresham and Milwaukie as well as Metro. The council employs four people in addition to Bussard, including three community outreach coordinators.
Dale Vasnik, a Metro regional parks supervisors, said the councils are essential for maintaining and improving the region's parks, especially during tight budget times.
"We wouldn't be able to do all the work we do without the thousands of volunteer hours they generate," Vasnik said.
© 2004 THE PORTLAND TRIBUNE