Green Investments to East Portland

Past Urban Conservation Initiatives Help Bring Funding to Wilkes Creek Headwaters

by Micah Meskel, Interim Urban Conservation Director

Just before the new year, Commissioner Carmen Rubio approved funding for several parks projects in Portland. Included in the list is Wilkes Creek Headwaters, a greenspace in outer East Portland. These undeveloped 20+ acres are within a residential neighborhood and contain the springs that feed the only free-flowing stream in the city that still enters the Columbia Slough. It has also been the epicenter of Greening Wilkes, a multiyear project led by Bird Alliance of Oregon and community partners. The newly announced public investment allocated by Commissioner Rubio is a testament to her and the broader community’s focused reinvestment in East Portland by improving access to nature and community and environmental health.

To fund the project at Wilkes, Commissioner Rubio allocated $4 million in Parks System Development Charge (SDC) funding to complete a master plan for the site and pay for design and construction of the new park. The SDC, an obscure one-time fee assessed on new development, helps fund public projects to retain quality of life, including growth of the city’s parks system, and has its origins in past innovative advocacy by Bird Alliance of Oregon’s urban conservation program. More than a decade ago, Bird Alliance of Oregon helped lay the groundwork for allocation of SDCs for parks projects in East Portland, which helped begin a much needed shift to funding parks improvements in previously neglected and more diverse communities. This effort, led by Bird Alliance of Oregon staff Bob Sallinger, Mike Houck, and Jim Labbe, is testament to Bird Alliance of Oregon’s forward-thinking and intersectional policy agenda, which continues to bear fruit today. The new funds will leverage Metro’s previously allocated local share funds from the Parks and Nature Bond Measure that voters passed in 2019 (another Bird Alliance of Oregon priority).

Greening Wilkes

The Greening Wilkes collaborative includes partners Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Verde, Portland Parks, and Friends of Trees and has engaged the community surrounding Wilkes Creek in outer East Portland to restore, revitalize, and steward greenspaces throughout their neighborhood. As part of the project, each organization offers its own unique green infrastructure program to community members at no cost: planting trees in the public right-of-way, installing rain gardens and building wildlife habitat in residential yards, and restoring degraded habitat along Wilkes Creek. In addition to greenspace restoration, the joint project sponsors free events and incorporates workforce development opportunities for a host of community partners. The collaborative recently received its second year of funding from the Port of Portland’s Airport Futures fund, which funds projects that mitigate negative impacts from the Portland Airports operations.