Greening Wilkes

A Community-Visioned Green Infrastructure Project

by Micah Meskel, Activist Program Manager

Greening Wilkes is a collaborative project that engages the community surrounding Wilkes City Park and Wilkes Creek Headwaters in outer East Portland in revitalizing and expanding green infrastructure to improve wildlife habitat throughout the neighborhood. Bird Alliance of Oregon, Friends of Trees, Verde, and Columbia Slough Watershed Council have teamed up on this pilot project to lead unique and complementary efforts to restore and enhance the area’s greenspaces, while engaging the community in efforts to learn about the amazing natural resources present and build a stronger connection to nature and space.

On a sunny morning in February, over 65 community volunteers helped plant nearly a thousand native trees and shrubs at Wilkes Creek Headwaters, led by Friends of Trees and partners.
On a sunny morning in February, over 65 community volunteers helped plant nearly a thousand native trees and shrubs at Wilkes Creek Headwaters, led by Friends of Trees and partners. Photo courtesy of Friends of Trees.

Wilkes Creek Headwaters is a natural area owned and managed by Portland Parks and Recreation at the outer east limit of the city. The 20-acre parcel includes a diverse mix of open oak savannah and dense Douglas-fir forest habitat that provide refuge for a wide variety of wildlife. Located just south of the main stem of the Columbia Slough, the natural area contains springs that feed the only free-flowing stream in the city that still enters the slough, providing essential cold water to the watershed, which is especially important to the unique aquatic species of the slough.

While the centerpiece of the collaborative project is Wilkes Creek Headwaters and its unique natural resources, other aspects of the project will branch out along neighborhood streets to multifamily apartment complexes and individual backyards to improve habitat and community connectivity. This will include habitat restoration along the creek corridor and adjacent natural areas, tree planting and maintenance along nearby streets and private property, rain garden and native plant installations at a nearby apartment complex, and habitat restoration and plantings in backyards around the neighborhood. Each project will be an opportunity for the community to engage in work to improve the health of their local environment while helping envision how these greenspaces can help increase the climate resilience of the watershed and community.

Photo courtesy of Friends of Trees.

In addition to enrolling nearby residents in our Backyard Habitat Certification Program, a program done in partnership with Columbia Land Trust, Bird Alliance of Oregon will also lead free educational events to engage the local community. In a collaboration between our Conservation team and Education department’s Green Leader’s program, we will co-lead nature walks to explore the local greenspaces and wildlife with the goal of helping facilitate a greater understanding and closer connection to nature near home. These walks will also highlight the collective work of our partners and how each green infrastructure project will reconnect the local ecosystem and achieve an ecological uplift that is greater than the sum of the separate projects.

The Greening Wilkes project is funded by a grant from the Port of Portland’s Airport Futures Slough Enhancement Fund, which is designated to mitigate the environmental impacts of airport operations that affect surrounding natural resources and neighborhoods like Wilkes. The project also leverages several other funding sources and works to build on other City of Portland environmental investments in the Columbia Slough Watershed. Project partners hope to build on this collaborative approach by adding layers to the original project in the coming years and exporting this model to other neighborhoods.