Chehalem Ridge Nature Park a 'great benefit' to county residents
As a longtime neighbor, I'm looking forward to the future Chehalem Ridge Nature Park. I attended the Oct. 19 meeting at the Forest Grove Community Auditorium, where Metro councilors unanimously approved the plan for building visitor amenities. I'm in full support of the plan that our community helped shape. I think Chehalem Ridge will be a very successful nature park.
Chehalem Ridge is 1,230 acres, and people will be able to hike, bike, ride horses, watch wildlife and eat picnics when the park is completed. There will be nine miles of trails taking visitors through forests and oak woodlands and leading up to scenic viewpoints that provide amazing views of the Coast Range, Cascade Mountains and the Tualatin River Valley.
The project will be built in phases, with the first part opening in 2020. The first phase includes building about three miles of trails in the southern part of the park, along with parking, restrooms and a large group shelter for picnics and events at the southern trailhead off Southeast Dixon Mill Road.
Last week's paper offered a negative perspective from somebody who doesn't live in the community and who wasn't involved throughout the planning process. I'd like to offer a different perspective as a longtime community member who was involved every step of the way.
I was asked to join the Chehalem Ridge stakeholder advisory committee in early 2016 because I'm the chair of Washington County Community Participation Organization (CPO) 15, the rural community where Chehalem Ridge is located. I was impressed by Metro's extensive outreach to make sure the desires and concerns of community members were heard. At the Oct. 19 meeting, I listened as Tom Gamble, the Forest Grove parks and recreation director, and another stakeholder advisory committee member, called it "one of the most thorough, well thought-out public processes" he had ever seen.
Metro and partners at Centro Cultural received more than 6,000 comments from community members during the park planning process. They hosted four community events in English, two community events in Spanish, one neighbor meeting at Gaston High School, several meetings with CPO 10 and 15, three meetings with the local farming community and outreach booths at more than a dozen community events. There were also about a dozen tours of Chehalem Ridge in English and Spanish.
I noted that Metro and Centro Cultural involved the local Latino community so that Chehalem Ridge will meet their needs and be a place where they feel welcome in nature.
The final plan takes into consideration many of the comments we heard throughout the planning process, though it's impossible to create a plan that makes everybody happy.
Metro listened when neighbors said they were concerned about the location of the second, northern trailhead. They listened when Latino community members said they wanted places for families to gather and kids to play and there is a large group shelter and nature play area that will be built. They listened when people said they wanted opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy nature, and there will be a 1.5-mile all-abilities trail.
The Chehalem Ridge property is different from the closer-in properties like Blue Lake Park. Chehalem Ridge is habitat for native wildlife and has five permanent and 26 seasonal streams that feed into the Tualatin River which provides drinking water for homes and businesses in Washington County. Therefore, Chehalem Ridge will have fewer trails to preserve this wildlife habitat and water quality. This is not an urban park; it is a rural park.
Before Metro bought Chehalem Ridge, the property was a commercial tree farm that was proposed for a housing development. That would have permanently changed our community and landscape. After Metro purchased the main part of the property in 2010, they thinned the dense forests, planted native trees and shrubs, and completed other restoration work to create a healthy natural environment.
Voters did indeed vote in favor of preserving green spaces in 1995 and 2006. Chehalem Ridge is a great benefit to us who live in Washington County.
We didn't want an intense urban park in our rural community. We want a park that fits Metro's nature-focused parks system.
After Chehalem Ridge Nature Park opens, you'll find me hiking and riding horses there with my children and grandchildren and showing all my friends the spectacular views from the top of the ridge. I can't wait!
Peggy Harris is CPO 15 chair and
a Chehalem Ridge stakeholder advisory