Protecting Lake Oswego's open spaces
When Doug McKean used to stroll through Springbrook Park, the sight of English ivy shrouding the trees and forming huge areas devoid of native species troubled him.
But after years of work by the City of Lake Oswego, the Friends of Springbook Park and invasive removal contractors, McKean's strolls are much more pleasant these days. Though non-native species still lurk in the periphery, they aren't nearly as pervasive.
"The volunteers' efforts and the City's spraying of English ivy has made a big difference," says McKean, a Springbrook Park friends group member.
To the Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation Department, Springbrook Park is a shining example of the kinds of results being achieved throughout the city, thanks to a collaborative effort that leans heavily on volunteers not only to pull invasive species and "free the trees" but also to install native plants and restore habitats.
The City partners with nine neighborhood groups throughout the year to conduct a series of work parties in nearly two dozen parks and natural areas. There are seven gatherings planned for October alone and 28 were held in the 2016-17 fiscal year — representing more than 423 hours of volunteer service over more than 460 acres of open space.
"We really see our Friends groups as our partners. They are the ones that have been fighting with us," says Parks & Rec Senior Crew Leader Megan Big John.
The City's Habitat Enhancement Fund has allowed the Parks Department to hire contractors to shoulder the heavy lifting of non-native species removal. In turn, the Friends groups don't have to spend as much time on the laborious task of pulling ivy. Instead, they also get to plant native species such as Indian plum, elderberry and snowberry.
"Pulling ivy feels good to a point, but planting is awesome and that's where we need the help," Big John says.
While English ivy is the most common invasive species, the groups also remove geranium, holly, laurel, garlic mustard and many others. In time, though, the non-native species will sprout back up again, making the process of park maintenance a never-ending battle in which Mother Nature has the upper hand.
"You have to remove the species, but as soon as you have bare soil something new is going to want to grow," Big John says. "You really want to get cover on that soil as quickly as possible. But restoration is expensive, considering the cost of materials and labor, and it's not quick. It takes years to do that."
McKean says the Springbrook Park friends group will continue to remove as many invasive species as they can. But he says it's equally important for the City to continue to bring in contractors for other tasks that are necessary for the parks' maintenance.
"The volunteers will get after the invasives when we get to the park, but I'm hoping the City is going to continue to contract for spraying and other invasive-removal projects," McKean says.
It's also crucial to the future of parks stewardship for the City to attract a younger demographic to attend work parties and connect Lake Oswego's younger generation to the natural environment, according to Parks Stewardship Coordinator Babs Hamachek.
"How do we get parents and kids involved in the work parties? We thought we needed something that is catchy, that is clever, creative and will bring people over to learn about our educational outreach," Hamachek says.
The answer: gnomes — specifically Oak, Blossom and Greenie, who were named by community members in a contest held earlier this year.
At various work parties throughout the year, City staffers will hide laminated silhouettes of the gnomes in undisclosed locations, and volunteers who find them can earn a prize. The Parks Department also passed out gnome tattoos at concerts throughout the summer.
Preschool Nature Walks have been held at Springbrook Park, with plans to expand the program citywide. (See the story and photos on Page A8.) At the events, youngsters get an opportunity to learn more about nature with magnifying glasses, shovels and buckets in hand.
In addition, youth groups often volunteer their services. For example, the Lake Oswego High School cross country team annually refurbishes the trails at Springbook Park, and McKean says the park's friends group is hoping to foster an even tighter relationship with local schools.
"We want to get kids into the park to use it as a resource for biology and ecology classes," he says.
But regardless of age, Hamacheck says she's just grateful that so many community members are committed to stewardship efforts.
"Our volunteers put on their parkas, their boots and they are out there in this weather because they care so much," she says. "It warms my heart to see the dedication that our friends put into the parks."
IN THE WEEDS
There are plenty of opportunities this month to help restore and protect Lake Oswego's parks and open spaces. Put on your jeans and sturdy shoes, grab your gloves and some water to drink and head to one of these stewardship work parties:
Oct 21. (9 a.m.-1 p.m.): Friends of the Trees and the City of Lake Oswego will plant native species and restore habitats in River Run Park (19700 River Run Drive) near the Tualatin River. Details: Go to www.friendsoftrees.org or call Jenny or Pablo at 503-595-0213.
— The Review