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New Roger Tilbury Park features play area, trails and lawn

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tim Bonnin, THPRD lead planner and project manager, walks by a rock wall at Tilbury Park.A swath of Cedar Mill property that long ago grew Christmas trees is once again giving during the holiday season, this time as a 13-acre renovated park and children’s nature play area, the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District opened to the public last week.

Accessed by a trailhead at 965 N.W. 93rd Ave., Roger Tilbury Memorial Park is tucked away in a serene, densely wooded pocket between two Cedar Mill neighborhoods near the Beaverton Creek headwaters. The park has been upgraded with play equipment, a nature play area and log fort, paved- and soft-surface trail connections, and an open lawn.

Margaret Tilbury, the widow of Portland attorney Roger Tilbury, donated the land to the district with the understanding the land would remain a largely natural oasis.

“They wanted people to have access to nature,” said Tim Bonnin, THPRD project manager, of the Tilburys. “They didn’t want it to be developed. We’ve followed their guidance for the park.”

The property, on which park district crews uncovered old foundations, a junk site and water well, supported a Christmas tree farm going back to the 1940s.

“Overall, it’s a very nice site and was not too degraded,” Bonnin noted.

Funded by the $200 million bond measure park district voters approved in 2008, Tilbury is the second newly improved park in the Cedar Mill area THPRD has unveiled to the public in the past two months. The district opened Cedar Mill Park at 10385 N.W. Cornell Road on Nov. 17.

The projects further the district’s goals from the bond measure to develop new trails, trail connections and athletic fields, while upgrading and expanding parks and recreational facilities across the district. About two-thirds of the 130 scheduled projects are completed.

“The reopening of both Cedar Mill Park and Roger Tilbury Park means new recreational options and quality of life for people who live in Cedar Mill,” noted park district General Manager Doug Menke. “That was one of the goals of our bond measure, to increase park amenities in the area, so we’re pleased to show this progress.”

The previously undeveloped Roger Tilbury Park closed in July to begin the first phase of construction that concluded a few weeks ago. In addition to play equipment, nature play areas, trails and lawn, park improvements include paved Americans with Disabilities-approved access to residential neighborhoods from the park’s east end at Northwest 93rd Avenue and west to the Arbor View subdivision.

“The park is ADA accessible from 93rd (Avenue) all the way over to Arbor View,” Bonnin noted on a Friday morning tour of the park. “It’s really nice as a link between those neighborhoods. Kids can walk to school and visit their friends.”

Those driving to the park have fewer options, however, with parking limited to non-posted street spaces in the neighborhood around the trailhead entrance.

Children will likely find a reason to stick around the park when they discover the nature-play area (see sidebar below). Anchored by the “Bobcat Den,” an open fort-like structure built of huge logs milled from the property and surrounded by rocks and carved basalt columns, the features beckon kids to get their hands dirty exploring plant and tree-root life and water flow through a gravel-lined bioswale.

“This is all open for nature play,” Bonnin said while surveying the area. “Kids can run through the woods, play in the branches and build forts.”

Bob Wayt, the park district’s communications manager, noted such nature-play areas are an increasing focus for THPRD projects.

“The district made a commitment to nature play, and the bond measure funds have made us able to step up to that commitment,” Wayt said. “It’s a departure from sites with (primarily) play equipment. It incorporates natural elements of the site for recreation and enables kids to take advantage of what’s here naturally.

“You know kids are going to use their imaginations to have fun in ways adults can’t always do,” he added.

The park district’s natural resources staff plans to continue replacing non-native weeds and plants with native plants and shrubs, with replanting to continue through 2015.

THPRD officials are pursuing grant opportunities to fund a second phase of construction that will include a bridge that spans Beaverton Creek, which flows below the park in a deep ravine, and allow trail access to the southern end of the park.

For now, district officials are happy to have two new nature oases to serve Cedar Mill neighbors.

“We’re really pleased to provide two parks to the area,” Wayt said. “We needed to expand in the Cedar Mill area, so these parks achieve a major goal for us.”

For more information, visit or call 503-645-6433.

Tilbury Park furthers THPRD’s nature-play initiative

The concept of “nature play” for children is among the community engagement strategies the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District looks to prioritize.

With several studies showing how it contributes to the intellectual, physical and emotional development of young people, nature-play areas are providing an effective way to connect kids to nature at an early age.

“Nature-play areas are more open and inviting spaces for children to freely play,” said Michael Barton, a former Tualatin Hills Nature Center employee who includes nature play in the daily routine for his two children. “These areas require children to actively move their bodies, utilize their often latent imaginations, interact with other children in meaningful ways, and connect to the environment surrounding them.”

Bruce Barbarasch, superintendent of Natural Resources and Trails Management, defines nature play as a spectrum of activities “from a place in the woods to run around and climb a tree or dig a hole to a structured playground with natural elements and loose parts that you can move around.”

A few years before it was part of the district’s vision, natural play became a priority for Natural Resources as a means to protect natural areas. “We used to stop kids from playing in the woods, and we thought that was sad,” Barbarasch said. “A lot of kids — even grownups — benefit from doing creative things and discovering on their own. So we took a Dutch approach: We legalized it. We said let’s create some areas where kids can do this without damaging our higher-quality natural areas.”

The district’s first designed nature-play area was at Hyland Woods Natural Area, where off-trail activity was damaging wildlife habitat.

“We realized that if we gave everyone a place to go and do their thing, everybody wins,” Barbarasch said. “We refined the trail system, focused off-trail use in one place, and provided a place for kids to enjoy.”

When the district opened Cooper Mountain Nature Park, project partner Metro regional government was interested in adding nature play. The result is a much more structured area than at Hyland Woods.

“It has traditional play equipment, a sand pit, a gravel area, some boulders, a hill with trees and a slide,” Barbarasch said. “There are also flowers. If kids pick them, we say, ‘Great!’” Now, he added, the district takes an opportunistic approach to nature play.

“If we’re developing a site, we’ll ask if it makes sense to have nature play there,” he said. “Informally, I envision one off-trail area and one structured play area in each quadrant. We need to develop the program slowly over time, so we don’t end up with sites that don’t work. We want to learn from what we’re doing.”

The district has incorporated nature play into several bond measure development sites, including:

• Camille Park: “We planted some logs, there are some rocks and tall grass kids can wander around in, and it has a traditional play set as well as constructed elements — a log fort, a sand pit.”

• Pioneer Park: “It has wooden stepping logs, a place to make nests, and a path specifically for people to get down to the water’s edge to have some fun while we can preserve the rest of the natural area.”

The newest redevelopment site, at Roger Tilbury Memorial Park in Cedar Mill, will likely render the district’s biggest nature-play area, Barbarasch said.

“The park includes a directed stream, a fort, areas to build things out of sticks,” he said. “It’s spread out. It’s on a hill, with a lot of open space. I think kids will find this place to be a little more mysterious because of its location.”

The district is part of a work group — the Oregon Nature Play Initiative, that meets monthly to discuss best practices, collaborations and opportunities for nature play. It is also developing an observation form for natural resources staff and volunteers to record how people are interacting with these areas, to inform modifications and future sites.

The impact is powerful, says Barton, who sees the influence of nature play in his own children. “They tire themselves out, make up stories and notice the little things in nature that only eyes close to the ground can notice,” Barton said. “It’s a return to a more original form of play, where children can interact as they’ve done through most of humanity’s time on this planet — outside and with natural materials.”

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