COURTESY PORTLAND PARKS FOUNDATION - Portland Parks Foundation is teaming up with Portland Parks and Recreation in completing funding to open Thomas Cully Park, shown at sunrise, on former construction landfill in Northeast Portland's Cully neighborhood.Though they’re public assets, Portland parks wouldn’t thrive as well if not for private investments and third-party grassroots groups.

Celebrating its 15th anniversary, the Portland Parks Foundation has funneled more than $11 million into the city parks system. And it continues to give: it plans to distribute small grants to local parks support groups, using funds from a $300,000 donation from Nancy Hebb Freeman.

Hebb Freeman, an avid lover of Portland parks who died in August 2015, also named the Forest Park Conservancy and Friends of Hoyt Arboretum in her will. The Portland Parks Foundation was notified last fall of the large donation and announced it publicly last week.

“It’s probably a great example of a public-private partnership for an important purpose,” says Portland Parks Foundation Executive Director Jeff Anderson.

The six-figure donation is the largest ever received by the foundation, Anderson says. The Portland Parks Foundation was formed in 2001 as part of the Portland Parks and Recreation 2020 Vision. The “vision” was initially created in 1999 by a group of citizens who realized parks facilities were well used, but underfunded and ill-equipped to provide for two decades of projected population growth, according to a 2009 progress report.

The foundation plans to use the $300,000 for a micro-grants program that will target volunteer-based “friends of parks” groups around the city, like Friends of Mt. Tabor Park or Friends of Peninsula Park Rose Garden.

“Typically, these groups are small ... some aren’t even incorporated,” Anderson says. “We’ve estimated there may be 60 of these organizations within city limits eligible for the grants.”

Still in preliminary planning stages, the Portland Parks Foundation is finalizing guidelines for the program. The plan is to allot $15,000 a year and to augment that amount with other fundraising efforts. Inauguration will happen sometime in 2017.

Some of the foundation’s largest projects have been the construction of Holly Farm Park in Southwest Portland; Simon and Helen Director Park downtown; a partnership with Nike to resurface all of Portland’s outdoor basketball courts; as well as maintenance in Sellwood Park.

During the anniversary year, the foundation is raising funds for two major projects, including $500,000 for the first phase of Cully Park in Northeast Portland, and $1.25 million toward a $2.5 million campaign for a footbridge over West Burnside Street where Wildwood Trail crosses between Washington and Forest parks. The city hopes to complete these projects by 2019.

The foundation also will spearhead next month’s Parke Diem, the citywide event where volunteers tackle projects at 58 community gardens, neighborhood parks and natural areas across Portland.

Other goals during the 15th-year celebration include deepening commitment to equity in parks, as well as working on an alignment with Portland Parks and Recreation, according to Anderson.

“We’re providing, if people want a spectacular parks system. Important public assets like parks really depend on an extra commitment,” he says, adding that though tax dollars help parks, more dollars are needed each year than can be given publicly.

According to Anderson, an estimated 20 percent of houses in Portland don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk.

“They’re not just places to have fun,” says Anderson. “(Parks) actually contribute in documented ways to community health. We want to get that message out in a significant way.”

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