For Portland Parks & Recreation, city parks are not patches of grass and a few benches.
Eric Rosewall, program coordinator of the Ecologically Sustainable Landscapes Initiative, said until just recently, the department considered parks one of two categories: developed parks or natural areas of land.
However, the department is combining both with its new initiative, creating nature patches within the city's parks.
"The bureau wanted to find ways to improve the natural and ecological functions of developed park spaces and to expand access to nature for more Portlanders," Rosewall said. "Nature patches accomplish this."
The first nature patch of the program can be found in Portland's Alberta Park at 1905 NE Killingsworth St. Another patch project is being worked on at Gabriel Park on SW 45th Avenue and Vermont Street, which is set to open this fall. Rosewall said 12 other nature patches are in the planning and development stage.
The newest park to undergo a nature patch makeover is Hazeltine Park on SE Flavel Drive in the SE Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood.
Nature patch conversions, Rosewall said, are ideal for areas of developed parks where grass does not easily grow or is difficult to maintain.
About a year to plan and create, Rosewall said the nature patches are fully created by Portland Parks & Recreation staff and funded by the department's general fund.
"(Nature patches) are ecologically-robust landscapes which support wildlife, and provide spaces for people to explore, play and interact with nature.
Like many of the other planned parks, Rosewall said the Hazeltine Park nature patch will improve the habitat for birds and pollinators and add interesting natural features for park goers.
Portland Parks & Recreation Urban Forestry staff have removed invasive plant species and unhealthy trees from the Hazeltine Park patch area. Rosewall said they are creating several habitat trees with built-in birdhouses. Next, they will place boulders, logs and fencing around the area.
The Hazeltine Park nature patch is set to open with a ribbon cutting and planting event Saturday, Dec. 1
Each project is unique, Rosewall said. Nature patch sizing varies from park to park, depending on the current use and available space. However, the larger the area and the more it can support wildlife, the better, he said.
"Just about any type of landscape found within Portland's system of developed parks can make a good nature patch — from wooded areas, to hillsides, wetlands, and open meadows," Rosewall said. "They can all be restored to a more natural state that's will benefit wildlife and still be enjoyable to people of all ages."
Rosewall said "naturescaping" and nature-based play in parks have become popular throughout the country recently. However, Rosewall said the department is doing it differently by reducing the cost and engaging the community.
"Portland Parks & Recreation's program to implement such large and robust natural landscapes within city parks is a pioneering effort not found in many other cities," Rosewall said.
When deciding where a nature patch should go next, Rosewall said equity is key.
"Portland Parks & Recreation will be improving parks with nature patches across the city, with a focus on neighborhoods which have less access to green spaces than do other parts of town," he said.
Once the department decides what area or community might need the nature patch most, they look at what parks are underdeveloped, underused or challenging to maintain in their current state.
"The program is only about a year old, but we've already seen a very strong positive response from the community about Portland Parks & Recreation's first nature patch at Alberta Park," Rosewall said. "Nature patches in city parks, in conjunction with neighbors who have participated in backyard habitat programs, are together creating a larger network of habitat connections."
Community members can get involved in the planting at nature patches over the next four weeks with 'planting parties' hosted by the department. Visit www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/74879 for more information.
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