The oak savanna project at Dirksen Nature Park got six unlikely visitors this month.
And although on any given day the 48-acre park receives a variety of children and adults alike, this sextet is of the bovine variety.
Six cows were placed in the seven-acre savanna to maintain the ecosystem of the expansive park located off of Tigard Street.
The cows were placed there to help the savannah thrive, similar to the days when elk would graze on the grasses, disturbing it to make it grow more vigorously.
"The cows create the type of grazing the elks do," said Carla Staedter, an engineering project coordinator for the city of Tigard. She also is one of two co-managers who oversee the park named in honor of former mayor and now Metro councilor Craig Dirksen. "Their job is to eat."
Staedter said the cows grab the grass by the roots, creating a better system to keep the grass growing more fully than the grazing done by goats, which have been employed by some cities to maintain grasses.
She said Native Americans would often burn the oak savannas in an effort to keep them healthy and today only an estimated 2% of savanna oak populations remain in the Willamette Valley.
"This is an ecosystem that's fast going away," Staedter said. "It was a very important ecosystem for the Native Americans."
At the same time, the Dirksen Nature Park has an ecosystem that includes distinctive blue camas flowers. Staedter said several years ago the city planted 30,000 camas bulbs but it was a historic camas bed that actually bloomed recently that impressed her with so many of the flowers that it "turned the place blue," she said in a city YouTube video.
Native Americans also used the camas bulbs as a source for starch in their diets.
"They made all kinds of things from the bulb," Staedter said.
The time the cows will spend at the park — corralled by both a buck and pole fence as well as an electric one — will be determined by how long it takes them to eat the grass and how the site responds. Meanwhile, Staedter said introducing the animals to the park and working on other aspects of moving the park forward have "been a thrill a minute for me."
Seeing the rest of the projects planned for Dirksen Nature Park through to fruition is important for Staedter and she said she's glad to be working on them. Future park projects include a concrete pathway that will connect into the back of Fowler Middle School, an additional parking lot and a boardwalk.
But the cows aren't the only highlight of the park. In April, Dirksen Nature Park Nature Play Area was dedicated, along with an accompanying picnic area and restrooms.
The play area includes whimsical chainsaw sculptures created by chainsaw artist James Lukinitch.
Many of the pieces were created from a sequoia tree that fell near the Tigard Public Library. As part of the project, "fairy doors" were added to the sculptures in the memory of a former Tigard Parks and Rec employee, Paul Izatt.
"He used to put little 'fairly doors' in the trees in his neighborhood," Staedter said of her fellow employee who died suddenly of an unexpected illness in January 2018.
As a tribute, co-workers, family and friends all created the tiny doors.
"I think we had 28 doors altogether," she said of the sculptures which have been dubbed Paul's Forest.
Another highlight for Dirksen Nature Park is it will be the kickoff site for the annual Tigard Movies in the Park with a July 27 showing of award-winning animated film, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."
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