Tualatin Employee of the Year has 'best job in the city'
To say that Jackie Konen has overseen the planting of scores and scores of trees throughout Tualatin over the years is an understatement.
Under her direction as the city's volunteer program coordinator for the last seven years, she estimates she's seen 50,000 trees make it into the ground.
So, it's no surprise when Konen was recently named Tualatin's 2019 Employee of the Year — but it was for Konen.
"I was very surprised," she said.
Konen was selected for the annual award out of a staff of 150 city employees.
"Fourteen nominees and … I was just honored to be a nominee," she said.
The big program that Konen oversees is "Put Down Roots in Tualatin," with activities that improve city parks and greenspace with help from the city's parks maintenance team.
Such events can average between 100 to 150 volunteers who show up to plant 1,500 trees, shrubs and pollinator-friendly flowers on any given weekend.
In 2019, Konen oversaw 21 events where 6,500 pieces of that same greenery were planted around the city.
That came out to enlisting the help of 1,700 volunteers who contributed 5,100 hours, putting in an estimated $125,400 worth of work, according to Konen.
While the city has been kind to bees over the years — adding pollinator-friendly trees, flowers and shrubs — it has even more of an incentive to help out the insects, many species of which are now considered endangered. In October 2019, Tualatin was officially recognized as a Bee City USA.
"The native trees are already pollinator-friendly, but we've taken a (more aggressive) approach to planting to planting pollinator-friendly (trees) for our bees," Konen said. "We're Tree City and Bee City."
Konen said one of the largest bee-gathering locations she's seen is a pollinator garden near the Ki-A-Kuts Bridge in Tualatin Community Park, which is constantly buzzing with bees almost all year long.
Konen estimates that since 2004, there have been 128,000 trees planted throughout Tualatin, which is certified by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA.
Konen's department often partners with the Washington County Juvenile Department and local Scouts to clean litter from city parks. A total of 15 Scouts recently completed "Scout It Out" day, removing 15 yards of tree debris, as well as litter, from Tualatin Community Park.
Also helping out with volunteer projects around the city are TEAM Tualatin Teens, comprised of middle- and high-schoolers who do a variety of chores from cleaning picnic tables to watering new tree plantings to painting fire hydrants.
"I think they painted 95 fire hydrants around the city," said Konen. "It's an awesome program."
At the same time, Konen said much of the city's success in finding volunteers comes from employees at local businesses like Eaton Corp., a power management company with a location along Southwest Tualatin-Sherwood Road, and Lam Research, which provides technology components for the semiconductor industry.
Last July, Eaton employees helped add 450 feet of trail to Browns Ferry Park using 22 cubic yards of gravel, which they compacted to make for a smooth hiking trail.
"Volunteers always show up early … which is amazing, and then we always have more volunteers than we anticipate," she said. "We always plan for more, and they always come."
A more recent hat that Konen has worn involved overseeing problems created by dam-building beavers.
For the first time last fall, Tualatin, with help from the Nature Conservancy, used low-tech devices calld "beaver levelers," which consist of a long pipe and wire cages on each end, that prevent the rodents from flooding local streams.
Konen also leads the Dog Park Ambassadors, groups of volunteers who spruce up the dog park at Tualatin Community Park twice a year. Her other duties include overseeing the applicants for city boards and committees and forwarding those names to the Tualatin City Council for approval.
"I do feel I have the best job in the city," she said. "I get to work with happy people, people who are doing what they want to do, people who are making an impact. I feel very fortunate."
By Ray Pitz
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