Small band of West Linn volunteers work to revitalize city open space
The sense of surprise was palpable in West Linn Arborist Mike Perkins' voice as he looked out at the Skye Parkway Open Space on a brisk, clear Wednesday morning.
Perkins stood next to Park Maintenance Supervisor Jennifer Borboa, and in front of him was resident Bruce Johnson, who'd invited the two parks employees to see the latest improvements at a site that was once overrun by invasive species and trash. As Johnson spoke about the intensive work that had been done at the 4.9 acre site over nearly 10 years, his two fellow volunteers — wife Sherry Palmer and neighbor Beverly Strader — were already making their way down into the ravine.
"If three people can do this," Perkins said, "imagine what 20 people can do."
Through the first 20-plus years of living at their home on Skye Parkway in the Skyline Ridge neighborhood, Johnson and Palmer were busy with their careers and didn't have time to deal with the ever-growing eyesore across the street. They watched as invasive species like blackberry, ivy, laurel and holly overwhelmed the native plants at the open space — disfiguring it to such a degree that some residents felt comfortable dumping yard debris and other trash at what looked to be an unsalvageable site.
When Johnson and Palmer retired just under 10 years ago, they decided to do something about it.
"The primary reason we started is we didn't want to lose our tree canopy here (at the open space)," Palmer said. "You look at some of these trees, the alders must be 50 or 60 years old, the firs probably 100 or 150. That's what adds to the value of our neighborhood, and what I'd like to do is get the word out that we're blessed to have these green belts, but we have to take care of them."
"It's kind of a never-ending battle," Johnson said.
But it takes just a quick walk around the green belt to see what makes the work so enchanting for the three volunteers. A stream trickles through the center of the space, surrounded by wizened trees and native plants like sword fern that are re-emerging as the invasives are removed.
"(The spring) runs year-round — of course in the summer, it's like a little trickle," Johnson said. "But in the winter it can be a raging torrent also, when it's raining hard enough."
The Skye Parkway property is one of about a dozen open spaces scattered throughout West Linn. Open spaces are frequently acquired through the development process of a certain area, or via outright purchase by the city. Smaller and less noticeable than parks, they nonetheless provide some of the city's hidden hiking gems.
And indeed, Johnson and Palmer hope to someday see a trail put in at Skye Parkway to allow for easier access.
"We want to maintain the natural condition as much as possible," Johnson said. "Not (have it) become a park, so to speak, just a natural area."
That the neighbors can even imagine a trail running through the area speaks to the immense progress they've made over the years.
"When we started, it was completely infested with blackberries, huge bushes ... lots of ivy climbing the trees and so forth," Johnson said. "It's very labor-intensive to remove blackberries and ivy — we try to do it without poison. We don't want to kill off everything; we want to be selective. So it's a lot of pulling and cutting."
Perkins helped by periodically stopping by to drop off native plants and provide suggestions.
"We've been working in conjunction with the City," Johnson said.
But the bulk of the work has been done by Johnson, Palmer and Strader. And given that the City's parks maintenance crew numbers just eight (including Borboa), volunteer efforts are key to maintaining every nook and cranny of West Linn's park and open space land.
"These are areas that the City can't necessarily maintain to the level of being able to pull ivy and stuff like that," Perkins said. "So we kind of rely on citizens to do stuff like this and if we can assist (we do)."
"We're in a city and open spaces are getting fewer and fewer all the time," Johnson said. "So to appreciate what you have here and maintain it, I think is important. That's what we're trying to do."