East Portland’s Johnson Lake gets TLC

Where in outer East Portland is Johnson Lake? You’ve probably whizzed past it for years. See why volunteers are working to improve this spring-fed gem …

Volunteers remove invasive species of plants, and clean trash out from along the trail leading to it from NE Colfax Street, off of NE 92nd Avenue.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
From 1911, when Harry Johnson purchased Johnson Lake, until the Harry Johnson in 1948, the lake – fed by 20 springs – was so clear that one could see the bottom from the surface.

According to Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R), Owens-Illinois (the glass factory) bought land just south of the lake in the 1950s, and installed industrial waste outflow pipes that started deteriorating the lake’s water quality. The final blow was when I-205 was built, immediately to the east of the once-pristine lake.

But, since the City of Portland purchased Johnson Lake from the family 1996, and it became an environmentally-protected area, many groups have been working to restore the once-popular recreation spot.

With a glass plant as a backdrop for the lake, Sumner Neighborhood volunteer “Jody 707” comes out to help keep clean up this little-known natural area.

Johnson Lake’s latest cleanup was on April 6, as volunteers from the Sumner Neighborhood, the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, and PP&R, hiked in for a morning of work.

“Some people call it a ‘work party’,” grinned a Sumner volunteer who goes by the name “Jody 707”. “They work – I party!” she said, as she rolled a cart along, picking up bags of trash from other volunteers and giving them empty containers. “I do try to help out a bit, too.”

Stocking up with tools and supplies are PP&R Stewardship Coordinator, City Nature East, Marissa Dorais; Oregon DEQ’s Jennifer Sutter, who has been working on the Johnson Lake cleanup for some time; and, Sonya Singh, a graduate student at PSU who says she’s writing her thesis on urban stream restoration.

“As you’ve discovered, Johnson Lake seems hard to find,” remarked PP&R Stewardship Coordinator, City Nature East Marissa Dorais, while picking up supplies at the trailhead. “We tell people its north of the glass plant, and west I-205.

“We’re doing two things here today,” Dorais told East Portland News. “First is litter patrol – picking up trash. And, we’re also removing some invasive species along the water, and under our native plants.”

Although a resident of Milwaukie, volunteer Mark Pugh said he likes help clean up natural spots all around the Portland area.

The effort is important, Dorais said, “To help protect our native wildlife habitat and the native plants. This could also impact the water quality. We’re trying to keep this beautiful spot clean and beautiful, and to help improve its ecological health.”

Volunteers moved fallen branches out of the trail, moved in bark dust, and picked trash out of the bushes.

Area resident Heather Somohano says her family enjoys walking the trail, and consequently is glad to help keep the area clean and healthy.

On the trail
“I’m here because I want the Johnson Lake area to be as it was back in the 1940s, before it became polluted,” said Sumner neighbor Heather Somohano, while picking up trash along the trail. “I want it to be a place for people to enjoy once again, and also have people learn from the natural habitat.”

She enjoys walking through the area regularly, Somohano added. “When we visited, the other evening, we saw a baby jackrabbit and a giant crane. So, I’m happy to help keep up this area.”

“Volunteers are at the heart of our program,” Dorais said. “Without them, we could not keep our parks as healthy as they are.”

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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