‘World Environment Day’ celebrated at Foster Floodplain

See why the ‘United Nations Environment Programme’ chose Portland to kick off this year’s North American World Environment Day celebration …

A crowd of officials and school kids gather at the Foster Floodplain Natural Area to welcome officials from the “United Nations Environment Programme”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Just south of SE Foster Road in the Lents Neighborhood, and across the footbridge that connects the East Lents Restoration Project small parking lot to the Foster Floodplain Natural Area, United Nations (UN) officials gathered with Portland leaders and school children on April 25.

The sun shone while speeches were made, trees planted, and cookies consumed, at the kickoff of Portland’s World Environment Day events, which will culminate on June 5.

The City of Portland’s commitment to providing natural spaces is what attracted their attention, says United Nations Environment Programme Regional Director Amy Fraenkel.

An honored guest, speaking in a natural amphitheater located in the 63-acre natural area, was United Nations Environment Programme Regional Director Amy Fraenkel.

“Protecting of areas like this – it is essential for human well-being,” Fraenkel opined.  “[Portland’s] commitment to integrating green infrastructure into the urban neighborhoods and protecting and restoring the natural environment is precisely why we invited Portland to be the North American host city of World Environment Day.”

She continued, “Your city is realizing that nature has a value. If we remember that, we might choose things a little bit differently, and evolve and have good lives and good jobs – but, in a way that still respects the earth.”

Fraenkel concluded by thanking those who orchestrated the local event, saying, “This has been incredibly and delightfully well-organized.”

Commenting on the work done to reconnect Johnson Creek with its historic floodplain, Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Director Dean Marriott spoke briefly. “In the process, we also created a beautiful natural area that provides new fish and wildlife habitat, reduces flood damage in the Lents neighborhood, and improves water quality in Johnson Creek.”

BES Director Dean Marriott looks on and Amy Fraenkel listens, while Kelly School teachers Julie Barbour and Martha Mosqueda present their students’ book of poems.

Marriott then introduced Kelly School’s fourth grade teacher Julie Barbour and fifth grade instructor Martha Mosqueda.

“This is our neighborhood, right?” Barbour said . “We and our students have been working with the ‘Clean Rivers Program’, and Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, in collaboration with Portland Parks & Recreation.

“For longer than 15 years,” Barbour added, “A lot of fourth and fifth grade students from Kelly School have volunteered along the Springwater Corridor and Johnson Creek, to plant, clean, and restore the native habitat.”

Kelly School students read from their book of poems praising clean water.

The next part of the program featured Kelly School students, reading poems about clean water, from a book they made and would afterward present to the UN, via Fraenkel.

“Before we do that, I want everyone to remember that when you’re walking around this area, if you see a snowberry plant – there’s a good chance that a Kelly student planted it,” smiled Barbour.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish points out the many agencies, managers, and volunteers involved with the project.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish began his speech by thanking the Native Americans who started off the program. “They remind us of our past, as the Kelly School students focus us on the future.

“Today is really about celebrating partnerships, shared values, and the importance of this project to the Lents community,” intoned Fish.

Commissioner Fish acknowledges an outer East Portland parks advocate – “the indefatigable Linda Robinson” [seated, at left].

“Every single thing we do in this city depends on strong partnerships,” asserted Fish. “Here in the Lents neighborhood, a clear vision of strong partnerships helped restore the Foster Floodplain. We know that when we work together, we can restore complex natural systems in a matter of a few years – not decades.”

Fish concluded by saying that Portlanders are “really glad that our work has caught the attention of the United Nations, and that the United Nations chose Portland to showcase United Nations Environmental Day.”

After the formal program, the group was encouraged to move north, to near the footbridge, to see a tree planting area.

Surrounded by former neighbors and schoolchildren, BES Johnson Creek Watershed Program Manager Maggie Skenderian says planting trees will help link the area’s past with its future.

Tree planting commemorates uprooted neighborhood
“This is been an extraordinarily wonderful day!” exclaimed BES Johnson Creek Watershed Program Manager Maggie Skenderian.

“You’ve heard many people mention how long we’ve waited to get to this day,” Skenderian remarked to the gathering group.

“It was mentioned in passing that there were many residents who had lived in this area, prior to our building the Foster Floodplain. These homes were here for many years. We’re planting these trees in honor of the residents who moved, so this area could be turned back into a floodplain.”

Laura Martin, a former Lents resident on SE 106th Avenue, who relocated to lower Powell Butte because of the project, kneels to plant a tree, along with a student, and BES Johnson Creek Watershed Program Manager Maggie Skenderian and Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish.

With the tree planting underway, Skenderian summarized the project for East Portland News.

“The effort started in earnest in 1996, after the large flood events we had seen,” Skenderian said. “The City worked with FEMA’s Office of Emergency Management to launch our ‘Willing Seller Program’ so we could remove residences from the floodplain.”

The result of the $25 million program, including land acquisition, design, and construction, Skenderian explained, has been sharply reduced flooding of businesses along SE Foster Road. “At the same time, we’re also improving the water quality, to the point where native salmana or salmanoids are returning to Johnson Creek.”

Now that the natural area is complete, Portland Arts & Recreation has been given charge of the area, Bureau Director Mike Abbaté said.

“We now have the responsibility for the maintenance and providing the recreation excess for this amazing facility,” Abbaté added. “This is a great place to go for a walk.  You can go for a walk and see wildlife, right here in the city.  It’s a place for walking, running, and healthy activities.”

Adding to the Bureau’s portfolio of natural areas is one part of the Bureau’s mission, Abbaté commented. “We aren’t planning any formal programming for this area, but I think, for most people, just having the chance to be out in nature, and seeing natural processes at work, is fun.”

To learn more about Portland’s activities leading up to World Environment Day, see the official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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