Creek cleaners help turn ‘sewer’ into viable natural habitat

Why would more than 400 volunteers tromp around Johnson Creek on a dismal winter day? Read this article, and you’ll discover why this waterway is so special to so many‚

Westmoreland residents Christine Steele and Joe Liedezeit are doing their part, cleaning the banks of Johnson Creek.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The invitation to this party read, “Be sure to bring your bad weather clothing and boots”. But the drippy, dreary weather on March 3 didn’t keep the more than 400 volunteers from slopping around, as they worked to improve the health of Johnson Creek.

We enquired to find out why so many people turned out for the annual “work party” sponsored by the Johnson Creek Watershed Council (JCWC).

Walt Mintkeski works at the “Bundy Site” in outer East Portland, near SE 141st Avenue and Foster Rd.

Grew up on the Creek

“Our family grew up on the Creek,” explained Walt Mintkeski, JCWC’s treasurer. “We’ve lived in the Eastmoreland neighborhood since 1975. I took my kids down to the creek.”

At the time, Mintkeski told us, Johnson Creek looked like a storm sewer ‚Äì perhaps even a sanitary sewer. Instead of grousing, he started a group called Friends of Johnson Creek to do something to improve its condition. “About the same time, the City of Portland started an effort to plan for Johnson Creek. That evolved into the Johnson Creek Watershed Council.”

Gradually, Mintkeski observed, the public is seeing Johnson Creek as a valuable public asset. “It is a wildlife corridor, a waterway. Through our efforts, we making Johnson Creek into a place we can respect and of which we can be proud. There’s a lot of recreation and wildlife potential here.”

Clean-up stretches from Gresham to the Willamette
Mintkeski said that more than 400 volunteers, at ten different sites, were working along the Creek that day.

Inner SE Portland residents Yarrow Murphy and Gibran Ramos say worked at the 169th and Foster site.

Volunteers went to work where they were needed. Brooklyn area residents Yarrow Murphy and Gibran Ramos drove out to help at the SE 169th Ave. and Foster Rd. work site.

“We’re graduate students,” Yarrow said studiously. “It’s nice to get out and do something other than study. We planted trees and picked up some trash. It was great. I feel good about it.”

Gibran added learnedly, “It was a good break from studying. I like getting out and being in nature. It felt good to plant trees and make the site look a little nicer.”

JCWC “chili chef” Marty Urman checks her vats of steaming hot potage.

Chili feed warms workers
After working in the rain for hours, volunteers were invited to several sites for hot lunches. They dug into bowls of freshly made chili, accompanied by breads and cookies.

We stopped in at JCWC headquarters located in Milwaukie, and talked with chief chili chef Marty Urman.

“I do graphic arts work for the council,” Urman reported, “but I’m volunteering today. I made about 20 gallons of chili. We’re feeding eighty hungry volunteers at this site.”

Ready for some hot chili is METRO Counselor Robert Liberty.

“We got to see things we planted last year near Crystal Springs, commented District 6 METRO Counselor Robert Liberty, as he prepared to tuck into a bowl of red. “I was on the mulch ‘bucket brigade’ this year. We were sinking in our boots ‘up to here’. But, we had a lot of people who were helping out.”

We asked Liberty why he volunteered for the clean-up.

“Why volunteer?” he responded. “I want Johnson Creek to be a living creek. I’d like to see someone pull a Steelhead out of it some day.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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