Johnson Creek Council director heads for South America

Find out what former JCWC Executive Director Matt Clark says of the organization’s accomplishments …

Johnson Creek Watershed Council volunteer Dolores Wood chooses her dinner from a bountiful potluck buffet, at the Cedarville Lodge, as folks say goodbye to Executive Director Matt Clark.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

After a little more than seven years as Johnson Creek Watershed Council (JCWC) Executive Director, Matt Clark chose to bid farewell to his staff on December 5, 2014.

However, hundreds of volunteers and supporters did not allow him to slip away quietly enroute to his next adventure. He was honored with a going-away party on December 11 at Cedarville Lodge in outer East Portland.

Clark reminded that, before he came to JCWC, he worked with Native American tribes, including the Umatilla in Pendleton, helping them restore salmon runs in the Walla Walla River.

Former JCWC Board Chair Jason Howard, and Sue Schubert, spend a moment with Matt Clark.

“And, here, one of my goals was again restoring salmon runs, but this time in Johnson Creek,” Clark told East Portland News.

“Speaking of salmon, we’ve seen them coming back in increasing numbers, which is really exciting,” Clark added. “We have found native, fresh-water mussels in the creek as well, thanks to several exciting projects.”

Projects he points to with pride – for the organization, not himself, he emphasized – was the restoration project at the mouth of Johnson Creek. “Also, the project in partnership with TriMet at the Tacoma Street Max Light Rail Station. When I come back to visit this summer, it should be finished, and I look forward to strolling along the boardwalk.”

Clark said he smiles when he thinks of all the projects and “creek clean-ups” that take place – from Johnson Creek’s confluence with the Willamette River, on back out to Gresham – thanks to many partnerships formed with other organizations.

“One that comes to mind is strengthening our partnership with ‘Friends of Johnson Park’.”

Matt Clark and his son his son Quillan stand in the new Saint Mary Ethiopian Church Rain Garden at its completion celebration in May of 2014. East Portland News archive photo

And there are others. “An outer East Portland project that stands out in my mind,” Clark recalled, “was the Depave/Rain Garden project JCWC coordinated with Saint Mary Ethiopian Church on SE 92nd Avenue, in the Lents neighborhood. We also did some work with the Native American Wisdom of the Elders.”

When he started with JCWC, Clark said they had about 300 volunteers. “Now, we have quadrupled our number of volunteers to more than 1,200,” Clark pointed out. “And to our dedicated staff and volunteers, we have increased the number of ways that we’re engaging people.”

Matt Clark takes a break while working with volunteers along the Springwater Trail in Southeast Portland during the 2013 JCWC Watershed-Wide Clean Up event. East Portland News archive photo

The accomplishment for he’d like most to be remembered most, he said, is “changing the narrative about Johnson Creek.

“I clearly can’t take sole credit, for this has been a real community effort,” Clark reflected. “Back then, people thought of Johnson Creek as a neglected, trash-filled, periodically flooding concrete trough, in many places. Now, it is becoming a community asset and amenity, something in which we feel pride, especially when we see the salmon returning.”

He thought about his statement, and added, “Yes, I hope people will think of my legacy as encouraging hundreds of people to volunteer thousands of hours, to turn a concrete gulley to a living stream.”

Leaders and volunteers from the Johnson Creek Watershed Council dine, and review their accomplishments in 2014.

Clark concluded by saying, “To everyone who has been involved with JCWC, thank you for supporting Watershed Council. It’s been very meaningful to me to be part of a community that is working together for the shared goal of restoring this great creek that is in our backyards.”

Far from retiring, Clark said he and his family are now moving to Loja, Ecuador, in the southern Andes, to work with a tropical forest conservation organization called Nature and Culture International.

JCWC Chairman of the Board of Directors Russell Mantifel, and Teresa Huntsinger, say they’re going to miss Matt Clark’s leadership.

“Clark has made the job of being a participant or a member of the JCWC Board an enjoyable and easy job,” said Chairman of the Board of directors Russell Mantifel. “We wish him well; he’s leaving some ‘big shoes to fill’.

“We have a strong Board of Directors and will carry on,” Mantifel added. “And, a lot of that is thanks to Matt Clark’s ability to build a stable organization that will carry on the mission very well.”

Learn more about the Johnson Creek Watershed Council by visiting their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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