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Gladstone had previously considered selling park to fund other city projects

Last month local volunteers planted 20 large trees, the latest sign of a turnaround for the long-neglected Gladstone Nature Park.

PHOTO BY: WILLIAM PREBLE - Celebrating after planting trees in Gladstone Nature Park are, from left, Nancy Turner, Jim Miller, Lee Toft, Lisa Preble and Gary Bokowski.  Three years ago the city of Gladstone considered selling the Gladstone Nature Park to fund other city projects. In response, Friends of Gladstone Nature Park (FOGNAP) started to organize volunteers to remove more than 2 tons of trash and invasive species like blackberries, scotch broom and English ivy. FOGNAP improved nearly a mile of trails with bark chips provided by local tree services.

Capping last year's efforts, donations to FOGNAP funded the $1,500 purchase of the 20 6-foot evergreen trees. Volunteers worked with the city to plant them in the northern part of the park, where more greenery was needed in a meadow.

When fully mature, the trees will screen the view of 120 new apartments constructed nearby, and at the same time will provide some privacy for residents of the new apartments from visitors using the park. The trees came from the 161-year-old Evans Farms in Oregon City.

"We liked that the trees were locally grown and came from a family-owned farm," said Gary Bokowski, who co-led the tree campaign. "Five generations of that family have operated that farm, so we knew they would be a good resource for us."

In a previous fundraiser, FOGNAP collected $200 for a dog waste station. The rest of the nonprofit's expenses are largely covered by in-kind donations that are tied to events that bring folks into the park: fliers, doughnuts, etc.

Several public events that introduced neighbors to the natural beauty of the park and the new trails have included No Ivy Day, Gladstone Give Back Day and a solar-eclipse party, billed as "Coffee and Donuts in the Dark in the Park." FOGNAP President Nancy Eichsteadt said there is a lot more opportunity for future improvement projects in the 11.82-acre park.

"We are a pretty lean outfit," Eichsteadt said. "We plan to write some grants to help with developing the park. Plans include a trail that can be accessed by people with disabilities."

Volunteers installed the dog waste station, and a tiny library, built by Jim Miller, a member of the FOGNAP group, gets frequent visits by park patrons. The majority of the work going into Gladstone Nature Park is volunteer labor. FOGNAP volunteers logged more than 400 hours in the park in 2017. City officials have helped with some labor, provided Dumpsters for recycling/trash, delivered picnic tables, and brought in heavy equipment when needed.

"The city doesn't have a huge budget for parks," said Mindy Garlington, a member of the Gladstone City Parks Board. "Most of that budget gets used on maintenance, and there is very little left over for improvements.

Eichsteadt said the result of all the volunteer labor is a significant increase in park usage by local residents who have discovered the park is a quiet place to enjoy the lush tranquility, abundant wildlife and views of Mount Hood. The park has many frequent regulars who walk their dogs, exercise, enjoy the trails and search for wildlife. Sightings at the park have included rabbits, owls and many other species of birds, including a Peregrine falcon and bald eagles. Visitors have found signs of deer and coyotes.

Native plants in the park include Pacific madrone, trilliums, foxgloves, Oregon grape, oceanspray, Solomon's seal and thimbleberry. The meadow features a dozen trees that are remnants of the Willamette Valley's white oak savannah, a rapidly disappearing habitat.

Several young men have earned Eagle Scout rank for their projects in the park. Most recently, Matt and Benjamin Fergus and Damien Foster cleared trails and removed blackberries. Each Boy Scout brought a dozen or more friends and family members to work on their projects, many of whom were visiting the park for the first time. Eichsteadt looks forward to more Eagle Scout projects at the park. City Council honored the three scouts at a meeting in August.

"These are fun events intended to show off our beautiful park," Eichsteadt said. "It's about neighbors meeting other neighbors and doing something meaningful together. This park and the opportunities it provides are a real gift to us all."

The annual Gladstone Arbor Day Celebration in April is co-sponsored by FOGNAP and the SHOC Foundation. The third annual celebration is scheduled for Saturday, April 28, at Gladstone Nature Park, 18111-18395 Webster Road. It will feature nonprofit and environmental groups, local food, live music and games for children. Information on all FOGNAP activities can be found at ProtectTheParks.org.

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