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Natural area kickoff sparks creative ideas

COURTESY PHOTO: METRO - Gaston High School sophomores Seneca Clemons (left) and Imane El Amdani (a French exchange student) posed in front of a Chehalem Ridge backdrop with their idea to make the park a haven for endangered species.Campgrounds, star parties, horse trails and science camps were just a few of the ideas offered by the more than 120 people who gathered at Centro Cultural in Cornelius last Wednesday to kick off Metro’s planning efforts for its 1,143-acre Chehalem Ridge Natural Area just east of Gaston.

“I’m just glad to see Metro out here making an investment,” said Martin Granum, who came all the way from Aloha to participate.

Metro, which governs land use and other aspects of Portland’s metropolitan area, is taking public comments on the park this spring and expects to have a master plan ready for public review and Metro Council approval by either spring or summer 2017.

Chehalem Ridge will be the third big park in western Washington County, including the county’s Hagg Lake recreation area (about 1,200 acres, most of it water) a little ways to the west and 1,800-acre L.L. Stub Stewart State Park to the north, near Manning. And it will connect to the nearby Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Metro representatives plan to solicit more comments and ideas for Chehalem Ridge at upcoming community events, where they will set up information booths.

Trails were a big topic at Thursday’s event. Some people wanted only dirt or bark trails—not paved. Brad Taylor of Forest Grove wanted quiet trails (no motorized vehicles) and a network of side trails off the main trails.(Left to right) Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin, Metro's Kathrin Harrington and Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax posed with their vision statement for the park: 'A partnership of recreation, research and rejuvenation of our natural resource.'

Equestrians in particular were out in force to ask for horse trails. Chris Foster, who lives on a farm south of Hillsboro, specified that equestrians could share a trail with hikers but not bikers. “That’s a problem at Stub Stewart,” she said.

In fact, Bald Peak resident Shari Woodcock recounted a story she’d heard about a bicyclist flying down a trail at Stub Stewart and slamming into the side of a horse. The horse was okay but the rider suffered a broken collarbone, she’d heard.

One-way trails might help solve the potential collision problem at Chehalem, Woodcock suggested. Joggers with headsets are also a problem, she said.

Felicia Taylor of Cherry Grove suggested separate paths for all three forms of travel — hiking, biking and horse-riding.

Taylor also floated the idea of creekside boardwalks and another idea for a nature playground, which could include natural climbing areas and “stepping stumps.”

Adelina Cano was one of many who requested camping sites — “closer to home,” she said. “I usually go to Mt. Hood.” Stub Stewart has both campgrounds and cabins for overnight stays but Cano said she and her friends haven’t used those. She does visit Hagg Lake, however, and would love to see campgrounds there too — an idea that has been floated in the past.

Kathy Yee, who lives near Hagg Lake, said she’d like to see picnic shelters and a rehabilitation area for endangered species. She also suggested local schools could use Chehalem Ridge for science camps or nature camps.

That idea would likely get support from Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, who loves to hike and camp, despite growing up with very non-outdoorsy parents who never did either of those things. But they did send her and her brother to nature camps, she said.

Harrington, who took comments at the event, said an amateur astronomer had suggested an area for star parties like Stub Stewart has.

She also heard offers of volunteers from the Boy Scouts and Northwest Trails Alliance for trail construction or other projects.

Harrington herself would like to keep the park’s admission costs low in order to draw more families.COURTESY PHOTO: METRO - Trails, horses and a nature-based playground with climbing areas and stepping stumps were among the ideas floated by participants in the Chehalem Ridge kickoff meeting last Wednesday, Feb. 24.

On the downside, a few Chehalem Ridge neighbors complained about Metro employees on their property and Metro’s failure to keep in touch with them about activity in the area. Metro has since reached out to them, said Parks and Nature Director Kathleen Brennan-Hunter, and has added them to the list of stakeholders who get more regular, individual contact on the planning process. A meeting with adjacent neighbors may also be in the works.

The neighbors’ perspective is extremely important, Brennan-Hunter said. “They are the eyes and ears of the land that voters have protected.”

Gaston High School sophomore Seneca Clemons said she knows some locals worry that traffic will increase and that the park will “interfere with their way of life and why they moved to the country.”

But Clemons believes it will help the local economy, partly by drawing more business to local wineries. “I personally think the park would be a great addition to the area,” she said.