by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Roberta Schwarz has spent the last nine years fighting to protect the White Oak Savanna park. A nine-year effort to preserve the White Oak Savanna natural area took a significant step forward May 30, when the Portland Metro Council approved a $500,000 community grant that will be put toward buying the last unprotected swath of the 20-acre property just north of Interstate 205.

Though 14 acres have been city-owned and protected since 2009, a 5.65-acre plot of the land remains unprotected. The goal, according to West Linn resident and volunteer Roberta Schwarz, is to raise the total of $1.8 million needed to purchase those last acres and begin the preservation project shortly thereafter.

The $500,000 — which is part of the Nature in Neighborhoods capital grant program — must be matched 2-to-1 within the next two years, and Schwarz said that money will come from a variety of sources including state grants and private fundraising. Schwarz and her husband, Ed, for their part, have pledged to match up to $50,000 in community donations.

Where the rest of the funding comes from remains to be seen, but there is a clear vision for what to do with the money. Should those last 5.65 acres be acquired and placed under protection, they would undergo the same overhaul that the rest of White Oak Savanna has seen since restoration began in 2009. Invasive blackberry plants would be removed, and trails would be plotted by volunteers like Schwarz.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Metro approved a $500,000 grant last week to help fund the purchase of the last 5.65 acres of the property.

This would, at long last, complete the process of converting the White Oak Savanna from a prospective commercial lot to what Schwarz calls “a native natural park, and significant wildlife habitat.” Already, the area is popular for its mature oak trees and expansive views of the Willamette Narrows and Canemah Bluff.

“It’s just a special place,” Schwarz said. “We can’t wait to get this lower portion, so we can do the same to the bottom five acres and then all 20 acres will be preserved and restored as a native natural park.”

Metro voted unanimously to approve the $500,000 grant, in large part because of the White Oak Savanna’s status as a “very rare kind of habitat,” according to Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette.

But Collette, for her part, was also impressed by the community’s engagement in the project.

“It’s exciting to me as a councilor how strongly the community has supported the project,” Collette said. “(In 2009) we told the community, ‘We’ll buy the land, but you have to build the trails.’ And people came out in force; they dedicated themselves to getting the trail built. It’s been a total community effort.”

There was no reason, then, for Collette and her fellow councilors to expect anything less this time around. The qualifying measures for grant money are scientific importance — how crucial the land is to the environment — and level of community support; in this case, White Oak Savanna went two-for-two.

“West Linn should be very proud of this,” Collette said. “This is a very big grant.”

A barbecue is scheduled at the park on June 22 to thank volunteers and donors.

Through all of her work, Schwarz is heartened by the diverse crowd of visitors she sees at the park during each of her visits.

“What makes me think it’s a sucessful project is I get people from all over when I’m there,” Schwarz said. “We like to think people from all over who are enjoying the park will be able to come out and make this a natural park and habitat in perpetuity.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Schwarz said the goal is for all 20 acres of the property to be preserved as a native natural park.

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