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TIMOTHY JACKSON - The grand opening at Nadaka Nature Park attracted kids from all over Gresham.It seemed like no accident on April 4 that the sun peeked out from behind the clouds just as Lee Dayfield began speaking to the crowd that had gathered for the grand opening of the Nadaka Nature Park and Garden.


Six years ago, Dayfield had peered through the barbed-wire fence blocking access to Nadaka at Northeast 175th Avenue and Northeast Glisan Street, and saw a vision of community space for children and adults alike to exist with nature. With a mix of city and county leadership, resident support and private funding, her vision had finally become a reality.

“I can’t even express in words what this means to me to see everyone here,” Dayfield said. “I really didn’t think this was going to be possible.”

The children waited for neither the sun nor formal ribbon cutting to take advantage of all the new activities possible at the new nature center. Babies and toddlers dug into a sandpit with shovels and buckets and older children jumped across rocks and climbed a wooden play structure.

Volunteers from the Audubon Society of Portland showed off a horned owl and other birds tethered to thick leather gloves on their hands and arms. People milled about a 50-plot community garden that will soon be dense with vegetables, and ate cookies and clementines under a new covered picnic area.

Stakeholders representing the city, Friends of Nadaka, the Audubon Society, Metro, Columbia Slough Watershed Council and East Multnomah County Soil and Water Conservation District doled out thanks to the community, as about 75 percent of the funds used to create Nadaka came from bond measures to support parks that were passed by voters in Gresham in 1990, 1995 and 2006.

“I don’t think any of us can say enough about how proud we are to see this project complete,” Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick said. “Without your vote this would not have been here today.”

“This is nothing short of amazing,” Mayor Shane Bemis said. “What a great, great, great amenity for this community.”

The name Nadaka comes from “nature day kamp” — a name given to the property by Camp Fire, which ran a summer program for girls on the property from 1956 to 1995.

In 1995, Camp Fire sold its 10 acres to the city, which used $500,000 from the 1990 Gresham Open Space Bond to pay for the property.

After years of being closed to the public, the city in 2011 opened the north gate and built a quarter mile loop trail through the towering firs.

Cherie Ludwig, a former Camp Fire girl and current city of Gresham employee, said being in the park reminded her of her youth.

“We have a little taste of woods and nature in the middle of the city,” Ludwig said. “Bring your friends and a picnic lunch, walk the trails — this is a magical opportunity.”

Dayfield got involved with Nadaka in 2008, forming the community group Friends of Nadaka, and bringing in the assistance of hundreds of individuals and organizations to help refurbish the site by clearing weeds and debris, planting and installing trash cans and signs.

In 2009, Friends of Nadaka raised enough money from Metro through its Regional Natural Area Bond Measure, the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and T.A. Nelson Estate to purchase 2 acres on the south side of the property from the Nelson Family.

With this purchase, the park became open to Glisan Street and the Rockwood neighborhood, increasing public access by about half.

It’s on this 2-acre parcel that now holds the nature-based play area and community garden, which was largely paid for with a grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

The Meyer Memorial Trust provided grants to support park planning as well as provide partial funding for a new full-time parks coordinator.

The park was designed to mimic nature, explained parks coordinator Monica McAllister. The sandpit, which is contained by boulders, represents the mountains. A winding, gravel pathway represents a river and the wood play structures, which were constructed with trees from the forest, represents the woods.

Nadaka carries a mission to nurture nature, food and family and the idea behind the park is to get people more connected to the earth and engage children’s creativity, McAllister said.

“This is a great improvement,” said Jenny Hudson, as her children Rhys, 4, and Sophie, 6, played in the sandpit. An older child, Aurelia, 9, was climbing on the play structure with about a dozen other children. “They are in heaven. Climbing, digging and (playing with) water is exactly what they love to do.”

Andrei Viatlev, a well-spoken 12-year-old from H.B. Lee Middle School walked around the park, admiring the crowd, with a volunteer badge on his chest.

“It’s beautiful,” he noted. Viatlev, through the Multnomah County SUN program, had spent many afternoons gardening and pulling weeds at Nadaka every week and had been witness to the transformation.

Jim Labbe, an urban conservationist with the Audubon Society of Portland, said the society plans to make Nadaka an anchor site for the organization’s events and education.

“We’re creating a community where people and wildlife thrive together,” Labbe said.

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