by: DAVID F. ASHTON - On the bridge, connecting the west side of Westmoreland Park to the playground, stand U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Specialist Michelle Helms; City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services Science, Fish and Water Life Division Manager Kaitlin Lovell; Portland Parks & Recreation Capital Project Manager Sandra Burtzos; Sellwood-Westmoreland neighbor and steering committee member Bradley Heintz; and Bureau of Environmental Services Environmental Program Coordinator Ronda Fast.With the work scheduled to begin in June, representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, and Portland Parks & Recreation, met at Westmoreland Park on April 22, to inform THE BEE about plans for the $2 million “Westmoreland Park Crystal Springs Creek Restoration Project”.

“Part of our mission is to take care of our aquatic resources, while also sustaining communities,” explained U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Public Affairs Specialist Michelle Helms.

“We do a lot of restoration projects in areas away from the city. But to be working IN the city, and to be able to restore a healthy creek to improve fish passage, makes this an exciting project for us.

“The project will also provide an area for the park visitors to enjoy the wildlife, and the natural environment, right here in the city,” Helms added.

In June, said Helms, the Corps will prepare to rip out the concrete in and around the duck pond. “The actual in-water work must be completed within six weeks – from July 15 and August 31 – to minimize the impact on fish. That’s a lot of work we’ll need to complete in just six weeks.”

City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services’ (BES) Science, Fish and Water Life Division Manager Kaitlin Lovell joined the conversation, commenting, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing the ‘heavy lifting’ on this project.”

The project is part of a larger BES program, Lovell said. “This is ‘project seven of nine’ in the a major restoration effort the Bureau is undertaking, which spans from the mouth of Crystal Springs [at Johnson Creek], to the headwaters of Crystal Springs at Reed College. We hope to have the whole watershed restored by 2014.”

BES is partnering with Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) to implement the vision for the park, detailed in its 2004 Master Plan, reminded Lovell.

On that beautiful sunny morning of April 22nd, many families were playing with their kids and on the playground equipment in Westmoreland Park.

“Part of the project is taking out all the existing playground equipment,” said PP&R Capital Project Manager Sandra Burtzos. “It’ll be replaced with a ‘Nature Play Area’ for which we underwent a design process last year.”

The Natural Play Area will be more than a pile of sticks and mud, Burtzos pointed out. “There will be a lot of features made out of natural elements like logs and boulders for the children to play on, scramble on, and climb.”

Sellwood-Westmoreland neighbor Bradley Heintz strolled up to the group.

“My interest centers around my kids,” Heintz said. “Both of my kids served on the committee to help select the features of the Natural Play Areas, as was I.”

Asked his thoughts about the current playground being taken out, Heintz replied, “I think the playground will be more ‘transformed’, than ‘gone away’. There are lots of different ways for kids to play. If they have more access to nature and natural elements, that’s where they’ll go.”

Westmoreland Park users should be aware that construction fences will close off the most of the north section of the park – west of the primary path from S.E. Bybee Boulevard to Lambert Street – from June until December of this year.

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