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Sellwood MAX stop to honor habitat, history

New boardwalk will accent restoration of Johnson Creek


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Matt Clark, executive director of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, has plans to rehabilitate Johnson Creek as part of the new MAX station under construction near the Tacoma Street overpass at McLoughlin Boulevard. Matt Clark is excited about an upcoming marriage of sorts.

Clark, the executive director of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, is looking forward to the nexus of light rail, habitat improvement, art and environmental education at the planned Southeast Tacoma Street/Johnson Creek MAX Station.

Everyone who drives along Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard has seen the progress of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project, known as Milwaukie MAX. But most people are not aware of the work that has gone on behind the scenes as the watershed council and neighborhood groups collaborated on a station design to celebrate the Johnson Creek site.

The station project will focus on habitat and stream restoration around Johnson Creek near the MAX stop, as well as the Tacoma Street Boardwalk, which will feature views of the creek and the role it has played in the vicinity.

Habitat restoration

Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette contacted Clark and asked him and the watershed council to spearhead a project making the Tacoma Street MAX stop “more than just a station.”

Collette lives on Johnson Creek and knew the nearby neighborhood associations were not excited about the station at first. So she came up with the idea for creative use of the site.

Working with the Ardenwald/Johnson Creek Neighborhood Association, the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League and TriMet, the watershed council came up with a plan to improve habitat along Johnson Creek in the area, Clark says, while “winning the hearts and minds of the people” at the station stop and “change the narrative of Johnson Creek.”

Many people only know of the creek when it floods or threatens to flood, Clark says, and he hopes the station project will show visitors that Johnson Creek is an amenity for our community.

“We are using this project as a catalyst for habitat restoration and to make people aware that salmon are coming back, that this creek is home to wildlife and fish. It is a hopeful story that in the largest city in Oregon, we can share the habitat — we can co-exist.”

By 2030, as many as 3,000 people a day are projected to use the Tacoma Street stop, providing an opportunity for riders to experience nature close by, Clark says.

The MAX stop also will connect with the Springwater Trail, which parallels the creek, and be accessible to pedestrians from the Sellwood neighborhood.

Habitat restoration will primarily be funded by private interests, including grants, local businesses and corporations. Clark came up with the “donor recognition handrail,” where people who give a specified dollar amount will have their names engraved on the curvilinear railing along the Tacoma Street Boardwalk. The idea is similar to the bricks engraved with donor names that helped fund Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Although most of the actual stream restoration work will be done by a specialty subcontractor, Clark says he is looking forward to working with volunteers to do the tree planting and re-vegetation, probably starting next summer.

Art and education

Two large wheels, the work of artist Thomas Sayre, will sit right at the entrance to the Tacoma Street Boardwalk. Entitled “Wheels of Time,” the circular forms will serve as landmarks for the station and showcase the early history of the site, when a sawmill, waterwheel and railroad line built on Johnson Creek heralded the rise in industry in the area in the 19th century.

Built on a raised platform, the boardwalk will include five interpretive panels, starting with the history of the Clackamas tribes and their connections to the land and the creek, followed by stories about early settlers.

In the mid-1800s, the Wills family founded the town of Willsburg on the banks of Johnson Creek, near present-day McLoughlin Boulevard and Tacoma Street, putting in a sawmill and a brick factory. The Oregon and California Railroad was built to move lumber and bricks to Portland and beyond.

In the early 1900s, the Oregon Worsted Co. moved onto the site, building a waterwheel to provide power to spin wool into yarn.

The final three panels will tell the story of the building of Highway 99E and the Works Progress Administration channeling of Johnson Creek for flood mitigation in the early 1930s; details about current efforts to restore the creek, while promoting alternative forms of transportation; and, finally, a panel showing that Johnson Creek is part of a larger ecosystem within the city that provides habitat for plants, animals and birds.

“The creek has an industrial history, but there has been a change in recent years in the way the community views it — not as a source of power, but in a more nurturing way,” Clark says. “Salmon are coming back, so the restoration of the creek is already paying dividends.”