A path towards activism
This story has been updated from its original version.
Andrea Wall is living proof that if you don't see something getting done, sometimes it pays to take matters into your own hands.
Wall resides in a home on a secluded corner just off Southwest 25th Avenue, on a section of the road that is just loose gravel. For all the quietude the wooded location offers, though, it also lacks in resources.
Because this part of 25th avenue is unimproved, it's not on the priority list for upkeep by the City. And that meant a patch of the road just below the sloped parking lot of the Mittleman Jewish Community Center was rife with issues.
For one, the path was overrun with wild, persistent species like blackberry bushes. Also, front yards downhill from the center often flooded because of runoff from Mittleman's unabsorbant, asphalt parking lot.
Wall never imagined that her request to revitalize an 800-foot stretch of roadside would lead her on a frustrating journey through city bureacracy, not to mention countless pages of grant writing, community organizing and door knocking.
"I was just going to plant the first 116-foot-by-10-foot section," she said. "But then when I saw an Orthodox Jewish family planting next to two Muslim teenagers who were planting next to a Reed College professor planting next to a 6-year-old from Stephens Creek, I was like, 'Hmm this was not forced. These people all are interested in this trail.'"
The 25th Avenue project brought together a number of communities that might not otherwise have interacted, all with the goal of beautifying a path they use often. The trail is a designated Safe Route to School, taking students who live at Stephens Creek Crossing to Robert Gray Middle School. It also takes Jewish families to Mittleman and offers a more direct route to Hillsdale Park and Hillsdale Center.
Wall says the importance of the path to multiple communities inspired her, and it has helped keep interest in the project alive.
Though this is the first project of its kind that Wall has taken on, you'd think she was a seasoned pro. Those Wall has encountered while working on the project note her enthusiasm, and one referred to her as the "energizer bunny." It's easy to see why.
To gain liability support and a network of volunteers, Wall became a leader with SOLVE, an organization that works on eco-friendly restoration projects. She's penned a half dozen or so grant proposals, and says City officials, including members of the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), did offer her avenues to obtain grant monies to work on the project herself and connected her to professional contractors for harder cleanup projects.
She obtained a $8,000 Community Watership Stewardship grant and a Mini Plant grant from BES, and has since also received funds from Southwest Neighborhoods Inc., The Hillsdale Foundation and the Portland Garden Club.
Since last October, Wall has thrown a series of work parties involving 125 community volunteers and some eager fourth-graders from Portland Jewish Academy. They excavated an incidious, overgrown blackberry bush and a number of other invasive species along the first section of trail, planting native species in their place. She hopes the native plants, which tend to have a healthier root system than invasives, will sop up water to help prevent flooding.
But those work parties marked just the beginning.
Next, Wall tackled the flooding issues in the yards below Mittleman's parking lot. She helped build a small depressed reservior for water to flow more easily to culverts leading to Fanno Creek.
Tim Mulligan, who lives at one of the houses where yards were flooded by stormwater, says he's appreciated Wall's spirited work on the project.
"She deserves a big pat on the back, because she knows how to convince people to help without twisting their arms," he said. "She knows how to motivate."
Though Wall sees work like this as new for her, she's been motivated for a long time to get involved. An occupational therapist for 40 years, she has protested the Vietnam War, sponsored children in Ethiopia and was one of the first households in Portland to become a hybrid solar home.
"I guess I am an activist," Wall said. "I just never really saw myself as one until now."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the type of solar home Andrea Wall occupies.