Kathryn Harrington is a member of the Metro Council representing District 4 which represents Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Cornelius and parts of Beaverton, and unincorporated Washington County.

On May 21, our region voted in favor of clean water, clean air and healthy habitats. By approving a local option levy to care for your region’s growing portfolio of natural areas and regional parks, voters chose to protect some of your most valuable natural resources for future generations. This levy will make investments in most of the 16,000 acres Metro oversees across the region — including many sites in Washington County.

Oregonians can be proud of the rivers, streams, forests and marshes they’re protecting. Sure, we are blessed with spectacular natural resources, but it’s not just luck that we can still enjoy them today. It’s the direct result of voters passing two bond measures during the last two decades to purchase sensitive habitat before it was lost to development. These bond measures have protected the mosaic of habitats at Cooper Mountain Nature Park, the elusive marsh birds of Killin Wetlands and the expansive forests of Chehalem Ridge Natural Area, to name just a few places.

Now, with passage of Measure 26-152, our region has committed to giving this land the attention it needs to thrive. We will fight back weeds and plant native trees and shrubs; upgrade our developed parks and improve some wild spaces so people can safely enjoy them; and expand opportunities to volunteer, learn about the outdoors and apply for community nature grants. These projects will enhance the quality of our drinking water and protect many rare plants and animals. They will also reduce long-term costs of caring for the land, much like a homeowner replacing an aging sewer line, rusty pipes or drafty windows.

In several weeks, Metro’s chief operating officer will authorize a detailed annual work plan for each area receiving funding from the levy, and the Metro Council will approve a budget for the first year of levy expenses. Each year, a report will be published outlining accomplishments and costs. You made these projects happen, and you’re investing 9.6 cents for every $1,000 of assessed home value to pay for them — you deserve to see the results.

Although the work plan is still being developed, I can give you a sneak preview of the exciting changes coming to the west side of the region in 2014 and beyond. New overflow parking will accommodate crowds at Cooper Mountain on beautiful summer weekends. At Killin Wetlands, restoration will improve habitat for birds, while parking and other modest upgrades will improve safety for the people who come to enjoy them. We will continue restoring the Chehalem Ridge Natural Area to create a healthy, mature forest that supports diverse plants and wildlife. And, in a couple of years, we’ll look at simple amenities that would allow us to welcome visitors there. Restoration will also ramp up at natural areas along Gales Creek and the confluence of Dairy and McKay creeks, enhancing the health of the Tualatin River floodplain.

The levy will also support community-driven efforts to restore nature close to home. I’m eager to see new projects in Washington County receive funding from our expanding “Nature in Neighborhoods” restoration and enhancement grant program. I know there are innovative ideas brewing in your hearts and heads that simply need some seed money to get started.

During the next five years, your regional natural areas and parks will get healthier, and you’ll have more opportunities to explore them. But the benefits of the May 21 election go beyond nature itself. We know natural areas and parks increase home values. We know they attract businesses to the region. And we know they give us a sense of identity here in Oregon. So next time you take a stroll along a stream or ride your bike down a country road, give yourself a little credit for protecting these beautiful places.

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