In Milwaukie, Metro helps a riverfront renewal come to life
COURTESY CITY OF MILWAUKIE
Nestled along Milwaukie’s riverfront, the Klein Point overlook will provide a unique vantage point on the mouth of Johnson Creek.
Reinvigorating Milwaukie's waterfront has been a public priority for nearly half a century. After dedication and money from local governments and nonprofits, both residents and salmon will have reason to come and stay a while.
Renderings of manmade water features, a floating dock and paved trails offer a promising future for Milwaukie Riverfront Park – now home to parking lots, a boat ramp and a smattering of trees.
"Right now you can drive to the riverfront, stay in your car and look at the river. Or you can launch a boat," said JoAnn Herrigel, community services director for the city. "There's just not much to do."
The city envisions a walkable park with benches, event space and picnic areas for the 8.5 acres sandwiched between the Willamette River and McLoughlin Boulevard. Local firm David Evans and Associates laid out a four-phase design plan that stresses recreational, environmental and educational components.
Officials hope that completing phase one will feed interest – and funds – into the project. Thanks in part to an investment grant of $225,000 from Metro's Nature in Neighborhoods program, progress is under way.
PHOTO: KYUNG LEE
Milwaukie community services director JoAnn Herrigel talks about the city's riverfront improvement project, which is funded in part through Metro's Nature in Neighborhoods program.
Approved by voters across the region as part of a 2006 natural areas bond measure, the Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants program funds land acquisition, restoration, neighborhood livability and urban transformation projects with a focus on helping nature thrive in urban areas.
Combining efforts, the City of Milwaukie and the Johnson Creek Watershed Council saw the riverfront project as an opportunity to collaborate. Both want to create recreation space while being sensitive to the location, a plot of land bordered to the north by Johnson Creek and to the south by Kellogg Creek. The streams are hubs of activity for salmon seeking refuge from the warmer Willamette River.
Robin Jenkinson, restoration coordinator for the watershed council, uses the site for school field trips to talk about water conditions and the species that call Johnson and Kellogg creeks home.
"As an urban watershed council, at least half of our projects include an education and outreach component," she said. "It's an important place for people to connect and learn about our streams."
Using money from Metro, along with various matches, the groups oversaw the meticulous construction of log jams at the mouth of Johnson Creek, as well as a stone riffle over an exposed sewer pipe. Crews secured 150 massive logs to provide fish habitat, and the riffle eases their migration upstream.
Jenkinson said the features have been on the organization's wish list for years and may improve fish counts, which are increasing but still very low. Last year, three coho salmon were found about 15 miles upstream in Johnson Creek – the farthest they've been spotted in more than a decade.
"And this past Saturday, one of our volunteer survey teams found coho in Gresham and Crystal Springs, so we know that there are salmon passing through our streams," added Jenkinson.
In the coming months, crews will complete the final piece of phase one at Riverfront Park: a curving concrete path that ends in an overlook of the mouth of Johnson Creek. The overlook will be partially shaded by a 200-year-old Oregon white oak tree, and interpretive signs will help explain the vital role Johnson Creek plays for salmon. Construction is set for this summer.
Herrigel called the riverfront project her biggest task at the city. She is one of many in the community counting on the redesign to revive the waterfront and reflect the city's vibrancy.
"What we're creating is a recreational endpoint so that people can walk, bike or drive. Once they're here, they can actually interact with music and performances, enjoy the play area and picnic grounds, sit on benches and read interpretive signs," she said.
It's a tall order for a site that is now a blank slate – or empty parking lot. But Herrigel is optimistic, promising "We're going to turn passive recreation into active recreation."