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Find your wild in Cascade Locks

September 3 2014

Some wild areas refuse to be tamed. Cascade Locks, a small, quiet city nestled in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, is one: a place where even the mighty Columbia River bowed to the forces of nature.

What many in The Intertwine don’t realize is just how close they are to Cascade Locks, home of the massive landslides that, ​one thousand years ago, stopped the river temporarily to create a “Bridge of the Gods.”

Native American legend has it that with this land bridge, the gods could cross the river without getting their feet wet (because no one likes wet feet, apparently).

Native Americans have gathered at Cascade Locks for thousands of years, and the Warm Springs, Yakama, Nez Perce, and Umatilla treaty tribes are still very active and influential in the region. But now a new group is showing up: outdoor recreation fans drawn -- by design -- to the wild nature of Cascade Locks.

In 2011, the City of Cascade Locks adopted a vision statement ​and economic development strategy ​aimed at balancing recreation with commercial and industrial business development. In 2012, a recreational trails plan called “Connect Cascade Locks” was put into action, with recommendations ranging from wayfinding signage and bike racks to fostering a locally-based trail stewardship group that could help build and maintain new trails in partnership with the US Forest Service.

It’s no wonder that Cascade Locks sees new value in its proximity to the wild. Multiple hiking trails converge right here, including the legendary Pacific Crest Trail, which drops four thousand vertical feet over nine miles to cross the Columbia River at the iconic steel Bridge of the Gods, built in 1920. ​There’s also a growing system of nearby mountain bike trails, which now host events like the Short Track Mountain Bike Championships, Dimwits With Bright Lights Night Rides, and Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day.

For those seeking smoother terrain, the newly restored nearby Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail conducts bikers and walkers from Troutdale to Cascade Locks without using Interstate 84.

And now, in close partnership with The Columbia Gorge Racing Association, Cascade Locks has transformed itself into one of the top sailing locations in North America, promoting world-class regattas and clinics for small boat sailing.  

With the addition of a series of new water trails ranging from beginner to expert, kayakers and paddlers can now weave their way through protected coves, secluded lakes, or through the challenging whirlpools and eddies of the original locks.

Outdoor recreation is already paying off here, with new businesses including a waterfront brewery as well as a fresh fish market run by a local family from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Other businesses are expanding, from an ice cream stand to a restored ale house and the famous Charburger Restaurant.

And some of the plan's more ambitious features are just about to set sail.

“One of our most ambitious projects is the proposed riverfront beach expansion,” said Holly Howell of the Port of Cascade Locks.

“For the past five years we have worked with the Army Corps of Engineers,  Oregon Department of State Lands, the four Columbia River Treaty Tribes, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission to design and develop a beach that will increase recreation and tribal fishing access while improving natural habitat,” Howell added.

After a day kayaking and standup paddling on the river, one recent visitor to Cascade Locks -- Moses Winston of New Mexico -- sat down at Thunder Island Brewing, the new microbrewery, and offered this apt toast to the setting sun:

“Find your wild, refuse to be tamed, come to Cascade Locks.”



Bob Weinman is a coordinator with the office of Economic and Workforce Development at Mt Hood Community College. A resident of Hood River, Oregon, Bob is also an avid outdoor enthusiast in paddling, hiking and sailing and finds Cascade Locks one of the new hidden treasures of the Pacific Northwest for outdoor recreation.

Oregon's Watershed Moment

Secure state funding means OWEB is ready for big-picture thinking

May 21 2014

In 2010, Oregon voters in every county passed Ballot Measure 76, which made permanent in the state Constitution a 7.5 percent dedication of lottery funds for watershed conservation across the state.

This overwhelming  support — coming from 69 percent of voters — means that the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) can continue to fund local volunteer efforts to keep Oregon’s water clean and habitats healthy.

Since 1999, OWEB has awarded nearly 7,000 grants and over $500 million dollars to support local efforts to restore and conserve land and water for future generations. 

The range of OWEB grants can vary from small projects that support students to remove invasive weeds and plant native species to larger projects that remove dams or relocate river channels to more natural conditions.

So why talk about OWEB now? Because, with our future more secure, we’re positioned for some big-picture thinking. How does a long-term conservation funder define success?  Which agency priorities and policies need updating? And how can we best partner with others to achieve ecological outcomes here in Oregon that would otherwise be unattainable?

With these questions in mind, OWEB engaged stakeholders and sought input from the public in a series of listening sessions held around the state.  This feedback helped inform OWEB’s Long Term Investment Strategy Framework, which was adopted last year.  The Framework guides OWEB’s investments by building on past accomplishments and pointing in new directions.

We take particular inspiration from initiatives like the Deschutes Special Investment Partnership, a collaboration of four local nonprofit organizations to improve habitat for salmon reintroduction on the Crooked, Metolius, and Whychus rivers. 

OWEB has supported the Deschutes partnership since 2008, and its accomplishments are impressive.  The success of this partnership, and others like it, has led OWEB to create a new program, which we call “focused investment partnerships,” that promote landscape-scale collaboration to achieve prioritized outcomes.

To develop our Focused Investment Program, OWEB will first adopt priorities to inform where future focused investments occur.  The process for identifying priorities will begin in late summer by requesting written input from organizations throughout the state.  Following an extensive public input and feedback process, I anticipate OWEB will adopt focused investment priorities by April 2015.  Following that, OWEB will consider specific partnership proposals within the selected priorities for the 2015-2017 biennium.

This past January, OWEB held its quarterly meeting in Portland, where partners from the Intertwine Alliance briefed us on an impressive array of activities underway in the area. The Intertwine Alliance, with its Regional Conservation Strategy and Collective Impact approach, is already demonstrating the type of large-landscape collaboration that we've seen succeed.  

With the excellent groundwork that you have already accomplished as a coalition, your region should be well positioned to inform the development of our Focused Investment Program.


Tom Byler is the Executive Director of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB). A fifth-generation Oregonian born and raised in Northeast Oregon, Tom is serving his third four-year term at OWEB. He lives in Salem with his wife, three kids and dog.

Pass or fail?

Portland's new Watershed Report Cards

October 5 2015

When you’re out walking, paddling, bird watching and otherwise enjoying The Intertwine, you probably notice some amazing natural gems, as well as some signals that all is not well with nature in our urban environment.

For example, the Willamette River in Portland is now safe for recreation most of the year. Osprey, eagles and herons soar right through downtown. On the other hand, this summer we saw Chinook salmon dying in the river’s warm water.

Our region’s parks and natural areas are some of the best in the nation, and Portland ranks as a Top City for Wildlife. But a local bird, the streaked horned lark, recently made the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Do you ever find yourself wondering how it all adds up? How would the Willamette River or Tryon Creek rate on a grade scale? 

This year, the City of Portland launched its first set of Watershed Report Cards. The goal is to take reams of complicated scientific data and roll it into at-a-glance grades that can help Portlanders understand current conditions in their local watersheds.

We’ve long had local goals and policies -- and strong public advocacy -- for our rivers and streams. Healthy watersheds are good for people, fish and wildlife. With Watershed Report Cards, we now have a better way to show where we are in meeting those goals, to track changes in watershed conditions over time, and to inform conversations about where we want to go as a community.

The City of Portland and many of our partners have been monitoring and tracking things like water quality, tree canopy and fish populations for many years. But, we had different types of information for different areas and purposes, making it hard to compare data over time and across the city. In 2010, Portland started a new citywide monitoring program with a consistent, efficient and cost-savings approach to measuring and tracking watershed conditions. Information from this monitoring is behind many of the grades in the new report cards.

Portland is not alone in this effort. Watershed report cards are an increasingly common tool used by cities and regions to communicate with the public and policy makers. Report cards, indices and other types of “dashboards” can help illustrate complex environmental issues, what’s working, and where we need to do more. Chesapeake Bay and Ontario, Canada are using watershed report cards. Puget Sound has a Vital Signs dashboard. An initial report card is underway for the Mississippi River. Here in Oregon, the Willamette River Initiative is creating a report card for the entire Willamette River, slated for release later this year.

Just like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or your 5th grader’s report card, watershed report cards and indices aren’t perfect. They don’t tell the whole story. But, they’re one way to help spur the conversation. The grades in Portland’s Watershed Report Cards tell us where we are now and give us a baseline to track against in future years. Although we don’t yet have trend data for multiple years, we can compare the information to other historical data sources and see where we’ve already made progress —nitrogen levels in the Willamette River and Columbia Slough, for example.

The report cards can help inform local policies, and help Portlanders understand where actions like planting trees and reducing the use of pesticides fit in. The report cards also support work with our partners in the region. After all, every one of “Portland’s” watersheds crosses boundaries into neighboring cities and counties.

Some highlights from the initial report cards: 

Like trails, streams need to be connected. Stream connectivity grades range from Bs to a D. Portland has nearly 300 miles of rivers and streams in the city, but they’re not all connected and flowing freely. Some, like Johnson Creek and its tributaries, receive relatively good scores for connectivity. However, many streams that used to flow to the Willamette River from the city’s buttes and hills now run through pipes and culverts to reach the river, or they’re buried under development and largely lost, like Tanner Creek.

Daylighting streams where we can – like at Spring Garden Park – and reconnecting streams to their floodplains, like at Foster Floodplain Natural Area, help restore natural systems, improve water quality, and reduce flood impacts on property.

We’ve come a long way on water quality, and we have a long way still to go. Overall water quality grades are “fair” across most watersheds, but certain individual indicators have very good scores and others have very poor scores. Portland conquered a major challenge, controlling combined sewer overflows, that many cities are just starting to tackle. E. coli bacteria and nitrogen grades get As in the Willamette River and Columbia Slough largely as a result of this work and efforts to move away from septic systems.

However, pollution from homes, businesses and streets continues to be a problem for all of Portland’s streams and rivers. Stormwater runoff that carries pollutants like copper from car brakes and sediment into streams is our challenge now. This requires ongoing public investment in our stormwater infrastructure, as well as actions by individual Portlanders. Water temperature and mercury are also significant problems, with regional and global causes. Some of these pollutants don’t impact human contact with the water, but are bad for migratory salmon, the food chain, and for people who rely on resident fish to feed their families.

We have some great habitat in Portland, but sometimes fish and wildlife can’t get to it. Grades for habitat run the gamut, depending on the watershed, but grades for fish and wildlife are poor citywide. Gems like Forest Park, Smith and Bybee Lakes and Crystal Springs Creek are anchors of our local ecosystem. They support clean water and diverse fish and wildlife in the city, not to mention great recreation opportunities. But, culverts block migratory salmon from some of the best stream habitat, like Tryon Creek. Stream and riverbanks are armored with concrete or missing buffers of plants and trees. Factors like this make it hard for native fish and wildlife to thrive.

Removing or replacing culverts with modern designs (like at Crystal Springs), planting trees in neighborhoods and along stream banks, and protecting habitat connections through developed areas are actions that will help improve these grades.

New information about Portland’s Watershed Report Cards will be available periodically on our website: www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/ReportCards. You can keep up on city projects and community events for watershed health on the CityGreen Blog and on Facebook @CityGreenPortland.

Sara Culp works at Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services, where she coordinates special projects, planning and budgeting for green infrastructure and watershed restoration. She previously worked in housing and environmental policy in the office of Mayor Tom Potter and at the Portland Development Commission. She’s always looking for tips on how to get a rambunctious Alaskan Malamute to sit in a canoe.

Swim party with a purpose

River Huggers advocate for quality time in the Willamette

June 10 2015

In my role as Willamette River evangelist and Ringleader of the not-for-profit organization Human Access Project, I sometimes feel like the Kevin Bacon character in the movie Footloose. But instead of trying to take the shame out of dancing and turning it into a love of artistic expression, I am coaxing Portland at large to drop what is frequently a feeling of shame about the Willamette River, and to dive right in. 

There is a lot of work ahead to restore the full ecological health of the Willamette River. But today we can celebrate how far we have come by swimming and recreating in the river that flows right through the middle of our city. It is time to forgo the negativity many people feel from past abuses humans have afflicted on the Willamette River – and to embrace, cherish and celebrate the therapeutic values our river can uniquely provide. The times and tide have turned!  

One of my favorite things is prodding Portland residents to do even cursory internet research on this topic. They soon discover that science now acknowledges the Willamette River as safe for human recreation in downtown Portland. (This according to the EPA, DEQ, City of Portland and Oregon Health Authority. See Human Access Project's round-up on the topic.) NO, the Willamette River downtown will not kill you or harm you in any way! It’s a fact. 

While much remains to be done to protect the fish and wildlife that share the river with us, including salmon that pass through during their migration, we humans at least are safe to recreate in the river. Issues like cleaning up the city’s Superfund site should be a huge priority, to offer the same protection for the critters that rely on the river. My hat’s off to groups dedicated to this objective, including Willamette Riverkeeper, the Audubon Society of Portland and many others.

That said, I have no shame for my love of the Willamette River, or for my starry-eyed optimism about what I consider the inevitable transformation of our community as it slowly but surely embraces it. Witnessing this transformation will be magical. I want to see it in my lifetime. Helping people “get into” the Willamette River will do more than provide therapeutic value and enjoyment for our community. It will create river stewards who are willing to get actively involved in other efforts to protect and restore the Willamette River and improve its ecological health. 

To engage individuals and extend our reach in the community, last summer the Human Access Project launched the River Hugger Swim Team. The goal is to embrace the river as we swim across it, east side to west side, and back. It’s about a 20-minute, ¼-mile swim across each way – a piece of cake for intermediate and better swimmers. We’re an advocacy swim group that meets three days a week, all summer long, during morning rush hour (at 7 a.m.) to demonstrate that the Willamette River is safe and fun to swim in, at least for we humans. 

Please consider joining us this summer! Our first swim is next Monday, June 15. We say, why not make a statement and get some exercise before work? What’s not to like about that? Plus, no flip turns!

Our River Hugger group started in spring 2014 with 12 people and one safety kayaker. By the last swim of the summer, our group had grown to 38 people with three safety kayakers. Overall, 80 individuals took part at some point during the season. We designed and produced our own River Hugger swim caps, and gained attention while building a new community of river activists.  

Each swim starts with a brief safety talk. We ask that everyone swim closely together in a pod so it is easier for the safety kayakers to keep an eye on each swimmer. It is also more impactful and visually dramatic when seen by commuters crossing over the Hawthorne Bridge. Sometimes team members swim only one length across, and walk back. If people are having trouble keeping up with the pod, and are intermediate level swimmers, we suggest they wear fins. (There is no shame in fins, and the extra propulsion is fun.)  

We are hopeful that the River Hugger Swim Team will become another tool to help the Portland community overcome its fear and negative feelings about the Willamette River and to make a commitment to addressing much needed additional protections and ecological restoration.  

Human Access Project has a slate of other mischief up our sleeves this summer, so stay tuned. Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars for The Big Float V set for July 26. It’s our fifth anniversary, and we are shooting for 3,000 to 4,000 floaters to join the flotilla. 

The floodgates to the future are open. Get on board, and get into your river!


River Hugger Swim Team
Runs: 6/15 to 9/15, every Mon, Wed, Fri, from 7 to 7:45 a.m.
Cost: $3 per swim, or $50 for the season. Fees pay for the safety boats.
Location: Meet at Fire Station 21, at 05 SE Madison, Portland.   
What: Fun, advocacy swim

The Big Float V
Date: Sunday, July 26, 2015
Cost: Adults $5 until 7/19, $8 after, $10 day of. Children $3 until 7/19, $4 after, $5 day of.
What: Group innertube float on the Willamette River

First Annual Portland Beach Bash and Clean Up
Date: Saturday, June 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Meet at Tom McCall Bowl, on the west bank just south of the Hawthorne Bridge.
What:  Beach clean-up, music, food, drink, swag. Presented by Human Access Project and SOLVE.
Register here: http://www.solveoregon.org/get-involved/events/portland-beach-bash-and-cleanup


Willie Levenson is Ringleader of the not-for-profit organization Human Access Project (HAP), whose mission is to transform Portland’s relationship with the Willamette River - and help people "get into their river."  To that end, in addition to the River Hugger Swim Team, HAP puts on The Big Float, an annual celebration on the Willamette River that draws thousands of participants. HAP has removed riprap and concrete to reveal three downtown beaches, giving people access to the water’s edge, where the magic happens. Willie’s advocacy has been strongly influenced by his time living in Radford, Virginia, and Boise, Idaho – two communities that LOVE their rivers.

Meeting Johnson Creek

Connected green space, coho & community spirit

April 1 2015

For the past century, cities have been built to encourage automobile traffic. This model generally excludes green spaces, which are so vital for our mental health and spiritual well-being. What I find so thrilling about the Portland area—and the work of The Intertwine partners in particular—is using green space as the basis for building a new transportation paradigm for non-motorized travel.

I’ve lived in several cities and have found that parks and trails are something you use your auto—rather than your legs—to reach. Many cities are desperately seeking solutions to change this transportation paradigm, and Portland is leading the way. I’m excited to be part of that.

When I moved here recently to take my job with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, which I started in February, I came from the rural Applegate Valley in southern Oregon. Walking out my back door into the woods, and running or hiking trails, is part of who I am. So is stream and forest restoration, my career for the past 24 years. I am relieved that green spaces are still close by.

It comes as a welcome surprise, then, that the focus of my new work—Johnson Creek—lies in such an important green-space corridor. Paralleling and crossing the pedestrian/bicyclist Springwater Corridor for so many miles, this stream connects such green gems as the Tideman-Johnson Natural Area, Brookside and Beggars Tick wetlands, and Powell Butte Nature Park.  Take a detour on the Gresham-Fairview Trail and you’ll pass through and by several more parks. The beauty of this network is how far you can travel without a combustion engine and still be in green space.

In the past 20 years, millions of dollars have been invested in restoration of the Johnson Creek stream network and its riparian forest. The results are evident. For such an urbanized watershed, Johnson Creek is unique in our area in serving as a spawning ground for threatened coho salmon. Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and cutthroat trout also spawn here. Beaver build dams in Johnson Creek.  

Perhaps the biggest challenge for fish that spawn in our watershed is swimming through culverts. In a recent surveying project, our Council documented that 202 of 273 stream crossings interfered with fish migration. One of the top priorities in our new 10-year action plan is to address some of these fish passage issues. For me, one of the most thrilling streamside experiences is to watch salmon spawn. We’d like more people to have that experience. 

There’s a palpable excitement and spirit of volunteerism in our metro area around participating in this restoration effort. Last year, more than 1,300 individuals volunteered to plant trees, remove invasive vegetation, monitor stream conditions and clean up garbage in the Johnson Creek stream corridor through our Council’s projects. To me, this groundswell speaks not only to the hunger to be around healthy natural areas, but to be part of a community that shares these values, as well.

Through an existing bond measure, new green-space acquisitions continue all over our area. Johnson Creek has certainly benefited! I’m excited and proud to be part of such a large and cooperative effort to restore streams and green spaces in the Johnson Creek Watershed. I look forward to exploring them.

Daniel Newberry is the executive director of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council. He moved to Oregon in 1993 after earning a master’s degree in forest science, concentrating in forest hydrology and watershed management. He has also served as the executive director of the Applegate River Watershed Council and the Siskiyou Field Institute, and has worked as a tribal and federal hydrologist, and as a consultant.

Follow the birds to Jackson Bottom

Head west from Portland for one wild and wonderful watershed

November 5 2014

Drive west from Portland on Highway 26, and you cross over a local mountain range that most people have never heard of: the Tualatin Mountains. You may be surprised to learn that your westbound journey is also taking you into the Tualatin River Valley watershed. “What?” you say. “I thought I was in Beaverton, headed for Hillsboro.”

The Tualatin River watershed practically defines Washington County’s 700 square miles. To most drivers on Highway 26, the Tualatin River itself goes undetected, if not all together unsuspected. But observant and inquiring minds might notice the horizon and wonder, “What happens to rain falling on the Coast Range, the Chehalem and Parrett ridges, and the Tualatin Mountains?” From there it doesn’t take much to imagine that there might be interesting sights to see and stories to learn about this watershed.

For most of its 83 miles, the Tualatin is a lazy, looping river that drops just over 200 feet in elevation between Forest Grove and its terminus at the Willamette River.

This shallow gradient creates a wide floodplain that has attracted humans and wildlife since the last Ice Age flood inundated the valley. Over half a million people now call the Tualatin Valley home. It is forested and farmed, homesteaded and housing developed, citified and industrialized. Yet, if you know where to look, you can still find a sense of place that might have been experienced by the native Atfalati, the area’s first residents. And, it may well be the birds that help you find it.

Strung along the course of the river like beckoning jewels are three Important Bird Areas that provide critical habitat to wintering waterfowl. Finding them is easy enough if you are a migratory waterfowl, but if you are a driver or biker you’d do well to follow highways 99W, 219 or 47 south until crossing the Tualatin. There you’ll find the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (on 99W in Sherwood), Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve (on 219 in Hillsboro), and Fernhill Wetlands (on 47 in Forest Grove).

Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve is owned and managed by the City of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department. Its 635 acres are part of almost 3,000 acres of undeveloped riparian, wetland and agricultural habitat along the river. During the dry season you can explore the four miles of walking trails from dawn to dusk; the river overflows in winter and floods much of the preserve. All year round, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., volunteers welcome you to the education building with a nature store, classroom, office space, pollinator garden, demonstration garden and natural history displays — including an actual bald eagle nest.

If it's been a number of years since your last visit, you will be surprised by all the habitat changes. Several hundred acres of reed canary grass have been restored to willow, Wapato, rushes, sedges and other native plants. Restoration is ongoing, with opportunities to participate in plantings several times a year. 

Educational programming serves over 5,000 visiting school children, and another 1,000 are reached by traveling programs. Community and adult education programming is increasing with the recent addition of a Nature Program Supervisor to the Jackson Bottom staff. 

Keep in touch with upcoming programming by checking the Intertwine calendar of events, the City of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation calendar, or, better yet, by coming out for a visit to the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve.


Steve Engel is the Nature Program Supervisor at the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, a facility of the City of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation department. He is a naturalist, educator, songwriter, animal tracker, field biologist kind of guy who enjoys helping people learn about the natural world.

A River Runs Through Us

A podcast series aims to chart a forward course for Willamette restoration

October 1 2014

With credit and a humble apology, I take the title of Norman Maclean’s book A River Runs Through It and strive to make it more personal and inclusive by replacing “It” with “Us.”

For we, the people who now call Oregon home, should have a personal relationship with the many river arteries that run through our state: the Deschutes, John Day, Klamath, Malheur, Columbia, Trask, Pudding, Wilson -- the list goes on.

But no river has been altered, used, abused, and loved like the Willamette.

Call it the happenstance of human migration, the mistakes of our mothers and fathers, progress, or opportunity; this river, which many of us see each day, has defined where we live.

What the Willamette has seen; from the earliest human settlements thousands of years ago, to the massive and repeated Missoula Floods, where the depth of water rose up to what is now the highest floors of our Portland bank towers, to the commerce and recreation of the recent past -- this river was and does shape our lives.

As the Willamette Valley changed, so did the river. Where once grasslands, oak savannas, meanders and floodplains made for a natural balance of nature, our river has now has been “tamed” into a channel.

Over the “modern” years, it has been used as a garbage dump, toilet, a place where “out of sight, out of mind” was the operating procedure, manifested by either letting waste materials leach into the soils adjacent to the waterway, or by simply pouring it directly into the water.

Such was the accepted practice for almost 100 years.

We have used the Willamette for commerce, manufacturing, ship-building, industry and recreation. Yet for centuries, this river was a major source of life giving food and materials to the Native Americans. You can see where the uses conflicted with one another.

Which brings us to where we are now. How do we rectify past abuses that stemmed from industrial progress? How do we go forward?

There is hope. Tribal Nations, environmental and recreational organizations, large and small companies, government agencies and neighbors -- all share a common goal: to bring the lower Willamette back to a healthy state.

We know that we will never be able to rewind history and arrive at where the river was before we came here. But, working together, we can create a new legacy where past ills are identified, worked on, and corrected.

For over 18 years, I had the honor of serving Oregon as the executive director of Governor Tom McCall’s non-profit organization, SOLVE.

One of my favorite quotes of all time came from this remarkable lover of his adopted state. Tom McCall proclaimed, “Heroes are not giant statues, framed against a red sky. They are people who say, “this is my community and it is my responsibility to make it better.”

And so, I extend a heartfelt invitation to become a hero for your Oregon.

In 2013, I was approached by the Port of Portland to be involved in an ambitious, public undertaking. It was not only to help tell the story of the Willamette, but also to engage us, the people, in an effort to become aware and take part in this process of restoration by creating a series of podcasts. Together, we interviewed over 40 representatives associated with the river in some way. The series -- called "One River, Many Voices" -- is now available free on iTunes.

For me, this has been and continues to be a personal, educational journey. Now, it's my hope that you will take an opportunity to listen to the series and get involved as the remediation process progresses. We owe it to our families, our neighbors and ourselves to become part of the Willamette's next chapter.

From 1990 to 2008, Jack McGowan was Executive Director of SOLVE, a coastal beach cleanup which has now spread to over 100 foreign countries. Over the past five decades, he has worked as an on-air radio and television host, assistant to Portland Mayor J.E. Bud Clark, producer of the Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz, and Public Relations Director for the Oregon Zoo. In 2013, the Port of Portland asked Jack to create the podcast series "One River, Many Voices," which interviews over 40 representatives with a stake in the restoration of the Willamette River.

Battle over Bull Run

Drowned out by Measure 26-156 hype: the green programs Portland voters could lose

May 14 2014

On May 20th, Portland voters decide the fate of the City’s Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES).

Will we transfer control of these agencies — and the $15 billion in public assets that they manage — to the future board members of a new, independent water district?

Or will we say “no” to Measure 26-156, as eleven Intertwine Alliance partners urge you to do?

For months, local media have rained down coverage on the Measure: profiling its backers, which include the city’s major water users; asking if the proposed public district would cause water bills to rise or fall; examining the initiative’s language, which could exclude parts of east Portland from voting in the new district’s board, and also prohibit many qualified experts from serving.

But less covered in the pre-election hubbub are moves the Measure's backers have made against city environmental programs — programs voters could lose if oversight of Portland’s Water Bureau and BES is wrested from City Hall.

We asked a few of our partners which Water Bureau/BES program they’d champion. Here’s what they had to say:

What valuable —​ and possibly threatened —​ City of Portland program should voters keep in mind when deciding on Measure 26-156?

“Innovative community greening efforts championed by BES — such as tree planting, rain gardens, green space preservation, and the removal of under-utilized pavement — safeguard clean water, help revitalize neighborhoods, and protect public investment in our storm drain network.”  - Eric Rosewall, Depave
“BES's Urban Tree Canopy Program has planted (with Friends of Trees, Verde and other partners) tens of thousands of street trees in the past six years.  These street trees are an important part of green infrastructure that are threatened by Measure 26-156.” - Brighton West, Friends of Trees
“BES’s Tabor to the River Program cleans stormwater before it enters the Willamette, soaks up carbon pollution, and beautifies our city, while saving taxpayers $63 million.” - Jenna Garmon, Northwest Biocarbon Initiative
“The City’s tree planting programs provide countless benefits for our community and environment. They provide clean air, help reduce stormwater runoff, create habitat for wildlife, add economic value to property owners and provide green jobs for locals.”  - Micah Meskel, Portland Audubon
“The Water Bureau's habitat restoration programs in the Sandy River and Bull Run -- which are key to a multi-partner recovery effort for endangered wild salmon and steelhead -- and the BES Grey to Green sustainable stormwater initiatives, which deliver so many benefits, including reducing Willamette runoff and saving ratepayer money.”  - Steve Wise, Sandy River Watershed Basin Council

Through storytelling outlets like Outside Voice and the 2013 Our Common Ground Report, Writer & Editor Ramona DeNies uses her words to raise awareness of The Alliance’s 100+ partners and their work to build and enhance The Intertwine Alliance. A freelance journalist and former nonprofit Executive Director, Ramona has called Oregon home since 2001.

Unlocking Willamette Falls

Off-limits for 150 years, our largest waterfall will soon be just steps away

April 16 2014

For the past year, I’ve been the project manager for the Walker Macy consultant team on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. This has easily been the most rewarding project of my career.

Why is this project so meaningful to me, my team, and our many incredibly committed public partners? Because of what it represents for our region and state: for the first time in 150 years, Oregonians will have the opportunity to rediscover the cultural and scenic treasure that is Willamette Falls.

We believe the project site, the 22-acre former Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City, could someday serve as an economic engine, a waterfront destination, a unique habitat, a window into Oregon’s past – and a bold step into our future.

Located right next to Willamette Falls (the largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest), this site was an important cultural and gathering place for Native American tribes long before it was a paper mill. The Oregon Trail literally ended here, with migrants collecting their land claims within sight of the roaring falls. And throughout the 1800s, the Falls made history by generating energy for Oregon’s early industries and cities and fueling the nation’s first long-distance electrical power transmission, including the power that lit the 1903 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition.

The former mill is for sale, but the site’s complexity and risks have required a careful and methodical transition to new uses. With the help of our consulting team, Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro, the State of Oregon, and the property’s bankruptcy trustee, we have been working closely over the past year to develop a vision and master plan for the site.

By rezoning and providing certainty for investors, the master plan framework defines how the area can be transformed – for economic redevelopment, healthy habitats, and historical and cultural interpretation. Throughout this year-long process, we have also taken great care to make sure the plan serves to reconnect all of you with Willamette Falls – first and most importantly, by providing for public access along the waterfront.

The Riverwalk we've proposed in the master plan would be a catalyst for economic development in Oregon City, and also enhance the site's development value by demonstrating the public’s commitment to improvements. It would attract visitors and generate momentum for continued implementation of the master plan.

And last but not least, the Riverwalk would also be an important link in The Intertwine, connecting downtown Oregon City via a rail-trail with Metro’s Canemah Bluffs Natural Area, which is also undergoing ecological restoration and public access improvements. The project's partners recently agreed to seek sources of funding to design the Riverwalk – so visible change will soon be coming to this place.

You can help shape that change, by joining our next public open house for the Vision and Master Plan on April 21st. Oregon City staff will be there to discuss the proposed plan, answer questions, and hear public feedback. This is a casual opportunity to see what’s new with the project and learn about next steps. If you are unable to attend, please visit the project’s website, where you can find a great deal of project information, and sign up for public tours.

Through my work over the past year, I've been privileged to spend countless hours exploring the waterfront by Willamette Falls, a place that's been accessible to very few people over the past century and a half.

But soon, you, like me, will have the opportunity to rediscover Willamette Falls. Believe me — it’s unforgettable.

Ken Pirie is a senior associate with Walker Macy Landscape Architects in Portland, and the coauthor of the book Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places. Originally from Quebec, via Scotland, Ken works on urban design and master planning projects, teaches graduate classes in planning at Portland State University, and is a member of the Terrain.org editorial board.

Intertwine without borders

Clark County: part of the natural habitat of the Intertwine human

February 19 2014

Oregon and Washington – when it comes to things like bridges, taxes, political agendas and just plain attitude, the river between us can seem insurmountable.

Some see it that way, perhaps. For others, the Columbia River is what makes us one interconnected habitat: the heart, the spine, the natural seam of The Intertwine.

We never questioned, as The Intertwine Alliance took shape, that our concept should find its geographic center along the Columbia. After all, habitat knows no borders. Animal migration and native plant dispersal aren’t curtailed by the complexities of hometown territoriality. Nor do pollutants, invasive species, and development politely observe the boundaries of governing jurisdictions.

And so we set out to launch a bi-state coalition that likewise transcended political lines on a map.

Three years later, we admit our “enlightened” approach has hit some snags, mostly of the human kind: traffic-related reluctance to cross the river, either direction, for Intertwine events, and a parallel lack of cross-state communication and cohesion.

Yes, we were beginning to feel that the human population of The Intertwine moved at the speed of a western painted turtle when it came to embracing a bi-state identity. So we decided to start building a stronger case for getting people to think less about I-5 and more about our five watersheds.

This past November, we held a listening session at the Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, inviting our Washington-side partners -- Columbia Land Trust, the Parks Foundation of Clark County, Vancouver Parks and Recreation, and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, just to name a few -- to share with us their needs and goals. We expected 20 people, but over 40 enthusiastic stakeholders showed up, making the conversation deep, rich, and relevant.

From this first meeting, we learned that our Washington partners want more unity among the many Clark County organizations focused on recreation and the environment; more support from their elected officials; and more connection with similar activities and programs across the river in Portland.

Participants like Vancouver Watersheds Alliance Executive Director Sunrise O’Mahoney shared that prior to this listening session, she often felt she’d been watching The Intertwine Alliance from the outside.

“The choices we make in Vancouver and Portland impact the entire region environmentally,” said O’Mahoney. “The more collaboration in improving the place we all live, the better.”

Now, we’re planning to expand the conversation in a larger gathering.

In late spring 2014, we hope to convene 150 Vancouver and Clark County leaders in the environmental and recreation sectors, with the goal of catalyzing the county-wide collaboration our partners seek.

But we hope this event also serves to remind Intertwine partners south of the Columbia that Vancouver and Clark County are our habitat’s other half -- and that regardless of what side of the river we live on, our actions, by nature, flow together.

If you'd like to get involved, let us know. And we’ll see all of you downriver.


David Cohen, The Intertwine Alliance's Program Manager, has close to 30 years of non-profit management and program development experience. For the four years prior to joining our team, he served as the Executive Director of the Friends of Tryon Creek, one of this region’s leading providers of innovative environmental programs focusing on children.


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