Community Habitat Enhancement Project

By JoAnn Vrilakas, Leach Education Manager

May 15, 2020

“This area is toast!” A restoration expert’s reaction to Leach Garden’s eastern five acres sounds daunting but knowing that the magical beauty of the Garden grew from the remains of a pig farm provides great hope and momentum.

A wall of himalayan blackberries – before beginning the restoration project

Blueprint Student surveying creek for macroinvertebrates

the project is first and foremost designed to provide educational and community science opportunities, with an emphasis on underserved youth and adults.

Armed with a plan, the Garden, together with a coalition of stellar partners—Johnson Creek Watershed Council, Wisdom of the Elders, the Blueprint Foundation, David Douglas High School, Lent K-8 School and the African Youth Community Organization, along with help from experts at Portland Parks and Recreation, and many dedicated volunteers—forged ahead with a multi-year project to restore the area. We’ve received funding through an Oregon Community Foundation Grant awarded to Johnson Creek Watershed Council, a City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services Community Watershed Stewardship Program Grant and a Partners in Conservation grant from East Multnomah Soil and Water awarded to Leach Botanical Garden, as well as generous support from individual donors.

David Douglas High School Students Work in Back 5 Fall 2019

Blueprint Foundation student looks at a Crawdad Fall 2019

Restoration means removing invasive species, planning for and planting native species, and then ongoing maintenance of the site. However, the project is first and foremost designed to provide educational and community science opportunities, with an emphasis on underserved youth and adults. In line with Leach Garden’s mission and values the project’s goals are to:

1. Introduce, guide, educate and train participants in the scientific method, multi-disciplinary thinking and analysis, the concept of ecosystems, the impacts of invasive vs. native species, and the restoration process.

2. Involve participants in creating and understanding the elements necessary to execute collaborative projects.

3. Nurture and train participants to become the program mentors and educators for incoming youth.

4. Create awareness and connection to this significant, restorative greenspace in outer SE Portland.

In addition to the restoration steps, we are assessing and analyzing change. In year one, we’ve spent almost 3,000 person hours out in the field: completing five plant transects to document existing vegetation, surveying for amphibians and creek macroinvertebrates, removing invasive plant species and planting native ones in the first acre. We’ve also begun the creation of a large vernal pond to provide breeding and rearing habitat for amphibians. We’ll repeat these steps over the next several years, adding adjacent acres until we’ve restored and monitored the entire site. All without the use of herbicides.

Wisdom of the Elder’s Bruce Eyster clearing blackberry and ivy in Summer 2019

Eventually, we’ll provide trails and educational signage in multiple languages for the general public to learn about habitat restoration. We hope to expand the scope of the program to include narratives in multicultural and multimedia frameworks that can be used to share the project and the Garden’s story and mission with wider audiences through theater, song, video, poetry and visual arts. Our story is deep – from the original village sites of the indigenous people who made their homes along and cared for Johnson Creek, through John and Lilla Leach who built the Manor House and the historic garden and then left it to the City of Portland, to Leach Garden Friends and the strong coalition of Garden supporters. We still create stories. This project is an invitation to the wider community to join the narrative. 


Check back for more ongoing blog posts to keep you updated on this multi-year project.

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