Late last fall, as the sun warmed the misty Southwest Portland hills, dozens of volunteers gathered in Albert Kelly Park to put plants in the ground alongside newly daylighted Restoration Creek, which was surfaced from an underground pipe by Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) in partnership with Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R). With participant ages spanning at least seven decades, the event introduced toddlers, grade school kids and their parents, and nature enthusiasts in their 20s and 30s to an older generation of volunteers, the Bridlemile Creek Stewards.
Under the leadership of Greg Schifsky, Steve Mullinax and Victor von Salza, Bridlemile Creek Stewards were a nearly constant neighborhood presence from 1998 through 2008, partnering with public agencies and private landowners to pull acres of invasives and plant native species throughout Fanno Creek tributaries.
Greg cared deeply about the natural world and helping things grow. With his death in the summer of 2017, it was only natural to dedicate the planting of this daylighted section of Restoration Creek to his memory.
Before carrying hundreds of small native plants to their color-coded spots on the banks of the newly restored creek, we got a glimpse of the future. In front of us: a creek running through boulders and downed tree trunks, bordered by bare earth that only months before had been covered by a vast expanse of mown grass. But just to the east: a healthy riparian habitat, the result of many weekends of work by Bridlemile Creek Stewards and BES crews who planted thousands of native trees and shrubs, removed large areas of invasive plants, and restored stream frontage in the park from 2003 to 2007.
That is what this will look like in a few years, the kids were told, looking upstream. Janelle St. Pierre, a PP&R natural resource ecologist, explained how the ecosystem and neighborhood would benefit from enhanced habitat for birds, amphibians, pollinators, improved water quality and reduced stormwater runoff. The plants selected for the site will help enhance the Oregon white oak and Willamette Valley Ponderosa pine community that used to be common in the area.
Hearing about the dedication of Greg and the other Bridlemile Creek Stewards set the stage for everyone to consider a personal dedication. As the planting began, Holly Pruett, a life-cycle celebrant who lives in the neighborhood, gave each participant a wooden nursery stake and a sharpie, so the greenery we put in the ground could be accompanied by a few words of intention.
What do you hope for the plants that will grow here? What do you hope for this creek?
As stacks of empty nursery pots piled up and scores of plants began to send their roots into the earth, conversations sprouted among the volunteers. Parents asked their kids what they wanted for the creek. Their responses: “I hope the animals find this place home.” “A wish for the birds.” “I love plants.” Some of the older Bridlemile Creek Stewards wrote Greg’s name on their sticks and told stories from their shared decade of community service. One young participant wrote her Nanna’s name. “Did your Nanna love the woods?” she was asked. The child nodded and agreed, “She would be proud of me.”
Passing the Generational Baton
Ten years after the heyday of the Bridlemile Creek Stewards, some members like Steve Mullinax remain active in neighborhood and parks volunteer roles. We appreciate all the good work that was done, yet feel the loss of the intensive, ongoing leadership that drove a decade of regular work parties with all the project planning, grant writing, and volunteer and agency coordination they entail. While that level of commitment is rare, the enthusiastic neighborhood participation in the November creekside planting has encouraged additional events in the spring and fall of 2018.
“Bridlemile Creek Stewards is where it all began for me,” says Steve, one of the organization's cofounders. His hands-on involvement with restoration of the creeks in his backyard led to leadership roles with the Bridlemile Neighborhood Association and with the Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc. Parks and Community Centers Committee, which he chairs. “Creek stewardship cultivated and trained a generation of activists," he says, "people that can take a broader role in community affairs.”
The impact of Steve, Victor and Greg – who is said to have requested that his epitaph read “I pull weeds!” – and the other Bridlemile Creek Stewards can be seen all over the neighborhood, and beyond. By telling their stories, and creating new opportunities for neighbors of all ages to roll up their sleeves together, a new generation of stewardship may take root.
Please join us March 3!
Join Portland Parks & Recreation and the Bridlemile Neighborhood Association on Saturday, March 3, 2018, from 9 a.m. to noon as we continue to enhance the riparian area at Albert Kelly Park. Volunteers will pull ivy and remove old fencing along the natural area. This is a family-friendly event, and all are welcome, but children must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, visit https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/article/668206, or contact Janelle St. Pierre at Janelle.St.Pierre@portlandoregon.gov.
Read more about the November 2017 event in SW Community Connection: http://pamplinmedia.com/scc/103-news/381680-266285-restoring-and-remembering
For more history of the Bridlemile Creek Stewards: http://swni.org/bridlemile_neighborhood_association/creek_stewards