Nadaka: A Model for Renewing East County’s Parks?

Lee Dayfield and Jim Labbe

On Saturday April 4th, Gresham residents will celebrate the opening of the new Nadaka Nature Park and Garden. This innovate community park project represents a huge accomplishment in the face of declines in public park investment the last 15 years. The Nadaka experience is a potential model of how we can work together to renew public investment in parks and create healthier and stronger communities in East County. From our vantage, three ingredients were critical to Nadaka’s success.

Nadaka Sign and Visitors

Nadaka started at the grassroots and the passion of local residents has been essential all along.

First, Nadaka started at the grassroots and the passion of local residents has been essential all along. In 2008, the Friends of Nadaka began organizing clean-ups at the 10-acre Nadaka Open Space. Stewardship days soon became a regular occurrence. Soon a growing list of partners began working to bring two adjacent acres, owned by the Nelson family, into public ownership.

With funding from Metro and East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (EMSWCD) and a generous donation from the Nelson Family Estate, the acquisition was complete. The acquisition of the Nelson Property on NE Glisan provided access to 600 new households within ½ mile of Nadaka, mostly in Rockwood. This 100% increase in the number of people with local access to Nadaka created a new, more diverse constituency which gathered for the first annual Nadaka Community Festival in 2011.

That same year over 17 organizations signed a Declaration of Cooperation to create the Nadaka Nature Park and Garden Project to ‘Nurture food, families and nature’. Immediate goals were simple: enlist the community to help fund, build and maintain (for at least 5-years) a neighborhood park and community garden while maximizing local job creation and education opportunities.

…the community’s ownership of the project has also been critical for leveraging resources, maximizing community benefits, and keeping things moving.

Making decisions on public parkland like Nadaka require an inclusive and transparent public process. However, the community’s ownership of the project has also been critical for leveraging resources, maximizing community benefits, and keeping things moving. Maintaining this delicate balance remains a second crucial ingredient to Nadaka’s success. Communication, compromise and shared leadership by all parties was key, but the willingness of City leadership- and especially the City Council- to embrace this new community-based approach was essential.

Nadaka is about fostering community, environmental quality, and economic well-being; not just a park.The approach made community development goals central to every project phase. Nadaka is about building community, environmental quality, and economic well-being; not just a park. Improvements have helped create dozens of local jobs and led to youth service-learning projects to enhance access, complete natural resources inventories, and document local history pulling in the time and resources of new Nadaka supporters at every step.

Voter-approved parks and nature funding remains a third essential ingredient of success.

Voter-approved parks and nature funding remains a third essential ingredient of success. If it wasn’t for the voters, Nadaka would never have been protected or improved. Gresham voters led the way in 1990 by passing an Open Spaces Bond Measure, the first in the Metro region. This bond measure leveraged regional, state and federal funds to purchase and permanently protect hundreds of acres of Gresham’s most spectacular parks and natural areas, including the 10-acre Nadaka open space for $500,000 in 1995. Voters passed similar tri-county bond measures in 1995 and 2006 to protect over 14,000 acres of natural area, including the 2-acre Nelson Property that expanded neighborhood access to Nadaka.

77% of the resources ($1.8 million) to create Nadaka Nature Park and Garden came from voter-approved funding measures.

All told, 77% of the resources ($1.8 million) to create Nadaka Nature Park and Garden came from voter-approved funding measures. That includes the $500,000 investment approved by Gresham voters which was leveraged threefold by attracting $1.5 million in other public funding and $278K in private donations and in-kind support. Nadaka demonstrates that local public investment in parks and natural areas in East County can be dramatically leveraged to create on-the-ground results that make our communities healthier, stronger, and more prosperous. Public and private funders are willing to help communities that invest to help themselves.
Nadaka Funding by Source Nadaka is a success for one neighborhood that can provide example of what East County can do on a broader scale. Estimates indicate that local funding for parks in East County declined by at least 50% the last 15 years while the population grew by 30%. With shared leadership and citizen action and smart investment, years of dwindling park funding can be turned around and the quality of our communities dramatically improved.

Just like Nadaka, the Springwater District concept will take a grass roots advocacy to engage residents in determining investments in their community and supporting new voter-approved investment in the park system.

The proposed concept of a “Springwater Parks and Community District” presents just such an opportunity. This grassroots effort aims to establish a new parks and community development district among willing cities and school districts in East County. Like Nadaka, the Springwater Parks District concept recognizes that access nature is a core community value and essential to our way-of-life. The draft concepts would invest in shared community assets- pools, ball fields, parks, trails and natural areas- to optimize service, leverage outside funds, and attract new investment and jobs. Just like Nadaka, the Springwater District concept will take a grass roots advocacy to engage residents in determining investments in their community and supporting new voter-approved investment in the park system.

We hope East County residents think big about these possibilities in 2015.

Lee Dayfield is the catalyst behind the Friends of Nadaka. Jim Labbe is Urban Conservationist at Audubon Society of Portland and staffs Audubon’s East Branch office at Leach Botanical Garden.

Nadaka Master Plan Approved by Gresham City Council

On December 18, 2012 the Gresham City Council unanimously approved the proposed revisions to the Nadaka Neighborhood Park Master Plan.  Thank you City Council.  And thanks to MIG, the Project Committee and the City staff for all the work in helping to craft the new plan and preparing and making the presentation.  Lee Dayfield joined the City staff in the presentation to City Council.

This Master Plan will guide work and activities, including creating a community garden, building pathways, installing a nature based play area and constructing a picnic shelter.  You can view the Nadaka Master Plan here.