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All in a day's work for Tigard parks workers

Crews tame viney invaders at Dirksen Nature Park


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Intel employees Jim Shehadi, Mike Miller and John Fan remove a wheelbarrow of ivy and other invasive plants during a clean up event at Dirksen Nature Park in Tigard. More than 320 volunteers helped clean up the park, making it one of the the largest restoration events in city history. There’s something sinister going on in Tigard’s forests.

A silent killer has stalked the paths and fields of the city’s wooded areas for decades, and last week, about 350 people descended on Dirksen Nature Park to put a stop to it.

Armed with wheelbarrows and heavy gloves, the men and women pulled ivy and blackberry vines from the city’s second-largest park.

Ivy, with its long tendrils and tough leaves, may seem harmless at first, said Tigard’s environmental coordinator Carla Staedter, but it strangles trees and tamps down wild flowers and shrubs.

Frequent users of Dirksen Nature Park have no doubt seen the long, green vines wrapped around trees or spreading across a field.

“There are some areas of this forest that are in pristine condition,” Staedter said on Friday, examining a section of trail with ivy as far as the eye can see. “This is not one of them.”

The 350 volunteers removed ivy and blackberry vines from nearly 6 acres of the forest.

“We’ll need to bring a backhoe in to fill the dump trucks,” Staedter said.

Largest in Riverkeepers history

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Garry Zohar and Chad Quickstead pull blackberry bushes during a clean up event at Dirksen Nature Park in Tigard. The two were part of a large team of more than 300 Intel employees who volunteered at the park. Friday’s cleanup set a new record for participation. The volunteers pitched in as part of a partnership between tech giant Intel and Tualatin Riverkeepers, a group of local environmental stewards devoted to keeping the Tualatin River, and its tributaries, healthy.

About 320 of the volunteers work for Intel’s Device Design Group, based in Hillsboro.

“This is the biggest Riverkeepers event, of any kind, ever,” said Brian Wegener, advocacy manager for the organization.

At typical cleanup projects, Tualatin Riverkeepers rally between 20 and 50 volunteers.

Riverkeepers Executive Director Mike Skuja said Friday’s cleanup removed about 20 percent of the ivy from the park.

“When you are working in small groups, that work can be so disheartening, because it feels insurmountable,” he said. “But with big groups attacking it, it’s great.”

Volunteers left with scratched arms and sore muscles by the time they wrapped up, but the battle scars were badges of honor for a job well done.

“It was good to be able to get outside,” said Becky Hebda, an Intel volunteer who lives on Bull Mountain. “We weren’t sitting at our desks or behind computers. It was nice.”

Smaller Intel crews regularly volunteer across the Portland area, said Intel employee Christian Honl, but nothing to this extent.

“This is the first time we have ever done anything this big,” he said, catching his breath at the end of his shift.

Wegener was amazed at the amount of work the crews were able to accomplish.

“This morning, this was all ivy, nothing else,” Wegener said, eyeing a large section of bare earth. “But now, you’ll see all sorts of wild flowers growing here next spring. It’s awesome.”

Riverkeepers has held plenty of park cleanups in the past, but in recent years has redirected its focus on recreational and educational facilities.

Skuja, who took over the helm of the group last November, has made restoring the community’s natural areas a priority.

“It’s a unique opportunity to connect people to place,” he said. “Stewardship is the real challenge. How do we get people to continue to care about these places?”

One way to do that is to get them working in it, Skuja said.

“I didn’t know this was back here,” admitted Hebda, who lives not far from the site. “I drive past here all the time and had no clue this park existed.”

Dirksen Nature Park is a great place to get people interested in caring for the natural world, Skuja said. Its natural beauty and proximity to the heart of the city make it accessible to everyone, and it serves as the home-base for the organization’s educational programs.

“The whole focus of this site is to educate people,” Staedter said. “We want people to know what a healthy ecosystem looks like and want them to have a whole variety of ecosystems, instead of just ivy everywhere.”

Skuja is working to garner more partnerships with large- and medium-sized corporations, in order to spread the message of stewardship.

Next year, Skuja plans to issue a challenge to high-tech companies across the Portland area to step up and help maintain the region’s natural areas.

“The Silicon Forest can help rebuild the actual forest,” Skuja said. “We’re looking to engage a lot of different communities and bring diverse sections from society together.”

It’s an approach that has clearly paid off, Staedter said.

“It’s shocking how much work 320 focused people can get done in four hours,” she said. “By putting partnerships together — with the city, with Intel, with Tualatin Riverkepeers — we can make such a huge environmental impact.”



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