Volunteer Opportunity this Saturday

At last night’s meeting, we had the chance to speak with Mike Grosso, the Parks Maintenance Supervisor. In addition to our big, exciting projects such as the NatureSpace and the replacement of equipment in the toddler play area, Friends of Wilshire Park also want to do a series of small, simple service projects that can quickly fix problems. This will provide members of the community with the chance to put their gloves on, gather together, and do some good. Mike told us that while wood chips were recently delivered and spread at various areas around the park, many of the piles were still too high and some of the wood chips are still in large, hard chunks that need to be broken apart to make them safe to walk and run on. Mike currently doesn’t have any staff hours to allocate to smoothing out the bark chips.

We can do that!

The first Friends of Wilshire Parks service project will happen this Saturday from 9 to 11 AM. Volunteers should wear good gardening gloves and protection from whatever weather Portland decides to offer up that day. Participants should also bring water. All ages are welcome, but parents will need to supervise their own young children.

To spread out the chips, you’ll need your hands and a hard tined rake like this:

Do not bring a soft-tined rake that you would use for leaves, as the wood chips are too heavy and will damage your rake. If you don’t have a rake, come anyway and wear some heavy gloves as many of the chunks of wood chips can be broken up by hand.

We will meet at the northeast corner of the park, right by the sign that says Wilshire Park. Volunteers who wish to log hours for community service credit can receive a signed form from a Friends of Wilshire Park board member. If you wish to participate, please e-mail friends@friendsofwilshirepark.org to let us know you’re coming. See you there!

Meeting Notes: 20 June 2018

On June 20, 10 Friends gathered for our monthly meeting with our new President, Gary Hancock, presiding. In attendance from the City of Portland were Evan Callahan from the Parks department’s bond team, Park Supervisor Mike Grosso, Partnership and Development Coordinator Jessie Bond, and Ecologically Sustainable Landscapes Coordinator Eric Rosewall.

At this meeting we were able to hear the good news that Wilshire Park will receive some funds from a bond passed by voters in 2014 for the repair and maintenance of equipment in Portland’s parks. The bond had passed with 74% of voter support and initially allocated $48 million for improvements and maintenance at parks all over the city. $28 million of the bond remains, and Wilshire Park has been given a slice of these funds to replace the largest of the toddler play structures. This was great news for the Friends, as the sad state of the children’s play equipment has been one of our primary areas of concern.

Furthermore, Jessie Bond will work with us as we raise funds privately to replace the other smaller pieces of play equipment. As we move forward, the Friends will need to make a formal agreement with the city that lays out how the funds will be raised, the amount of time allotted for fundraising, and the exact equipment that will be installed. At the next meeting of Friends of Wilshire Park, a formal Children’s Play Area Team will form to begin working on fundraising and planning for this project, much in the same way that the NatureSpace Team has functioned so far, with separate e-mail communication and in-person meetings from the main Friends group.

The Friends were also informed about the Adopt-a-bench program, which allows private donors to install seating in parks. A new park bench costs $5,000, and a refurbished bench is $3,000. At first glance this may seem like a high cost, but this amount covers the purchase of long-wearing, sturdy seating, in addition to its installation and maintenance. Unfortunately at all of Portland’s parks vandalism is common and costly, and even a bench that isn’t vandalized periodically needs cleaning, repainting and treatment for rusty parts.

The meeting then turned to Eric Rosewall, who gave an update on the NatureSpace. The site will be located just east of the picnic area, filling a disused patch of ground that covers about 10,000 square feet. It will be surrounded by a split rail fence and feature a gravel path with boulders and logs for seating. There will be between three and six volunteer days in fall and winter, which are the optimal time for installing native plants. Each planting day will require the work of 20 to 40 volunteers. The plan is nearly finalized and at this point there would likely only be minor tweaks to the design.

Oren Bernstein provided an update on fundraising for the NatureSpace. The project has already secured a grant of nearly $10,000 from the Community Watershed Stewardship Program, and the team is applying for a second smaller grant of $2,000 from another source. The NatureSpace team also plans to solicit donations directly from the community through a crowdfunding site. The Central Northeast Neighborhood Coalition is acting as our fiscal sponsor for this project, and as soon as details are finalized with them, we’ll begin a big push for donations, using printable flyers and graphics that can be shared online to spread the word. More donations means more plants, a more lush space, and a stronger ecosystem in what we hope will be a pleasant area for parkgoers and healthy habitat for birds.

Great news and here’s a flyer

Great news, friends!

We have heard from the city that it’s possible to replace the rotting children’s play equipment, but we will need to do some fundraising and do it before next spring. This is tricky as we are about to launch our NatureSpace project, which will bring native plants and seating to a less used area of the park, and we don’t want these fundraising efforts to conflict. The NatureSpace has been issued a generous grant by the Community Watershed Stewardship Program, and our crowdfunding effort will bulk up this budget to make a truly beautiful space. This first fundraiser will be smaller in scale and will provide good practice for the big push we’ll need to achieve the much larger goal of $50,000 to rebuild the baby and toddler play area, which hasn’t been updated in over 25 years.

This news makes it particularly important that anyone who wants to get directly involved in the NatureSpace or in the revitalization of the children’s play area should attend our meeting on Wednesday, June 20 at Bethany Lutheran Church. We also have a flyer for you to print out and post anywhere you can — local businesses, your front yard, your car window . . . anywhere you can! If you post it in a shop or cafe, cut the bottom into a fringe so people can tear off the pieces of paper with our web address on it. The fringe can also just be cut off if you wish to post it inside your car window or in another place where people would be unable to tear off the strips. You can download it here and you can also find the flyer and other downloadable items at our Resources page.

We are making things happen! Let’s keep the momentum going.

Next Meeting: 20 June 2018

Friends of Wilshire Park will have its next meeting on June 20 at Bethany Lutheran Church at 7:00 p.m. The church is located at 4330 NE 37th Ave, Portland, OR 97211, at the northeast corner of Wilshire Park.

May’s meeting was attended by three representatives from the City of Portland: Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Community Relations Manager Jennifer Yokum, and Ecologically Sustainable Landscapes Manager Eric Rosewall. The Friends were grateful for their attendance and willingness to hear the group’s concerns and ideas. Commissioner Fritz had let the Friends know that there was a small amount of bond money available to make improvements to the children’s play area, and this presented a small window of opportunity for the group to do some fundraising which could enhance the budget for such a project.

At our June meeting, a city representative will be on hand to tell the Friends about the bond funds and what the possibilities are for their use. Members of the community who have a strong interest in the children’s play area would benefit from participating in this crucial discussion.

Also on the agenda is the NatureSpace, which has been issued a generous grant from the Community Watershed Stewardship Program and will happen this summer. Now that a baseline budget for the project has been established, the Friends will begin crowdfunding to make the project even better. When a timeline for the project has been set, the Friends will begin organizing the volunteers who will clear the site, install the path and fence, and transplant native shrubs and plants.

The last agenda item (for now) is making a list of very small, simple projects that could be done in a single day, such as cleaning and repainting the signposts around the off-leash dog area. The paint in the engraved signposts has long faded away, and one can of paint and few people handy with sandpaper and small paint brushes could make them legible again. If you have other ideas for very small, simple, inexpensive projects that could be done at the grassroots level, leave a comment!

Meeting Notes: 23 May 2018

Friends of Wilshire Park met on Wednesday, April 23, with 17 Friends and three representatives of the City of Portland in attendance. This was a big meeting for our group, as we were able to speak with officials from Portland Parks and Recreation: Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Community Relations Manager Jennifer Yokum, and Ecologically Sustainable Landscapes Manager Eric Rosewall. The Friends were very grateful for the time these representatives were willing to give after a long day’s work.

Jennifer Yokum expressed thanks to the Friends for their enthusiasm and willingness to volunteer, explaining that Portland’s parks are greatly enhanced by work done during more than 500,000 volunteer hours every year. Commissioner Fritz was able to provide an overview of the situation with Portland’s parks at present. There are over 200 parks in the city, with about $400 million dollars in maintenance needs and another $400 million in improvement needs. During the recession, cuts to the parks budget were deep, and although we are now in recovery from that period, there is a lot to do. The city has chosen at this time to focus on the problem of homelessness as its key issue, as well as cost recovery and financial sustainability.

All of this means that the parks budget is limited, and there isn’t any money or staff time to give to Wilshire Park. The city is midway through an equity plan, in which all parks funds are devoted to geographic and racial equity. There are large areas of Portland, particularly in the east, where there were no parks at all, so the city decided to devote its entire budget for improvements to these areas. An impressive facility went in recently at Luuwit View Park, with a sculpture garden, play area, off-leash dog area, community garden, teen area, amphitheater, picnic grounds, and plenty of green space. These projects were built to serve the thousands of families that didn’t have any park at all, but the bottom line is that Wilshire Park will receive no funds or staff time for planning projects from the city, and our group is on its own if we want to see anything happen in our neighborhood. There is a possibility that some of the children’s play area equipment may be improved soon, and this may open a small window of opportunity to fundraise to allow for even more improvements to be tacked on.

This is challenging information to hear, but members in attendance at the meeting made the case for why their park deserves a little attention. As a large, flat space in the heart of Northeast Portland, it serves a fairly diverse population as it connects more and less affluent neighborhoods, and its varied facilities make it a big draw. The play area is the only one for miles with play equipment suitable for toddlers, although this equipment is over 25 years old and beginning to decay.

After the meeting, the city representatives were kind enough to walk over from Bethany Lutheran Church to the play area to see the state of the children’s equipment and provide further advice on the best way to work with the city, raise funds, and implement improvement projects. For now, the most likely scenario is that any large project will need to be entirely funded by our group.

Friends of Wilshire Park will meet again soon. Please subscribe to our newsletter for updates and information about meetings and projects. We will soon be putting out information about our NatureSpace project, which will bring a sustainable native landscape to a disused area of Wilshire Park. We also have ideas about simple projects to improve the jogging trail and dog park, so volunteers should get their work gloves ready.

Next Meeting May 23

Hi, Friends! It’s time for our next meeting. We do apologize for the late date of scheduling, but lining up busy schedules was difficult. However, we managed it and our next meeting will be held Wednesday, May 23 at 7:00 pm at Bethany Lutheran Church at the corner of NE 37th and Skidmore.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Portland Parks and Recreation Community Relations Manager Jennifer Yocom will attend, making this a particularly important meeting for our organization. We are looking forward to a good discussion and better understanding of what options are available to us as we partner with Portland Parks and Recreation on improvements to Wilshire Park. We appreciate their attendance, as it shows faith in us as a fledgling organization, so we hope that as many Friends of Wilshire Park can turn out as possible.

Please help us spread the word! Let your neighbors know and invite them to come. We need all kinds of helping hands to  participate as we continue to maintain and improve Wilshire Park as a very special place in the heart of our community.

Meeting Notes: 24 April 2018

At the second meeting of Friends of Wilshire Park, Julie Bernstein acted as host. 17 people were in attendance.

The meeting began with a report from Georgina Head, who has been speaking with people at Portland Parks and Recreation about the best way to form a good relationship with them. She explained how projects are funded at the city level, and also that currently there is very little in the budget for Wilshire Park. Georgina stressed the importance of our group forming a board and making plans for practical, attainable goals. Once we have established ourselves as an organization with a clear structure and commitment to concrete goals, the Parks Department would be able to assign a liaison to work with us. The Parks Department may send representatives to our next meeting, which would be a very important first step in establishing an official relationship.

Attendees introduced themselves and after a bit of coaxing and volunteering, several people were recruited to form the Board of Friends of Wilshire Park. Gary Hancock will serve as President, with Dawn Sorem as Vice President. Tiffney Townsend will serve as Communications Officer. Nancy Mogielnicki, Peter Mogielnicki, Rand Schenck and Gesher Kitzler will serve as Board Members At Large, focusing on specific park projects and the groups around them. The members of the board at present are mainly from the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood and the Alameda neighborhood, and in future will actively seek out more members from surrounding neighborhoods such as Cully, Alberta, or Rose City Park. Friends of Wilshire Park will also need a treasurer and are actively seeking volunteers for this position.

A date needs to be chosen for our next meeting. The 9th or 23rd of May were suggested, and the Board will put out a message soon when we have a date and location. This summer the group may host a community picnic in the park instead of a regular meeting.

Nancy Mogielnicki gave an update on the Nature Space, which will be the first project run by Friends members. This is a good first project, as it is relatively inexpensive and can be done in a very short time frame. This project will create a pocket of native habitat under some mature Douglas Firs in the park, with a path, seating, boulders, and plenty of habitat for birds. The project is entirely grassroots, from the funding to the planting, but is being conducted under the supervision of the Parks Department. Barbara Linsson has sent out grant applications, seeking up to $10,000 from the Community Watershed Stewardship Program and up to $2,000 from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District​. We will learn sometime in June if our project has been selected for a grant, and in the meantime will focus on crowdfunding through a platform called Chuffed.

The project will proceed in a number of phases, starting with marking out the site, removing turf, adding large boulders, building the fence, adding the gravel path, and then mulching and planting the beds. Each of these projects will require volunteers from the community, which gives people a chance to participate even if they cannot afford to donate cash. However, the most important efforts at present will be in fundraising, as money is what will buy the needed plants and materials to create this space.

Mapping Wilshire Park’s Trees

The Portland Parks department completed a survey of the trees in Wilshire Park in 2017 and has created a website that allows you to see each tree.

There are 23 species of trees in the park, with a mix of native and introduced trees. The park is most noted for its mature Douglas Firs, which are Oregon’s state tree.

As projects by Friends of Wilshire Park begin, this website will be a useful resource to brainstorm, plan, and reflect on why we all enjoy this park so much.

Wilshire Park: A walk back through its history

Photo courtesy alamedahistory.org

We take Wilshire Park as a given in our lives today, but a look back in time shows it has narrowly escaped several possible fates, including being developed as campground in the 1920’s and later into a housing development. The park traces its history back to an investment made by one of Portland’s wealthy early residents, Jacob Kamm (1823-1912), who made his fortunes in the steam navigation business. Kamm also dabbled in real estate investment and had strategically purchased parcels downtown and at the edges of Portland, including the 15 acres of woods just north of the Alameda Ridge off the old county road (today’s NE 33rd Avenue), which he platted as the Spring Valley addition in 1882. When Kamm died in 1912, the tract had been untouched, and his estate was valued at $4 million. Sorting out the estate took years and was frequently in the press.

A hand drawn map of the undeveloped land that would eventually be Wilshire Park. Notice that originally 35th Place was going to go through the plot. A large gate remains on the south side of the park where the street ends. Image courtesy alamedahistory.org.

An effort to turn the park into a KOA-style automobile campground in 1920 was cancelled with prejudice by vociferous neighbors who were worried about its impact on property values and didn’t like the notion of a non-residential and transient-based activity being so close to their homes. After that fight, which involved petitions, community meetings and a high level of consternation with city government, the fate of the 15 acres rested for a few years. For the full story on the battle over the land, head over to the Alameda History Blog.

A newspaper clipping reporting on neighborhood disapproval of turning the parcel of land that would one day be Wilshire Park into an auto camp.

The topic goes quiet then, resurfacing six years later in September 1926 when the city mentioned the property as a possible future public park. It would take another seven years until 1933—with the property connected to the still unsettled Kamm estate—that the city would seriously consider the idea. The early 1920s were a major boom period for the construction of homes in this area. All around the 15 acres, new subdivisions (and lots of kids) were springing up. Kids from these neighborhoods were already using the wooded area as their playground, with a maze of improvised trails, forts and other secret places nestled into the thick brush and trees.

The Wilshire Addition Community Club—a kind-of early neighborhood association and social club—was the first to call for acquisition and development of the park, submitting a proposal in September 1926 for the city to float a bond measure to fund the work. But Portland Parks Commissioner C.P. Keyser felt the chances of a voter-passed measure were too slim because not enough planning and survey work had been completed, so the effort stalled. Left on their own after the city chose not to take up the cause, neighbors began direct negotiations with the Kamm estate. By 1933, an agreement had been reached that allowed the property to be used as a park—still owned by the Kamm family—as long as the planning and development work was funded and conducted by neighborhood residents. In a Monday morning, March 27, 1933 news story, The Oregonian reported the following:

Improvement of a 15-acre tract of land has been started by residents of the Wilshire District to convert the site into a park. The land has been made available by the Kamm estate with the proviso that improvement expenses be assumed by persons living in the neighborhood. Volunteer workers gathered at the tract Saturday and yesterday and cut away underbrush and cleaned the land for further improvements.

Thanks to work parties like this, and continued use by neighborhood kids, community interest continued to build in the mid-1930s—with the property still in the hands of the Kamm estate—until a proposal was made in the fall of 1937 to have the city purchase the property with a localized bond measure. Backers of the proposal knew that time was running out to keep the park as a park, and told The Oregonian in December of 1937 that “this is the last chance to get it. Contractors want to take over the property to build homes.” They also continued to make the case that the nearest proper park was too far away for children to use.

The 15-acres was still a glorified brush patch. Working with neighbors, the city proposed assessing the agreed purchase price of $28,500 across 3,000 homes within the surrounding vicinity, less than $10 per household. This did not go over well with some, and a firestorm of letters to the editor and complaints to City Hall boiled over. More than 30 percent of the 3,000 homeowners signed petitions opposing the fee, though not all were against the park acquisition itself, if the city could find a way to spread the cost city-wide. In 1937, Portland was in the grips of a recession that followed the Depression, and joblessness and foreclosures were headline news on a daily basis. Creating a park was not a high priority. One letter writer, local resident Spencer Akers, put it this way:

The controversy over the proposed Kamm park seems to be fanned to a red heat. Where is the justice in a comparatively few individuals being obliged to shoulder the purchase price, especially since the depression has reinforced its destruction siege by the surprise attack of the ruthless ‘recession?’ If the city is too poor to purchase the property than why in the name of common sense should we, who happen to live in the immediate vicinity, be judged as financially able to raise the whole purchase price? I know of several families in this district who are actually in need, and a bombshell of this nature would play havoc with their tottering defenses.

An editorial from The Oregonian made an eloquent case otherwise:

If the Kamm tract were certain to remain available for a park for a number of years, and the majority of the residents of the district desired that buying of it be deferred, there could be no sound objection to such a course. It is likely, however, that the tract soon will be developed for residential purposes if it is not taken over for a neighborhood park. The national cry for more housing and the probability of advantageous federal financing for building make that seem inevitable, if the city does not act now. The price is reasonable, probably lower than it will ever be again. No other property is to be had for the purpose. The proposed assessment [of $8.60 for a 50 x 100 foot lot] would be unlikely to be a hardship on anyone; the return of value to the property owners in the district would be obvious.

But forward-looking arguments did not prevail, and after all the fuss, the city dropped the proposal. Meanwhile, kids kept using the 15 acres, brush continued to grow, crimes were reported being committed in the woods, and developers sought to purchase and build on the property. The story goes quiet again, until a brief headline in the April 10, 1940 issue of The Oregonian: “City Acquires Kamm Tract.” The short, page 4 story reports only that the City Council took the action by emergency ordinance and was acquiring the land from the estate at a cost of $28,500, financed with a two year loan from the First National Bank that would be paid off from city funds. Perhaps a development proposal led to the tipping point and the
emergency action…that part of the story is untold. The public purchase of the property brought an important chapter to a close, and secured the land for the future.

However, almost as if the neighborhood needed something more to fight about, controversy boiled again in February 1941 about naming the newly acquired parcel, with some wanting to call it Jacob Kamm Park, which stemmed from a proposal made by the Sons and Daughters of Pioneers. The majority of surrounding neighbors lined up behind a proposal to call it Wilshire Park. After several stormy meetings on the topic, City Council agreed with the neighbors and adopted Wilshire Park as the official name.
By 1950, the city had cut and removed much of the underbrush, constructed the ball diamonds still in place today, and even built a playground, which featured among other things, old Fire Engine Number 2, a 1918 model that was finally decommissioned from service at the SW 3rd and Glisan fire house.

An aerial photo from 1943 shows Wilshire Park’s famous Douglas firs providing green space for the growing neighborhood on Alameda Ridge. Photo courtesy alamedahistory.org.
A present day view of Wilshire Park shows the baseball diamonds and children’s play area peeking through the trees.

Many other memories remain about the park, including the family that lived in a home at the far southeast corner of the woods around the turn of the last century; Christmas trees cut in the 1920s and 1930s from the “33rd Street Woods;” the World War 2 “victory gardens” planted along the park’s southern edge; the jackstrawed piles of trees and branches left over from the Columbus Day storm of 1962; the generations of baseball players, soccer players, runners and dog walkers who have loved this place.

For more neighborhood history, photos, maps and memories of Wilshire Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, visit Doug’s blog at http://www.alamedahistory.org.

Friends of Wilshire Park’s First Meeting

28 Neighbors from Alameda, Concordia, and Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhoods came together on Monday, March 19 to form the Friends of Wilshire Park, a grassroots organization dedicated to caring for and improving Wilshire Park.

Yvonne Boisvert, Vice President of the Friends of Peninsula Park Rose Garden, spoke to the group, describing the ways their organization had found success and providing valuable advice on how to get off the ground as a new community group. She recommended finding a motto that clearly defined the group’s purpose and starting with a small, well-defined, attainable project and using that as a springboard for larger successes.

Yvonne Boisvert addresses the newly formed Friends of Wilshire Park. Photo by Barbara Linssen.

The members broke into discussion groups to share ideas and goals for the children’s play equipment, the off-leash dog area, the jogging track, and native habitat enhancement. After coming back together as a large group, the meeting adjourned with a challenge for members to spread the word to friends and neighbors who enjoy Wilshire Park that they now have a chance to get involved in its improvement.

The group’s next meeting will take place on Wednesday, April 25 at 7:00 pm at Bethany Lutheran Church, located at 4330 NE 37th Avenue, Portland. All members of the public interested in making improvements to Wilshire Park are welcome.