Community-led PCC nature project receives $167,000 grant from Metro Council

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Miriam Latzer at Rock Creek Environmental Center

Grant co-project lead Miriam Latzer at Rock Creek Environmental Center.

Portland Community College is one of 15 parks and nature projects that were recently awarded grants totaling $2.3 million by the Metro Council. Made possible by the 2019 parks and nature bond measure, PCC received $166,667 for capital improvements provided by Metro funds while the college is awarding $83,333 matching funds.

The three-year project at the Rock Creek Campus will primarily focus on enhancing accessibility and cultural relevance within the Rock Creek Environmental Studies Center (RCESC) and the campus’ learning garden. Major components include trail accessibility improvements, trailhead enhancements, installation of Indigenous artwork, and the cultivation of culturally significant plants.

Val Brenneis, faculty coordinator of the RCESC, and Miriam Latzer, coordinator of the Rock Creek Learning Garden, will oversee the implementation.

“Our goals are to build healthy and reciprocal relationships, support land stewardship and healing, increase educational opportunities, and provide space and access for cultural connections with the land,” Brenneis said. “The community choice grant process has provided an exciting opportunity to engage with more of our neighbors. Together, we imagined how this public resource could become more accessible and welcoming to all through trail improvements, new signage, artwork, and culturally significant plantings.

tree planter.

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“Underlying all of this is a commitment to highlight and strengthen the deep connection between the land and local Indigenous communities,” she added.

Brenneis teaches environmental studies and serves as the RCESC faculty coordinator for the 100-acre natural area. In this capacity, she works with agency, non-profit, and Indigenous community partners to care for the land, coordinate monitoring efforts, maintain safe trail access, and engage in outreach activities with local schools and community groups – the PCC Oaks Partners.

Led by this coalition, the project supports accessibility improvements, community learning and visitor experiences at several locations across the campus. Organizers will plant culturally significant plants and First Foods at the learning garden.

On the north side of campus, the grant funds will be used to improve the accessibility of existing trails through conifer forests to Oregon oak woodland. New informational signage will be created and installed at the trailheads and along the trails to welcome the community and reflect Indigenous cultural and ecological knowledge. In the learning garden, access to a covered gathering area and raised beds will be improved in collaboration with PCC’s Accessible Education and Disability Resources team. Finally, artwork by Indigenous artists will be commissioned for the site

The grant will allow staff to build upon the work of the PCC Oaks Partners, which includes Clean Water Services, the Five Oaks Museum, Wisdom of the Elders and Friends of Tryon Creek, Tualatin Soil and Water District, Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District, and more. Facilitated by PCC alum Serina Fast Horse of Kimimela Consulting, the group aims to foster healthy relationships, support land stewardship, expand educational opportunities, and facilitate cultural connections with the land.

These community grants mark the culmination of the pilot round of Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods Community Choice Grants Program, an initiative placing community members at the forefront of decision-making. The 15 grants are directed towards projects in Metro Council District 4, encompassing Washington County cities and neighborhoods along Highway 8.

Serina Fast Horse and her sister

Serina Fast Horse (right).

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Director of Public Relations at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic... more »