Integrating Communities Across the Floodplain

The Portland Community College - Rock Creek Project enhances 105 acres of floodplain habitat in close proximity to new urban development. Near the juncture of Portland, Hillsboro and Beaverton, the unique site integrates urban, rural and ecological communities across a natural and dynamic floodplain on the campus of Portland Community College (PCC). Faculty members from several departments, including Biology, Environmental Studies and Environmental Landscape Technology, are  working to maximize the educational and ecological potential of the site. The land and waters of the site tie together an intact stream corridor with diverse wetlands, prairies and upland forests. On a broader scale, this project is a major connection between Abbey and Rock Creeks, further safeguarding an important fish and wildlife passageway. The healthy stream and riparian ecosystem supports red-legged frogs, steelhead salmon, neotropical migrant songbirds and Roosevelt elk, to name a few.

The Site

First planting: 2018
Size: 113 acres 
Stream length:  5,214 feet


The Challenge

Much of the site’s habitat had been degraded by activities that aimed to clear native trees and drain the wetlands for agricultural purposes. In fact, historic aerial photographs from more than 80 years ago show cleared areas and ditches at the site. When partners began to evaluate the site, we found emergent wetlands currently overrun by invasive reed canary grass and non-native pasture grasses. For these reasons and more, the site needed significant improvements in hydrology, water quality and wildlife functions.


The Transformation

The project design emphasizes restoration of watershed processes and working with Mother Nature to restore the site. Altering the ditches, for example, will slow the flow of water so it spreads across the site more regularly. This action will extend ponding and saturated soil conditions longer into the dry summer season, to provide superior nesting habitat for waterfowl and breeding habitat for amphibians. Similarly, the design involves a number of actions to enrich the character of the stream, including grading the soil to create small depressions; installing large logs and snags within the wetland; and planting a variety of native vegetation. These steps will provide additional resting, foraging and nesting habitat for fish and wildlife, particularly for beavers, a keystone species. Habitat will be improved as well by converting the emergent wetlands that are overrun by invasives into a dynamic mosaic of forested, scrub-shrub and emergent wetlands dominated by native species. These large, connected habitat areas along Rock Creek provide essential refuge for people and nature even as the urban world expands into this rural part of the basin.

Invasive species management began in 2013-14, and the first planting took place in winter 2017-18. As a result of the major restoration effort, students and community groups are increasing their connection to the site through integrated learning opportunities and stewardship activities. These efforts build upon several decades of faculty and student involvement in research and stewardship through the Rock Creek Environmental Studies Center. Hundreds of students have joined into the project by removing invasive plants, installing native plants, monitoring habitat quality, and conducting specialized research, including water quality, microclimates, photography and herbarium collections. The school’s Veterinary Technician program is participating by testing innovative livestock grazing techniques that create positive results for farmers, water quality and habitat. 

With support from the Metro Nature in Neighborhoods grant program, Tualatin Riverkeepers will bring new partners to the site and deliver integrated educational and hands-on restoration programming to a broader group of community members through partnerships with Adelante Mujeres, Muslim Educational Trust, and Unite Oregon. Through such community outreach, the project is connecting diverse youth interested in learning more about nature to the PCC campus and their education programs through involvement in tree planting, wildlife monitoring and stewardship.