Restoration of the Environmental Learning Center

Thanks to a Metro Nature in Neighborhoods grant, community members and the College, the Environmental Learning Center (ELC) recently underwent a major restoration (June 2017-May 2018). During that time, the 5-acre site was redeveloped into an outdoor learning laboratory, demonstration project, and natural area that showcases innovations in stormwater management, landscape design, and sustainable living practices. In doing so, it was also essential that the quality of stormwater leaving the ELC be improved.

Background

In 2014 Clackamas Community College applied for and received a Metro Nature in Neighborhoods grant for the Newell Creek Headwaters Restoration and Education project (aka ELC).

The ELC has a rich history as an educational resource for the College, regional schools, industry, and the community. Located on the former site of a Smucker's processing plant, the ELC was created to demonstrate what people could do to reclaim industrial sites, address stormwater issues, and restore wildlife habitat in urban areas. Each year thousands of people visit the ELC to explore the site and learn about watershed health. The site serves as an important stormwater facility for the College campus and provides critical wetland habitat for resident and migratory birds, such as great blue heron, wood duck, and merganser.

The ELC site is a conduit for stormwater for nearly half of the College's 165-acre campus, plus stormwater from Oregon City High School, and other areas along Beavercreek Road. The original ELC ponds were once considered state-of-the-art, but they no longer functioned effectively for stormwater management. The need for a larger-scale stormwater management system, coupled with the spread of invasive plants left the site physically degraded, and impaired the quality of water flowing from the ELC downstream into the Newell Creek Canyon. Because it is the headwaters of Newell Creek, the ELC plays a vital role in the overall health of the watershed. Newell Creek will not be adequately protected until the water that flows through the ELC site can be effectively cooled and filtered.

Modifications to the Site

  • Redesign of the original ponds into a meandering riverine wetland
  • Addition of a sedimentation forebay
  • Creation of east-west oriented berms that were planted to allow for shading and cooling of water
  • Improvement of existing weirs to direct the flow of water through the system
  • Addition of an outdoor amphitheater
  • Addition of a play area for children
  • Addition of 7 new bridges
  • Addition of approximately 25,000 native plants
  • Addition of 12 new interpretive signs
  • Addition of new entry signage that improves visibility of the site for the public

Many Partners Contributed to the Success

  • Greater Oregon City Watershed Council: helped with the harvest of aquatic animals and native plants prior to the restoration; members assisted with plantings during the restoration; sponsored the Wetland interpretive sign; and, posted a sign on Beavercreek Rd. that shows Newell Creek beginning at the ELC.
  • Clackamas Water Environment Services: sponsored the design of five of our new interpretive signs.
  • Oregon City Public Works: sponsored our Hydrology sign.
  • Clackamas River Water Providers: sponsored the construction of our rain-garden (Summer 2018) and its signage.
  • Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde: assisted with writing the script and providing images for our Clackamas People sign; participated in both our Kick-off event in May 2017, and the Grand Opening in June 2018.
  • National Wildlife Federation: the ELC is Wildlife Habitat Certified through this organization.
  • CCC Foundation: raised $128,035 for the ELC Sustainability Endowment, which will provide ongoing support for the maintenance of the newly refurbished site; and, they funded the creation of the Giving Tree sculpture.
  • Our two advisory committees provided critical guidance in the development of our educational program.
  • Several companies that we contracted with for the design and construction of this project ended up also donating some of their time. These include Pacific Habitat Services, YGH Architects, Lango Hansen Landscape Architects, KPFF, Lease Crutcher Lewis, Catena Engineers, Stantec Electrical Engineers and Rivers of Life.
  • Many volunteers from the college and the wider community helped to plant the site, including: Oregon City High School students, Oregon City Service Learning Academy students, CCC's wrestling and basketball teams, CCC administrative staff, Horticulture students, Bartlett Tree Experts, and many individuals from the community who wanted to be a part of the resurrection of this treasured place.

For more information, view our Metro Grant Final Report.