The future of the International Grove hangs in the balance. There are many threats to this unique stand of more than 60 trees, including people driving and parking inside the grove.
The most pressing issue on the minds of local tree and community advocates is the possibility the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) will use the grove for two years as construction staging or parking.
That would be during the $12 million reconstruction project beginning next year on the 42nd Avenue overpass across Lombard Street. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) owns most of the grove’s land.
“Using the grove as a staging area is a concern because parking heavy equipment and materials would cause soil compaction,” said Jim Gersbach, Concordia Tree Team member and 20-year Concordia resident. “That can be deadly to trees because it prevents water and oxygen from reaching their roots.”
Moreover, staging work could injure tree bark and limbs. Tree advocates have identified alternative sites for construction staging.
Staff members from the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), residents of Nesika Illahee across 42nd Avenue from the grove and members of the Cully and Concordia tree teams met during the summer to talk about what they would like to see happen in the grove instead.
Nesika Illahee opened in early 2020 and was developed by NAYA and tribal and nontribal partners as affordable housing for Native Americans in recovery.
“I would like to help the grove grow,” said Angelique Saxton, resident services manager at the 59-unit complex.
“I have heard from the resident community they would like the grove to be part of Nesika and become more inviting, more people friendly and have safer access. It could be used for meditation, drumming, picnics and recovery meetings.”
Eleven organizations signed a joint letter to PBOT and ODOT to ask them to not use the area for construction staging. The letter also asks the agencies to consider pedestrian safety and to include Native American art and culture in the new bridge design.
These organizations included: NAYA, Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest, Verde, Hacienda Community Development Corporation, Our 42nd Ave, Cully Boulevard Alliance, Living Cully, Portland Clean Air, Cully Association of Neighbors, Concordia Neighborhood Association and Habitat for Humanity Portland Region.
Bob Granger, a member of the Cully Tree Team who helped plant the grove in 2011, is impressed with the efforts that led to that letter.
“I’m blown away at how this organic process has evolved into such a robust, holistic advocacy effort,” he said. “The inclusive and collaborative involvement of key neighborhood stakeholders is wonderful to see.”
Jordana Leeb is a longtime Concordia resident who is passionate about the neighborhood, its people and trees. She lives with her partner and newly adopted special needs dog. You can see her recent film about Concordia at TinyURL.com/DiaryOfAStreet.