Is Portland Parks And Recreation as Green as Portlandians Might Expect? (by R. V.)

ryndell.vigeant-RVigeantFinalProjectPhotoThere are many things that make Portland green. In Portland we pride ourselves on our light rail system, the city’s walkability and its bike friendliness. Many of us appreciate the easy access to local and organic foods, and a trip to New Seasons wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory reusable bag. Anytime the rain stops and the sun comes out, people grab their bikes or their running shoes and head to one of the 170+ parks in the Portland-metro area.

For many Portlandians, a green lifestyle isn’t just in vogue, it’s almost expected. Most businesses and local governmental agencies support this idea; some even encourage it. I was surprised, then, to learn about a few ways Portland Parks and Recreation (PPR) may be failing to keep up with that expectation, especially in regards to invasive ivy, which has become such an issue in the metro area—and beyond—that the state banned all sales in 2010. Part of what makes this city so rich and desirable is that our green spaces so perfectly symbolize our desire to live a green lifestyle. So, you might wonder if PPR is doing enough to meet the standards of its citizens, and what exactly is holding them back?

In April I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon volunteering with the No Ivy League (NIL) a group, founded over 20 years ago, which works to remove invasive ivy in Portland parks, and is also sponsored by PPR. In one 3-hour session the volunteers learned how invasive ivy grows, how it severely disrupts native ecosystems, and most importantly, how to remove it. After a few hours of ripping out ivy vines, it was clear to me that this issue is too much for a small league of volunteers to deal with on their own. Despite our efforts, the battle against the ivy continues; but, why is substantial progress so elusive?

On their website, the NIL cites that they prefer “hand removal techniques” over “chemical and mechanical removal” in order to teach and engage the public. While it is honorable that they would like to increase awareness and stewardship, and would like to avoid chemical (herbicidal) methods of mitigation, the issue remains rampant. (It should be noted that our volunteer group leader informed us that the large piles of ivy would later be sprayed with an herbicide, rather than be mulched by hand as we were taught.) It is clear that the NIL needs more support from PPR, and needs more than its volunteers to make an impact.

Portland Parks and Recreation seems perfectly willing to use chemical management methods throughout the rest of their vast park system, even as the idea of pesticide use is often discouraged in environmental circles. Nevertheless, it seems that the idea of going chemical free has been considered by PPR as far back as 2004, but a test of this idea failed to move beyond a trial phase. Still, some neighborhoods are so desperate to have their green areas be chemical free, that they have launched their own efforts to eliminate the use of pesticides in neighborhood areas where children and family pets are likely to play.

The failure to keep up with invasive species and the use of unwanted chemicals is not the only way that PPR has failed Portlandians. The PPR website shows that at least 40 different parks throughout the city are in some state of disrepair; many of these issues have persisted for years and a lack of funding has prevented repairs. And, although citizens passed a $68 million Parks Replacement Bond last year, the PPR website only identifies a handful of parks that will receive repairs from that money. Despite the passing of the bond, PPR still has not released a timeline outlining their next steps.

Portlandians have high expectations for what it means to be green. It seems that Portland Parks and Recreation is missing that mark. There are many small ways that PPR could make improvements:

  • Add solar powered and high efficiency (LED) lights to poorly lit parks
  • Add recycling stations next to park trash stations
  • Stop providing non bio-degradable dog poop bags in parks as they increase trash along trails
  • Ban the sale of bottled water at rec centers and install water fountains or filtered water stations

It is clear that repairs and public safety need to be the first concern for PPR, and the majority of the bond funds should be spent there first. But, it is also clear that PPR could be doing so much more to meet our high standard of living.


Contact the City of Portland:

Use your voice to tell Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz what it is that you want to see in our city parks. Encourage them to discontinue chemical pesticide and herbicide use in our park system. Share with them the other improvements you would like to see. These will not only improve citizens’ quality of life, but also represent the green standards of Portlandians.

City of Portland Mayor: CHARLIE HALES

Address:         1221 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 340,

Portland, OR 97204


Phone:         503-823-4120

City Commissioner: AMANDA FRITZ

Address:         1221 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 220,
Portland, OR 97204


Phone:         503-823-3008


Consider Going Chemical Free in Your Own Neighborhood:

Review other ways that you and your neighbors can encourage the city to have chemical-free parks right here in Portland: Ten Steps to Pesticide-free Parks: How to Create Healthy Public Spaces in Your Community

Volunteer to Keep Portland Green

Whether you want to tidy up your local park, or make a bigger impact on a regular basis, there are plenty of volunteering opportunities in and around the city. Grab your family and your neighbors and sign up for an event today.


Keep up to date and check out the current list of partial park closures around Portland. Play structures, tennis and soccer courts, restroom facilities and other park elements have fallen into disrepair due to a lack of funding for PPR. In some cases these closures have continued for long periods of time. This interactive website displays these parks on a city map so that you can see which parks in your area are affected by partial closures.

Read about local efforts to go chemical free right here in Portland. Motivated by concerns about publicly used chemicals on human health, especially on our young children, neighbors in three neighborhoods decided to take matters into their own hands. As of 2013, citizens in the Overlook, Sabin and Concordia neighborhoods have made efforts to go chemical free.

Learn about why invasive ivy matters and how you can help to battle the invasion. The No Ivy League has great information about English Ivy, including how it spreads in our parks and neighborhoods, and how we can effectively remove it.



One comment

  1. Kaitlyn King

    R.V. Awesome blog post! You have a very interesting topic and so true about Portland. When i first read the introduction i was already wanting to keep reading more. I really like your supporting details. Everything was so clear and easy to understand. The volunteer work you did is so inspiring, thank you for choosing such a great place to volunteer your time. I agree we need to keep parks and such clean and free of pesticides. I also liked how you backed up all your information with links to websites, that is very helpful.

    Overall your post is great!! the only thing i would say to improve is keeping it interesting for the reader as you continue to tell about your research. I really enjoyed reading your blog and learning about this topic. This is something i knew nothing about before reading it, it was good to learn about. And you did a nice job giving rich details. Thank you for sharing!


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