By Jenni Moore
Well-known for their environmental activism and “green” intentions, Southeast Eugene is a place where dog-walkers, hikers, and nature-lovers protect their standard of living. Issues like wildlife habitat protection, high-density housing, sustainability, and education are all very prevalent concerns among the Southeast Neighbors.
One of their most pressing concerns is the possibility of new residential development. The Amazon Headwaters, which connects the Amazon and Ridgeline trails, has been the object of a tug of war between those who want development and those who want to use it as an eminent domain. Even Karen Woodson, who has lived in Southeast Eugene for just six weeks, was upset by the possibility of the area’s destruction. “I would hate it,” she said. “Because it’s nice to go for walks here. And this is my first time on the trail.”
The City of Eugene recently bought the East Fork portion of the headwaters, but Board Member Debra Noble says it is just in limbo until the community decides what to do with the land. Lisa Warnes, the Vice President on the Board for the Southeast Neighbors has been a leading activist against plans to build on the land. Although the area is saved for the time being, Warnes is concerned about the real possibility of development. “There will always be that threat,” Warnes said.
Facing threats of destruction from developers over the last decade, the Southeast Neighbors have united to protect what they consider a ‘high quality resource area.’ Vision for Intact Ecosystems and Watersheds (VIEW) is a grassroots group dedicated to preserving natural wildlife habitats and the Amazon Headwaters. It was formerly called East Fork Amazon Headwater Preservation (EFAHP), and is now represented by Lisa Warnes. VIEW collaborated with Friends of Eugene (FoE), a group that also places a lot of importance on preserving Eugene’s natural environment, in an effort to stop the proposed development by Joe Green.
Over the past six years, the residents of Eugene have been using the land as a community park despite the wishes of its owners, Martin and Leslie Beverly. At one point, Warnes said, “we stood in front of bulldozers,” and added “citizens see it as a beautiful parkland, [a] habitat, and community asset.”
The environmentally enthused Southeast Neighbors have their own plans for the site. As a hiker who’s been coming to the Amazon Headwaters for the past 20 years, Warnes also supports a plan to keep the Amazon Headwaters site similar to how it is now.
“We’d like to extend that [area] to the community, because it’s a community resource,” Warnes said. Supporters of this alternative say that this use of space is more efficient and smart because it can benefit the whole community while protecting valuable natural resources found at the site. Southeast Neighbors Board Member, Debra Noble said, “It is the ‘forest’ of Eugene and cannot be replaced, once developed,”
The Southeast Neighbors maintain that the land presents a unique regional park and recreation opportunity, provides connectivity for wildlife, serves as a habitat for rare plants and animals, and provides flood control, which preserves water quality. Some of the woodland creatures that live in at the Amazon Headwaters are the Pileated Woodpecker and the Redlegged Frog. It is also home to diverse vegetation including Wayside aster, Corn lilly, Tall bugbane, and Canby flower.
While Warnes states that her biggest reason for wanting to save the Amazon Headwaters is environmental, but said, “second is safety,” and added “It’s not suitable for development anyway.” As a professional contractor, Warnes explains that the steep terrain and unstable soils at the site make it very difficult to develop on. According to Warnes, the erosion and moving soils push on the house, which could cause them to slide down the hill. “It gets very expensive for the residents.”
In their fight against developer Joe Green, the Southeast Neighbors had a geologist come out to examine the soil. “The facts are on the ground,” Warnes said. She explained that water can cause cracks in the sheetrock and foundation of the houses, and said a house’s foundation needs are dependent on the soils it is build on. “Developers want to get around that because it’s expensive,” she said. “What killed Joe Green’s application was the hydrology of the property.”
Lisa Warnes and the Southeast Neighbors feel a strong need to protect this resource because they are close to the area. However, Warnes added that she would support the preservation or creation of many more parks in Eugene. “When you live near a good resource, you protect it,” she said firmly. However, Warnes asserted that people in North Eugene aren’t as active when it comes to the environment.
Although the East Fork portion of the Amazon Headwaters has been bought by the city of Eugene, development is still a threat to many of the Southeast Neighbors. There are currently a lot of empty lots that people want to build on, but the economic recession makes it difficult for many to purchase the land. “Right now the economy is on our side,” Warnes said.
Warnes said there are some mansions in Southeast Eugene on what she calls ‘over-sized lots.’ “It’s a crime,” Warnes said and added, “the houses are huge, they’re for rich people. They take up too much space.”
But the Board Members for the neighborhood are not opposed to any and all development. Both Debra Noble and Lisa Warnes agreed that there is some potential for some more shops near the Jiffy Market. “It would be nice to have some high-density development,” Warnes said. The neighbors want to build densely so that people travel less to work, and reduce their emissions.
Despite Southeast Eugene’s relatively great efforts on the part of the environment, Warnes and Noble said there is still much room for improvement. “We could start looking into community gardens,” Warnes said. The biggest suggestion that both board members gave was to educate both youth and adults about reducing their carbon footprint, and making travel more efficient.
When it comes to the City of Eugene in general, Warnes says the environmental efforts are nowhere near enough since the goal is to reduce its carbon footprint by 50 percent in 2030. Warnes said Eugene residents “talk the talk, but don’t walk the talk.”
As the Amazon Headwaters saga continues, the Southeast Neighbors and their supporting groups will keep improving their eco-friendly behavior. For now, new resident Karen Woodson can keep enjoying walks along the muddy trail through the Southeastern forest of Eugene.
Photo Essay By Jennifer Moore:
The students at Spencer Butte Middle School in Southeast Eugene are getting their hands dirty. Spencer Butte Middle School (SBMS) is an Oregon Green School and has reached the second level of the program, a Certificate of Merit. The Green School Program gives each school $500 for becoming a green school, and then an additional $500 for advancing to the next level. The highest level of recognition is the Premier level, which requires that the schools complete a community outreach project as well as a participating in waste-reduction activities and projects at the Green and Merit levels. There are currently only twelve Premier Green Schools in Oregon.
While many schools throughout the U.S. fail to even provide the proper receptacles for recycling, SBMS has both a Green Club and a Green Class where they discuss environmental issues like climate change and consumption. According to Steve Connelly, the Green Class instructor, SBMS is the 11th richest school out of 450 middle schools in the state, and he’s not bragging about it.
Connelly, who also teaches World History at SBMS, is just grateful to have such an informed and supportive Principal. “She’s the third Principal I’ve worked with and she’s really on board,” Connelly said, and added that he’s glad she sees the importance for education about environmental issues. Right now the class is working on a garden in the school’s courtyard. “We get out here three days a week,” Connelly said. He said he thinks the class is good for the students because they’re being active and getting education that is relevant to their futures.
Recently, the class has been critically discussing solutions to lunchroom cleanup and ways to reduce student waste. Many hands flew in the air as the students asked questions and brought up ideas about the topic. “Why do we have the trash cans next to the tables?” One student asked. Another chimed-in and answered, “if we move the trash cans, people will throw it on the floor.” The discussion was triggered by a conflict with another teacher in the school and his science class. The science teacher, Steve Leighter is reportedly a Christian who doesn’t believe in evolution or global warming.
Earlier in the day, Leighter spoke to his class and was said to have implied that the Green Class was to blame school’s waste issue. The conflict turned into a collision of the two classes where the two teachers had an open debate about the waste issue in the school. Although the students didn’t actually participate in the discussion that day, Connelly said he thinks confrontation should happen in a school setting so that students can become good critical thinkers.