Nature Park Interpretive Center
History of the Tualatin Hills Nature Park
The Tualatin Hills Nature Park is a habitat mosaic where all the animals, plants, people, and their environments are connected. Within this unique area you will find marshes, ponds, creeks, meadows, forested wetlands, and forested uplands. There are many paved trails and unpaved secondary trails for you to enjoy. To stroll this 222-acre park is to take a step back in time. The history of this land is as diverse as the plants and wildlife you will find living within its boundaries. The following is an abridged description of the Nature Park's history. You can read the entire document by selecting this link, or by downloading it off of the document manager.
The Atfalati Band of Kalapuya Indians
The entire Tualatin Valley was once occupied by the Atfalati or Tualatin band of Kalapuya Indians. Evidence of their presence in the area dates back approximately 10,000 years. They practiced hunting and gathering for their food supply, moving throughout the valley during the spring, summer and fall. The winters were spent in permanent villages set up along the Tualatin River and its tributaries.
The rich landscape of the Tualatin Valley provided an abundant food source for the Atfalati. During the warm months, women and children collected a variety of wild growing plants, eating some immediately and preserving others for the long winter months.
The Atfalati also used controlled burns to supplement their food supply. Hunters trapped deer and elk by surrounding an opening with fire. Burning small plots of land had a number of other benefits. Fire released important nutrients into the soil. It encouraged healthy re-growth of the area plants that provided berries, hazelnuts, and basket-making materials. Fire also cleared out fast-growing plants and allowed slower growing species, such as oak trees, whose thick bark could withstand the burns, the time and space needed to grow.
The Atfalati had at least 24 permanent villages in the Tualatin Valley. One of these was Chakeipi or “Place of the Beaver” located in present day Beaverton.
Early Pioneers in the Tualatin Valley
Peter Skene Ogden
The first Europeans in the Tualatin Valley were British fur trappers. An explorer and trapper for the Hudson’s Bay Company, Peter Skene Ogden, described the Tualatin Valley as “mostly water connected by swamps,” because of the large amount of wetlands in the area. From 1788 to 1843, the Nature Park site was part of the land claimed by the United Kingdom. In 1843, the property became part of what was known as the "Oregon Provisional," which was followed by the 1846 land acquisition by the U.S. through Treaty. It was not until 1848 that the land became part of the U.S. Territory. As part of the U.S. Territorial Acts, the government created Donation Land Claims.
The Elliot Family
The property now occupied by the Tualatin Hills Nature Park was originally the homestead of John and Lydia Elliott. The two, along with their 10 children, traveled first from Lincoln County, Maine, to Independence, Mo., where they joined a wagon train to Oregon. The family arrived in Portland in 1845 where they claimed 640 acres. Tragedy struck when John Elliott died in 1854.The remnants of the Elliot homestead garden can still be seen, as evidenced by four old apple trees located along the trail named for the Elliot family in this park.
The Trevett Family
After Elliot's death in 1854, the Elliot land was sold to T.B. & T.S. Trevett, father and son Portland storekeepers/speculators, for $2,000. In 1860, the Trevetts failed to make their final payment and the property went into foreclosure. Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet purchased the property the following year at a sheriff’s auction as a location for a church orphanage. It was referred to as St. Mary's Woods. It was purchased for the astounding price of $5,000! Thirty years passed before enough money was raised to actually build the orphanage. In 1891, Archbishop William Gross oversaw the building of the Boy’s Home and convent. St. Mary’s Home for Boys continued growing throughout the 20th century. They began adding new buildings in 1924 and discontinued use of the original home in 1932.
Saint Mary’s Woods & Home for Boys
The forested area behind St. Mary’s Home for Boys became known as St. Mary’s Woods. This area had value in the community beyond the boy’s home. Informal logging occurred as area residents needed firewood. The forest also became a source of recreation. Early residents of the home included Lawrence Fernsworth who recorded many of his memories of life at the orphanage in “St. Mary’s Reminiscences.” During Lawrence Fernsworth’s time at the Home, the boys used the Big Pond as a swimming hole. The property also held value to the area for its natural beauty. As the surrounding properties lost forest and wetland first to agriculture and then to urbanization, St. Mary’s Woods retained historic wetlands and a variety of forest types.
Tualatin Hills Nature Park
When the Archdiocese placed the St. Mary’s Woods property up for sale in the early 1970s, concerned citizens along with the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (THPRD) went into action to preserve it from development. In 1975 the land was identified by the city of Beaverton as a regional park site. Initially, it was hoped the property would become a state park. In 1976, the Land Acquisition Committee of the Park District designated the existing site for procurement. In 1977, a citizens committee was formed to promote acquisition of the site and in 1978, the State Parks Advisory Committee approved funding for St. Mary's Forest State Park. However, budget reductions at the state level eliminated this hope for funding. In January of 1980, the THPRD Board of Directors voted to pursue acquisition. The citizens committee promoted a bond issue for the purchase of the site and in June of that year was successful in its passage.
The initial park proposal was for 220 acres. Subsequent negotiations with the Archdiocese of Oregon resulted in the purchase of 180 acres for $7.5 million in January of 1981. Funding for the park was accomplished through a $5.5 million bond issue, $1 million from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, $500,000 from the state parks budget, and $500,000 in matching funds from the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, for a grand total of $7.5 million. In March of 1984 the final draft of the master plan was presented to the THPRD Board of Directors. In June of that same year, a public hearing was conducted for formal adoption of the plan. The park was formally named the "Tualatin Hills Nature Park" at that time. In August 1995, 15.5 acres were acquired from PGE, bringing the total acreage of the park to 195.5 acres.
The most recent addition to the park came in April 2000. Through the efforts of concerned citizens, the Park District, the city of Beaverton and Metro, the Nature Park was expanded by 22 acres in the southeast corner along Beaverton Creek.
Through the successful 1994 bond levy, Park District residents approved the funds for the Nature Park Interpretive Center to be built, along with trail improvements and interpretive signs. The Interpretive Center, completed in 1998, consists of two classrooms/meeting rooms, a kitchen, fireplace room, interpretive display room, and the center's offices.
In 2003, the Tualatin Hills Nature Park added about three more acres to include the Reser ponds north across the MAX tracks from the main park.
The park and the life within it will continue to change and evolve through time. Join us in this amazing journey as we celebrate Tualatin Hills Nature Park and Interpretive Center, its beginnings and its future.