One spring morning in 2007, Lee Dayfield took her dog for a walk. As she passed an empty field, she saw a sign that would forever change her life. It read “for sale.”
The desolate plot of grass sat next to 10 acres ringed by a chain-link fence and barbed wire. Where others may have seen a $900,000 meadow, Dayfield saw a two-acre opportunity: a nature-based play area for the Gresham neighborhood’s children, many of them Native American.
In 2009, Friends of Nadaka, with Dayfield at the helm, bought the land, with Metro and the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District kicking in a combined $410,000. The fences came down. Dayfield worked to fashion a landscape evoking mountains, a river, and cultures of regional Native tribes.
In April 2015, eight years after Dayfield’s fateful walk, Nadaka Nature Park & Garden Project was unveiled, and has since become a gathering place for residents of the Rockwood and Wilkes East districts. Kids test their balance on strategically placed Doug fir stumps and kneel in a canoe carved from deodar cedar while parents look on from shaded benches. The sandbox and water pump are especially popular with young neighbors in the summertime. The park’s community garden, Gresham’s largest, now boasts a waiting list. In a district known as a food desert, Nadaka’s roughly 60 plots yield fruit, vegetables, and a learning experience for locals. A full-time park coordinator leads educational gatherings such as bird walks, stewardship programs, and gardening workshops while working closely with nearby elementary and middle schools, affording some kids their first contact with woodlands. Dayfield’s next task? Adding a broad, handicapped-accessible swing, a feature that will be another first in Gresham parks.
Adds Dayfield: “If we don’t teach our children to appreciate nature and the wonderment of it, then when they become adults, who is going to protect it? Why would they want to if they’ve never been out here?”