(Stevie Mathieu/The Columbian)
From Northwest 21st Avenue, Felida’s Foley Park looks like nothing more than an ordinary field of cropped green grass marked with a simple sign.
But park visitors who venture to the far end of the field, and travel left behind a neighborhood home, will find that they’ve stumbled upon a 60-year-old forgotten pear orchard and a valley view.
The oasis, just north of 119th Street, is the only Clark County park property that’s home to a community orchard. The county purchased the 4.4 acre property in 2006 from Hubert and Ople Foley for $1.4 million and has designated it as a future park space.
At that time, the pear orchard was unrecognizable. It was hidden among blackberry brambles that reached the tops of the trees. In the years following the county’s purchase of the property, one neighbor managed to clear out a couple of trails through the overgrown area, but the fruit trees remained hidden.
A Felida resident sparked the orchard cleanup last year by reaching out to Urban Abundance, a 2-year-old Vancouver-based nonprofit that picks underutilized produce, with the property owner’s permission, throughout the county and donates much of that produce to local food banks.
The neighbor told Urban Abundance Executive Director Warren Neth that the fruit-gleaning group should take advantage of the hidden orchard, Neth recalled.
“I went out, and it was completely overgrown,” Neth said. “As a community organizer, there’s a lot of things you can do with a volunteer effort, but to remove blackberries that are grown over 150-plus trees was a little bit daunting.”
Neth began talking to the county, which went in and cleared out the bulk of the blackberry bushes. Neth said he was able to help organize about four work parties to remove more of the unwanted vegetation and perform some basic maintenance to the pear trees.
The Felida Neighborhood Association and Clark County Public Works also helped organize cleanup efforts. The county has no plan to add any park infrastructure, such as restrooms, trash cans or benches, but developing the area into a park is always an option in the future.
Neth said he would eventually like to send in Urban Abundance volunteers to pick the fruit off the trees, but only after neighbors have had their fill. The point of his organization is to pick and donate fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste. Before gleaning from the Foley Park fruit trees, he said he wants to make sure the neighborhood is on board.
“We really didn’t want to get too involved in the orchard,” aside from gleaning the fruit, he said. He added that if the community wants to maintain an orchard in the park, it might want to consider replacing some of the pear trees, which are “getting past their prime production.”
The Felida Neighborhood Association has refused to give its blessing to Urban Abundance’s involvement in Foley Park, partly because it does not believe there is a county policy in place that covers what Urban Abundance wants to do with the community orchard.
Neth, along with public works volunteer coordinator Karen Llewellyn, say they hope the neighborhood association will eventually support the fruit-gleaning partnership. Llewellyn said that the goal for Foley Park is to create a “place for people to get together to be able to get food from their own backyard.”
In the meantime, the space remains a little-known secret that attracts about 15 to 20 visitors on a warm, sunny day, Felida resident Tracie Collins said. For the past nine years, she’s lived in a home that borders the park property, which also features some cherry and apple trees.
The park visitors are mostly individuals walking their dogs, but sometimes a group of younger people will use the field to play an informal soccer of football game. Collins walks her 4-year-old dog, April, on the property at least four times a week.
She said she was happy to hear about the county purchasing the property because she’d much rather have her backyard face a park than another neighborhood subdivision. The open space behind her home was one of the attractions for moving there, she said.
“Our backyard was really quiet.”