The parking lot of the Calvary Lutheran Church at SE Woodstock Boulevard and SE 80th Avenue had seen better days.

“People were using our parking lot in lots of nasty ways,” explains Pastor Carl Stenzel.
In recent years, congregation members and neighbors including Terah Beth Baltzer Varga, the founder of Our Happy Block, had observed with a growing sense of dismay as the mostly empty lot became a staging ground for various kinds of illegal activity, including dumping, prostitution, and drug deals.

Thanks to a motivated group of community activists, the lot will soon see better days again.

On the morning of Saturday, June 16, a group of about thirty energetic volunteers in safety goggles and gloves descended on the lot with dumpsters, crow bars and wheel barrows, and went to work removing 4,300 square feet of tired, cracked asphalt.

The weather might have been unseasonably cold and wet for the middle of June, but that didn’t stop several volunteers from stripping down to their shirtsleeves. Depaving is hard work, after all.

The strategically selected patches of pavement had been carved out by a saw beforehand but still needed to be broken apart. Working together, the mud-streaked volunteers chipped, pried, and smashed the oily pavement into manageable chunks, which they then heaved into industrial-sized dumpsters.

The depaving project at Calvary is just one element of Our Happy Block’s effort to give the parking lot a serious makeover.

Since last summer, Terah Beth has been working with the church, neighbors, and partners at Depave as well as the Johnson Creek Watershed Council to “transform the neighborhood and Calvary Church parking lot into a safe, beautiful and ecologically friendly area.”

A volunteer stands next to a dumpster full of removed asphalt.
A volunteer stands next to a dumpster full of removed asphalt. Photo: Natalie St. John

Participants in the project have already closed off a side-street exit that made it possible for speeding drivers to cut through the lot, and they’ve begun replacing sod with native plants.

After removing the pavement, the newly exposed patches of soil will be revitalized and converted into bioswales and rain gardens—sunken patches of rain-loving native plants that will help to infiltrate and re-absorb the 374,000 gallons of water that currently wash over the asphalt each year.

Eventually, the project will also include educational placards and a lighted community mural.

According to Amy Lodholz of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, “there are dozens of benefits to removing asphalt in a watershed, so it makes tons of sense for the council to be involved in a depaving project. It all benefits the salmon.”

These benefits include reducing storm water runoff, removing toxins from the environment, and attracting native species to the neighborhood.

In addition to creating an inviting natural haven in the area, residents have been delighted by the way the effort to restore the lot has united neighbors, local business owners and community organizations.

“It was a really involved project,” says Anne Holm, a Calvary congregation member, thinking back on last summer’s intense effort to win funding for the project. “But just finding out about all of these things that are available in the city, grants, and the great community partners like Johnson Creek Watershed and Depave saying, ‘Hey, we’d like to help you!”

“I don’t even think about the time involvement,” she says. “It’s been really uplifting. To see all of the enthusiasm and creativity and energy—there’s no downside to that.”