'Swift Watch' at Chapman is a lot of fun, unless you're a neighbor

PORTLAND, Ore. - When the Vaux's Swifts start circling Chapman Elementary School in September, lots of people show up just before sunset each night to watch what's been described as beautiful, magical and amazing.

But for those who live in the neighborhood and have to deal with the crowds, it can be annoying.

Northwest Portland resident Hilda Welch loves the natural phenomenon right outside her door, but she does not love what the event has become - the public urination, the traffic congestion, the smoking, the drinking.

"They will double and triple park. No one can get through and if you ask people to leave, there are some people who will swear at you," Welch said.

"We've got this side yard and people were using that as their public toilet," she added. "They were leaving their trash all over the hillside, so the next morning you would go out and it was just covered."

Until now, no one - not the city, an organization or anyone else - was taking responsibility for the problems that neighbors were dealing with. So a group of people living in the neighborhood got together, wrote the mayor and started holding meetings. They eventually convinced the city, school district and the Audubon Society of Portland to start making some changes.

The city now does parking patrols, there are park rangers there at least three times a week to educate and enforce rules, and there are four new portable toilets by the school's soccer field.

Welch said she has already noticed a difference.

"This morning I went out and there was one piece of cardboard. Wow, that was wonderful."

She is a little wary, however, about what the rest of the month will hold for the neighborhood as folks pour in to watch the swifts. She said the crazier crowds seem to swarm in near the end.

Neighbors say in a few weeks they expect around 3,000 people to show up on the weekends and to them, it's like having that crowd close to their front yard. So if you do go, keep the folks who live there in mind and follow these simple rules:

  • If you bring your dog, have some bags handy so you can pick up after them.
  • Both smoking and drinking are prohibited on the school's grounds.
  • Pick up your trash when you leave.
  • Consider taking a bus there instead of driving.
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