Mountain bike trails not in Parks’ vision

Posted by on June 5th, 2006 at 6:49 am

Trails Strategy Meeting

Last Thursday the Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) Department held a public meeting to present their “twenty-year vision for developing Portland’s regional recreational trail system.”

In attendance was a small but influential group of representatives from many trail user and advocacy groups including; the BTA, Friends of Forest Park, Portland United Mountain Pedalers (PUMP), the 40-mile Loop, the Columbia Slough Watershed Council and others.

There were also reps from design firm Alta Planning, REI, and several high-level Parks employees.

Nearly half of the attendees were mountain bikers. They showed up in force to hear if the Parks Department had any plans to create or open up any new mountain bike trails in Portland. After a presentation (PDF here) was made, it was clear that Parks has no current vision for mountain bikes.

The meeting left mountain bikers confused and frustrated and left many of their questions unanswered.

Besides a “severe lack of facilities” in the Portland area, they think the Parks Department is spending way too much money and effort on whay they consider to be transportation-oriented paths, not true recreational trails.

According to PUMP member Ryan Kilgren:

“Their ‘Regional Trails Plan’ is more about providing links to other transportation corridors and not ‘trails’ as you and I would hope. If parks creates trails for transportation, then who will create them for recreation?”

One mountain biker named Shane, who just moved here from Seattle added:

“Why is the Parks and Recreation Department focusing so much time, money and efforts on Transportation issues? Isn’t that the job of the Portland Transportation Department?”

In fact, the very definition of trails was a point of contention.

Ask most people what a “trail” is and they’ll probably think of off-road and narrow hiking or mountain biking trails. However nearly every one of the Parks “trail” projects deals with wide, fully-paved paths like the Springwater Corridor Trail.

Even Parks honcho Robin Grimwade admitted being confused at how Parks defined trails when he arrived to his post 2 years ago:

“When I accepted this job I saw all of the trails listed in Portland, and I was excited. But I was quite surprised on my arrival when they showed their ‘crown jewel’ the Springwater Corridor Trail and it was an 8 foot wide paved highway!”

At this point it seems nearly all of the Parks Departments projects involve more transportation-oriented paths and not recreational trails. Part of that is because of funding opportunities. At the moment, the Parks Department is simply following the money and the major funding sources right now just happen to be transportation-specific.

But the lack of consideration and awareness within the Parks Department for the need for off-road cycling trails is a major concern for local mountain bikers.

Despite the nation’s largest urban park (Forest Park) within minutes of downtown, there are only six miles of singletrack trails in all of Portland. Those six miles are all in Powell Butte which, according to PUMP board member Roger Louton, “you can ride in about 20 minutes.”

Since 1986, bicycles have not been allowed to ride on any trails within the 5,000 acres of Forest Park.

After last night’s meeting I hope the conversation will change. It was clear to everyone in the room that Parks is not doing enough to figure out how to provide adequate mountain bike opportunities, but it was also clear that they heard the message loud and clear.

According to PUMP’s Roger Louton:

“They said they they had ‘no idea’ that the needs of mountain bikers were not being met, and that by us showing up at a meeting like this, they get the message.”

According to Grimwade:

“We need to get mountain biking on the planning horizon. You have been heard and we will be addressing your concerns.”

This folks, is a great example of why it’s so very important to attend meetings, speak up, and make your voice heard.

The Parks Department will present their trail plan to City Council on June 28th at 10:00am and I’m sure mountain bikers will pack the room.

If you would like to get involved with opening up more mountain bike opportunities in Portland, become a member of PUMP and then contact Roger Louton at (503) 702-4590 or rwleleven@msn.com.

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Curt Dewees
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Curt Dewees

You wrote: “Since 1986, bicycles have not been allowed to ride on any trails within the 5,000 acres of Forest Park.”

Well, again, this depends on your definition of “trail.” There are about 15 miles of unpaved, hard-packed dirt/gravel trails that are legal to ride inside Forest Park, if you count Leif Erickson Trail and several of the fire lanes and side roads that are open to mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes. I ride in Forest Park every now and then and see many other mountain bikers enjoying the trails. They may not be technically challenging singletrack, like the mtb. enthusiasts would like; however, they are still some of the most beautiful and relaxing car-free places to ride your bike within Portland city limits.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Leif Erickson is a gravel road, not a trail.

Sure, it can be enjoyable, but it’s apples and oranges. While it provides a nice escape from the city it offers nowhere near the type of recreational mountain biking opportunities that could potentially be had in Forest Park with the addition of some singletrack trails.

Tim
Guest
Tim

Leif Erickson can only very loosely be considered a trail. It’s just an old gravel road that is better suited to cyclocross bikes than modern mountain bikes.

It is exciting to hear Parks and Recreation will listen to the concerns of the mountain bike community. I’m hoping that new “fun” trails will mean more people will be riding bikes for the thrill of it instead of just for transpotation.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

It’s a tough call for me, as I rely exclusively on bicycling for transportation, and I strongly support “serious” applications like paved, bikes-and-peds-only trails. But I would really love to see some technical singletrack in Portland — I’ve never lived anywhere with so few mountain biking trails. I suppose it’s possible to advocate for both at once — they’re both important resources for Portland cyclists.

Paolo
Guest
Paolo

Not to take away from a very valid point, there are not many singletrack trails around Portland, but Mt Tabor has a few miles of it, not only Powell Butte, and if the opposition is too strong at Forest Park maybe they should look at other places. There are a few freeriders that occasionally ride Tabor, I often see them walking their heavy bikes up the hill. But generally Portland Parks has not been very open to new sports, look at the situation with the bike/skate parks, how long will it take before they build one when the money has been there for years.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Mt. Tabor (and Washington Park) is a great example of what happens when there are not legal places to ride singletrack. The singletrack trails at Mt. Tabor were not built but were created from riding…also, they are not legal or sustainable. You’ll see more of this all through Forest Park the longer this goes on.

Kai
Guest
Kai

When I moved here a year ago from the Washington DC area I expected to find hundreds of singletrack mountain bike trails in or near the city. I was absolutely blown away that there is pretty much no where decent to ride that isn’t at least an hour away. Considering how progressive Portland is, it’s really pitiful frankly. The emphasis is on road biking and mountain bikers are completely ignored.

I’m glad that something seems to finally be happening to deal with this situation. My primary concern is this will result in some 2×6 planks being suspended 10ft above the ground in forest park for only the most extreme riders and that will be it.

If mountain bike trails are to be created within or near the city, they need to useful for multiple skill levels!

And, the trails need to be clearly marked and mapped with detailed guides available. Though I love the laid back attitude out here, it is often detrimental to newcomers like me who have a VERY hard time finding our way to and around recreational areas.

Kazimar
Guest
Kazimar

Thanks for posting on this topic Jonathan. It’s an issue that greatly needs some attention. As for Curt’s comment that there are 15 miles of legal trails in Forest Park, you are correct that this depends on your definition of ‘trail’. To me there are 0 miles of acceptable mountain bike trails in Forest Park. This simply needs to change. If Portland Parks wants to push the issue aside, we need an uprising in the community.

Thanks to PUMP and other groups out there trying to gain the access/trails we need.

Dan Porter
Guest

Kai (and everyone else concerned about this issue). The first thing you need to do is join PUMP on a local level and IMBA on the national level. If nothing else, your minimal membership fees (I believe you can join both for $35 total or $20 each) go directly to this type of advocacy as well as trail maintenance around the Portland area. (PUMP has adopted many trails in area in the Tillamook State Forest, mt hood, Hagg lake, etc.). In addition membership opens up a variety of riding opportunities with others at your skill level (whatever that might be) as well as car pooling etc. Actually, membership is not required to go on any of the rides. Just check out the PUMP ride/work party calendar at http://www.PUMPclub.org.

Evan Manvel
Guest

I’d be interested to see a survey of Springwater trail users and see how many were using it for recreation and how many for transportation.

It’s definitely a popular recreational trail destination, but also functions pretty well (and will function even better) at connecting SE Portland and the suburbs to downtown.

Perhaps someone at Portland Parks has done such a survey?

Another thing about “transportation” trails is that they often transport people to the parks — “let’s bike out to Powell Butte” or “let’s bike down to Oaks Park,” so Portland Parks and Recreation may be serving their “Parks” side through building trails that serve as transportation.

Evan Manvel
Guest

And, of course, we definitely need more mountain biking facilities.

elljay
Guest
elljay

I agree with Matt…what’s happening at Tabor is really causing some erosion and other problems on some of the paths.

There really is a need to get some bike-only single track in Forest Park, if only for peace of mind of the runners/hikers.

As someone who often runs on Forest Parks side trails (ie: not Ericson,fire trails or Saltzman), I’ve had several scary/dangerous encounters with folks riding on “no bike” trails. When I mention that “this trail is supposed to be no bikes”, I get a whole ration of unpleasant commentary about “bikes are allowed anywhere in this park”, my parental heritage being derived from canines, and/or how I can go sexually amuse myself.

Fact is…if there were such trails, I’d probably be riding and not running…

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Why do we want to segment out recreation and transportation.

Why not just lump everyone together?

After all, can’t transportation also be recreation?…and vice versa?

Tim
Guest
Tim

Why should the Dept. of Parks and Recreation be made to provide bicycle freeways?
I’m all for some fun singletrack mountain bike trails in Forest Park. If they’re considering going forward with this then I hope they do it right. I’ve ridden the current Leif Erickson “trail” top to bottom with no hands, which shows the level of challenge it provides. Mountain bikes are all about fun, challenging yourself, and providing fitness. They are not intended for transportation.
I hope these two groups never get lumped together. I’ve got around eight or so bikes, none of them road bikes.

Matthew Grumm
Guest

Great discussion!
I am Portland Parks Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s Parks Liaison and this kind of dialog in the biking and trail advocacy community is exactly what is needed. I do want to point out that the presentation folks heard last week is specific to the Parks “Regional Trails” Strategy. This is an important distinction in our planning strategy.

“Regional Trails” are defined as: “Regional Trails” connect Portland to adjacent communities and to regionally significant features such as rivers and streams(http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/index.cfm?c=42336).

The Portland City Council will be receiving a report on this strategy the morning of June 28th at City Hall. All interested folks are invited, but please remember this is focused on our Regional Trail system and that is an important distinction from our “Local Access Trails” (which includes the mountain bike trails on Powell Butte).

Evan, I’m not sure if Parks or Transportation has done a survey of recreation vs. transportation along the Springwater, but I’ll check in with them to see if some data exists. And I agree, we can always use more trails of EVERY kind!

Matthew Grumm
mgrumm@ci.portland.or.us
503-823-4151

RL
Guest
RL

Great disccusion. One concern though:

Why does this sound like these concerns are news to the Parks Department? “This folks, is a great example of why it’s so very important to attend meetings, speak up, and make your voice heard.”

I know that the mtn bike community is fragmented and has never been as organized/vocal/well financed/established as say the equestrian community. But is it that our voice is not being heard or just that we haven’t spoken up??

When I first moved here a few years ago I asked BTA if they advocated on these issues and they didn’t; their focus was more on transportation. Fair enough(and perhaps that has evolved, as their presence at the meeting suggests). When I then explored PUMP it appeared that it’s main focus was community and trail building, with advocacy where it could be mustered. I wondered then, and now, if there was a greater role for advocacy in the Portland Mtn Bike Community:

was/is there a need for a pure advocacy group to raise awareness; hire professional staff?

Portland may be the most bike-friendly city in the US, but much more needs to be done to improve what I see as one of the least mtn bike friendly cities around.

I applaud those who showed up at the meeting and participated.

Matt Hartranft
Guest

To who it concerns,

I moved to vancouver from Minneapolis three weeks ago. Looking for single track style mountain bike trails in Portland/Vancouver area. Am interested in June 28th meeting – where do I go? What does it cost to join PUMP? (Perhaps I’ll find that info as I continue my search) Where is Powell Butte? Any insights would be great.

See you on the trail,

Matt

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Matt,

Stay tuned to this site for more details on the June 28th meeting. Glad to hear you’re interested in supporting mountain biking.

It costs $20 for an annual PUMP membership. Here is their membership page for all the details.

On their site you can also find contact info. You might also want to get on their Yahoo Group email list.