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 firstname.lastname@example.org.