Frank Selker is like many people in Portland who wish there was more opportunity for mountain biking on singletrack trails in Forest Park.
Currently, the all-powerful Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan (adopted by city council in 1995) states that mountain bikes are only allowed on “trails” (roads really) that are at least eight feet wide.
Currently, in the over 5,000 acres of Forest Park, just 1/3 of a mile is set aside for singletrack mountain bike riding. That short (but very sweet) stretch of trail, Firelane 5, was built by volunteers (with major help from the Forest Park Conservancy), and was officially adopted by PUMP in 2007.
The Portland United Mountain Pedalers (PUMP), Portland’s 20 year-old mountain bike advocacy group was founded on the issue of access in Forest Park. However, the group has not yet been able to build the relationships necessary to thaw the glacial bureaucracy that hinders progress on the issue.
Enter Frank Selker.
(Photo: Frank Selker)
Selker is a 50-year old Southwest Hills resident who describes himself as a “passionate” mountain biker. He feels that 1/3 mile of singletrack in Forest Park just “doesn’t do it” and last week, he went public with an idea he had been stewing on for a while — that the key for more access lies with the Forest Park Conservancy.
The Forest Park Conservancy (formerly known as The Friends of Forest Park) is a non-profit group that preserves and protects the park.
Selker’s plea is for a “bunch of cyclists” to join the conservancy. In his statement (that he first posted to the Cross Crusade forum and then emailed to me with additional thoughts), he writes:
This group (the FPC) has the most cred of anyone involved…They have earned the respect of Portland Parks and others through real work in the park for many years. I know some think they have opposed bikers, but I think that can evolve if they see that we will be contributors to the real work of taking care of the park.
Selker thinks that the gesture of support (FPC membership will set you back $35 minimum), cooperation and goodwill just might lead to reciprocal support from the FPC. Just what form would FPC’s support for mountain biking take?
“I believe they may support devoting parts of the Wildwood Trail (the main nerve of the Forest Park trail system) to cycling on certain days of the week.”
“For a variety of reasons, both known and unknown, a culture of distrust between the mountain biking community and FPC seems to have built up around these issues.”
— Stephen Hatfield, Forest Park Conservancy Stewardship Director
According to Selker’s math, if 150 mountain bikers join the FPC at the $35 membership level, that equals $5,250 — or, about 50% of the annual trail maintenance costs for eight miles of the Wildwood Trail.
“I think that’s an excellent place from which to start conversations.”
Selker is aware that even with the Conservancy’s support, a major hurdle exists with Portland Parks & Recreation. They’re likely to be very conservative about any new mountain bike access due to the confines of the adopted management plan and potential opposition from runners and hikers.
To that, Selker writes, “However, visibly joining the FP Conservancy starts to make cyclists players, not just jaw-boners. It is a constructive way to start.”
And he’s not all talk. Selker has made a pledge; if 100 cyclists join the Forest Park Conservancy by March 1, he promises to:
- Give the group a $500 donation.
- Set up a meeting of between mountain bikers and the Forest Park Conservancy leadership “to assure ourselves that we have an ally that will listen.”
- “Try to get a meeting with elected officials to highlight our quest and demonstrated willingness to work together and support the park.”
Stephen Hatfield is the stewardship director at the Forest Park Conservancy. I reached him today and asked what he thought about all this. “I think Frank’s idea is a great one, and we are thrilled at the potential for this level of collaboration and engagement,” Hatfield replied.
Hatfield went on to tell me that, “For a variety of reasons, both known and unknown, a culture of distrust between the mountain biking community and FPC seems to have built up around these issues.” That distrust, says Hatfield, has led to “a resistance to working together.”
Most of the history between the two groups predates Hatfield’s involvement with the issue, and he says his goad has been to “foster collaboration and partnership, and hopefully redirect the energy in a constructive manner.”
“There has been some very positive progress to be sure,” said Hatfield, “but there is still a great deal of room for improvement. I think that Frank’s plan could be instrumental in helping us get there.”
So, who’s game to join the Forest Park Conservancy and help get this new partnership rolling?
— For more coverage of mountain biking in Forest Park (or the lack thereof), browse our “Forest Park” tag.