(Photos © J. Maus)
An effort to re-claim 35 acres of vacant land in East Portland and turn it into a bike recreation hub is building some serious momentum.
On Saturday, a select group of trail experts, bureaucrats, citizen advocates, neighborhood representatives, and agency stakeholders kicked off a focused planning effort for how bicycles might fit into the Gateway Green vision.
The “Kick the Dirt” event was funded by a grant from REI and was organized by trail advocate Tom Archer, parks advocate Linda Robinson, and the visionary developer behind the Gateway Green project, Ted Gilbert. The group spent the better half of a sunny Saturday getting to know the site firsthand and brainstorming ideas that will be organized into a forthcoming “concept plan”.
The day’s first order of business was to split into groups and walk through the site with volunteer guides. Guides passed out maps of the area and answered questions as attendees got a sense of the possible.
where bike facilities could go
in the proposed site for Gateway
(Photos © J. Maus)
From the top of highest point on the site — just north of Halsey Blvd and east of I-205 — Jill Van Winkle from the International Mountain Bicycling Association pointed out the land’s bike-friendly topography. “Up here, you can get a feel for the space and see the connection possibilities over to Rocky Butte.”
Rocky Butte, an 85-acre natural area just west (and across I-205) from the proposed Gateway Green site is a key part of the project. If all goes according to plan, bike and pedestrian bridges would be built to connect the two sites, and in the process, open up a combined 140 acres of land for Portlanders to bike, walk, and explore.
(Graphic: BikePortland/Google Earth)
Erik Tonkin, a local racer and co-owner of Sellwood Cycle Repair is very familiar with this area. Tonkin was all smiles on Saturday at the prospect of developing the Gateway Green site into a bike recreation mecca. “As a kid,” he recalled, “I would ride in here all the time.”
If the vision is fully realized, Gateway Green could house a wide array of riding opportunities; jumps for more skilled riders, pump tracks for all ages, a slalom course, cross-country trails, cyclocross trails, and more.
At the forefront of this vision is developer Ted Gilbert. Gilbert is the project’s public face and its evangelist. Gilbert owns many properties in the surrounding area and he has been trying to lead an economic resurgence of the Gateway area for years. By focusing this land on bikes (and sustainability), he thinks he has finally found the winning formula.
“When Fred Meyer built his shopping center (which lies just south of the Gateway Green site adjacent to the Gateway Transit Center) back in the 1950s’,” beamed Gilbert, “he called it ‘Gateway’ for a reason. Wouldn’t it be great to turn this vacant land into a true symbol of Portland and Oregon!?”
Gilbert is bullish on the project’s potential. He said he’s already lined up a private investor (himself perhaps?) that guarantees a $1,000,000 donation if Gateway Green becomes a “world class” bike facility. Gilbert has also applied for a $1,000,000 grant through Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods program.
With its location at the nexus of I-84 and I-205 and having a MAX light rail line go right through it, Gilbert says an estimated 65 million people pass by the site each year.
Gilbert began working on this project over three years ago when he floated the idea by Matt Garrett. At the time, Garret was the Region 1 manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). ODOT owns the land and they must approve a transfer and/or sale if the project is to go forward.
At the site on Saturday, as we traded ideas about how to deal with railroad right-of-way and visitor access, Gilbert told us that Garrett was supportive of the idea from the get-go.
Karla Keller, a maintenance operations manager for ODOT was at Saturday’s event. Keller was around at the beginning, when off-road trails advocate Cedar Kyes first identified this parcel and brought it to her attention. It was Keller who connected Cedar and the mountain biking community with Gilbert’s vision.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Keller, “But we’ve got a long way to go.” Keller says many people have tried to do something with this site in the past, but they have lacked organization and a broad, united vision that multiple groups would support.
ODOT says the project must meet three key criteria for them to consider signing off on it: the new stewards of the land must do all required maintenance; ODOT must be absolved from all liability exposure; and they must preserve their right-of-way expansion rights into the future (meaning they need to be assured that they can widen I-205 if they’d like).
But if those were the only obstacles to this project, Ted Gilbert would probably already have his shovels ready.
interest in off-road trails.
This is Bicycle Master Plan
update project manager
Ellen Vanderslice (L).
During the walk-through of the site, I met David Hampsten (brother of famous American pro road racer Andy Hampsten). Hampsten is on the board of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association, one of several neighborhoods that will likely weigh in on this project as it moves forward.
As we walked down a gravel service road in the middle of the site, Hampsten said Gateway Green has a lot of support in his neighborhood. The problem will be, he said, “between current users and potential users.” Many people currently use the space as a dog park and Hampsten is convinced the dogs vs. bikes topic will become “an issue” at some point.
Another key issue will be how to handle an influx of new visitors to the site. Even with great transit accessibility, and even once the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail connects to the I-205 bike path, there is no avoiding the fact that people will drive to Gateway Green. Where will they park? Will that have a negative impact on surrounding residents (an estimated 300,000 within five square miles)?
The folks at Saturday’s event realize that the space will be used for more than just bike-related activities, but it’s clear that creating a “world-class” bike facility is priority #1 for the project.
Chris Distefano is a bike industry veteran (he served a 10-year stint as PR guy for Shimano America) who now works as marketing and advocacy director for Chris King Precision Components.
Distefano — an outspoken supporter of more off-road biking opportunities in Portland — said he’s excited about the potential for Gateway Green to follow in the footsteps of other bike parks that are popping up across the country. He cited successes like the I-5 Colonnade project in Seattle, the new Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, and Fantasy Island in Tuscon.
After the site walk-through, attendees met at a local church for lunch and a brainstorming session. The ideas discussed at that meeting will be organized and collected into a more refined “concept plan”. That plan will be presented to agency reps from Oregon State Parks, ODOT, the City of Portland, Metro, and others. From there, the plan will be unveiled at a public open house that is likely to take place in March.
Stay tuned for details about the open house and more developments on this exciting project. See more photos from this event, including landscape shots of the site in the photo gallery. Also, browse the Gateway Green tag for our previous coverage.